22 February 2021, 17:19

Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of February 15-21, 2021

Return of refugees, post-war victims, and search for dead bodies in the Karabakh conflict zone; verdict of guilty to Rostov activist Anastasia Shevchenko; resignation of Giorgi Gakhariya from the post of Prime Minister of Georgia; FSB reports about detention of terrorists in Southern Russia; public outcry around court's decision on claim lodged by a Chechen prosecutor, – see the review of these and other events in the Caucasus during the week of February 15-21, 2021, prepared by the "Caucasian Knot".

Return of refugees, post-war victims, and search for dead bodies in Karabakh conflict zone

Refugees continue to return to their homes in Nagorno-Karabakh. According to the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD), by February 21, 52,700 refugees had returned to Nagorno-Karabakh with the support of Russian peacekeepers. Combat engineers from Russia continue to demine the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. In total, in the period since November 23, 2020, 1461 hectares of territory, 453 kilometres of roads, 1425 buildings, including 30 socially significant facilities, have been cleared of unexploded ordnances, and 24,827 explosive items have been found and neutralized, the Russian MoD reports. Meanwhile, on February 18, a native of the Lachin District of Azerbaijan was killed in a mine explosion near the village of Sugovushan in the Terter District (the Armenian name is the village of Madagiz, – note of the "Caucasian Knot").

Rescuers are engaged in a search for the remains of the dead bodies in the zone where the combat actions took place. On February 16, the Ministry for Emergencies (MfE) of Nagorno-Karabakh reported that the total number of soldiers' bodies, found by the Karabakh rescuers after the peace agreement had been signed, increased to 1379. On the same day, the Azerbaijani side handed over to the authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh the bodies of other 106 people killed in the conflict zone, the president of the unrecognized republic reported.

Verdict of guilty to Rostov activist Anastasia Shevchenko

On February 18, in Rostov-on-Don, the Oktyabrsky District Court found Anastasia Shevchenko, a member of the federal council of the organization "Open Russia"*, guilty under a criminal article for participating in an undesirable organization. The activist was sentenced to four years of suspended imprisonment with four years of probation. A public prosecutor requested the court to sentence the activist to five years of imprisonment. The court pronounced a milder sentence than the prosecutor had requested, but the suspended sentence also implies a number of restrictions, Anastasia Shevchenko notes. The activist has also said that she "remains hostage for a long time." The case against Anastasia Shevchenko became the first case in Russia instituted under an article on activities of an undesirable organization. A number of human rights organizations recognized the activist as a political prisoner.

Resignation of Giorgi Gakhariya from post of Prime Minister of Georgia

On February 18, Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakhariya, who took office on September 9, 2019, announced his resignation. The decision was preceded by a court's decision about the arrest of Nika Meliya, the chairman of the "United National Movement" (UNM) Party, accused of organizing, leading, and participating in group violence. On February 16, the Georgian parliament lifted the oppositionist's parliamentary immunity, and on the other day, a court in Tbilisi ruled to arrest him. The defence claims that the court's decision to arrest Nika Meliya contradicts the Constitution. Nika Meliya himself did not attend the court hearing. Giorgi Gakhariya explained his resignation with non-execution of the court's decision about the detention of the opposition leader. The former Prime Minister of Georgia emphasized he did not want to aggravate the political polarization in society. Supporters of Giorgi Gakhariya from the "Georgian Dream" Party explained his leaving with disagreements and called it unexpected. On February 19, the ruling party nominated Irakli Garibashvili for the post of the Prime Minister of the country. Earlier, he held the post from November 2013 to December 2015. The "Georgian Dream" Party nominated Irakli Garibashvili in connection with his loyalty to Bidzina Ivanishvili and his radical attitude towards the opposition, the fight against which has become the main issue for the ruling party, believe political analysts interviewed by the "Caucasian Knot". It should be noted that after the resignation of Giorgi Gakhariya, the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) announced that the execution of the court's decision on the Nika Meliya's arrest was postponed for some time.

FSB reports about detention of terrorists in Southern Russia

Twice in the past week, the law enforcement bodies reported about the detention of members of terrorist organizations. On February 17, the Russian FSB reported about the detention in four regions of Southern Russia of 19 people who were plotting terror acts in Northern Caucasus. According to the FSB's version, the people detained in Karachay-Cherkessia, the Republic of Crimea, the Krasnodar Territory, and the Rostov Region are supporters of the "interregional extremist community" of the extremist grouping "At-Takfir wal-Hijra"** banned in Russia. On February 18, the FSB reported that members of the international terrorist organization "Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami"*** were detained in 10 regions of Russia, including Dagestan and the Krasnodar Territory. According to the FSB's information, the detainees "disseminated among residents of the Russian Federation the militant Islamist terrorist ideology, combined with intolerance to other religions, and also recruited Russian Muslims into the ranks of the international terrorist organization."

Public outcry around court's decision on claim lodged by Chechen prosecutor

Last week, it became known that the Urus-Martan City Court of Chechnya granted a claim lodged by former prosecutor Murat Zalzaev and obliged a media outlet to pay him 15 million roubles in moral damage for the article of the "Ura.Ru" about a road traffic accident in which Murat Zalzaev had been involved. The road traffic accident occurred in Grozny on August 26, 2017, when a Lada Priora car and a Toyota Camry car collided. A man and a woman who were travelling in the Lada Priora car were killed, while a driver of the Toyota Camry car was severely injured and hospitalized. Later, investigators concluded that the road traffic accident was provoked by the man who fell victim to it and closed the criminal case. The article, because of which the claim had been lodged to the court, was removed from the "Ura.Ru" website, but a copy of it was preserved in the Web Archive. The article reported about the road traffic accident, in which "Murat Zalzaev, the deputy prosecutor of the Ust-Martan District," was involved, and the headline of the article contains an accusation against the prosecutor in connection with the deaths of people. According to Murat Zalzaev, he had to submit a letter of resignation from the Prosecutor's Office because of the public outcry caused by the article. When commenting on the case, Pavel Babikov, the director of the "Babikov & Partners" law office, said that in Russia, there were no earlier precedents when courts obliged media outlets to pay such large amounts of money as compensation for moral damages.

* The activities of two UK-registered organizations that contain the words "Open Russia" in their names have been declared by the General Prosecutor's Office of the Russian Federation undesirable in the country.

** The religious association "At-Takfir wal-Hijra" (Atonement and Exodus) was declared extremist by the decision pronounced on September 15, 2010, by the Supreme Court (SC) of the Russian Federation, and activities of the "At-Takfir wal-Hijra" in Russia are prohibited.

*** "Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami" (Party of Islamic Liberation) is an international Islamic political organization banned in Russia by the court's decision.

This article was originally published on the Russian page of 24/7 Internet agency ‘Caucasian Knot’ on February 22, 2021 at 08:56 am MSK. To access the full text of the article, click here.

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