27 December 2021, 15:27

Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of December 20-26, 2021

Opposition protest action in Sukhumi; kidnapping of relatives of Ramzan Kadyrov’s critics in Chechnya; mass hunger strike of Mikhail Saakashvili’s supporters in Tbilisi; criminal case against the Mayor of Krasnodar, – see the review of these and other events in the Caucasus during the week of December 20-26, 2021, prepared by the “Caucasian Knot”.

Opposition protest action in Sukhumi

On December 21, in Sukhumi, the opposition went to a rally demanding the resignation of President Aslan Bzhaniya. Protesters said that the socio-economic and political situation in the republic had worsened during the pandemic. Aslan Bzhaniya refused to go out to the protesters, and after that the protesters attempted to break into the parliament building. Law enforcers used smoke bombs. The OMON (riot police) and soldiers tried to disperse the protesters, and then clashes broke out in the crowd. Meanwhile, members of a film crew of the Abkhazian TV Channel were injured. Already at night, Aslan Bzhaniya agreed to receive delegates of the opposition, and as a result of negotiations, the protesters decided to postpone their demands for the president’s resignation and left the place of the rally. Organizers of the protest action want to wait for Aslan Bzhaniya to fulfil his promises on personnel changes and, based on the results of the promises, make a decision on further actions. The protest action was triggered by a conflict between veterans of the Patriotic War of the People of Abkhazia in 1992-1993 and the police on the Victory and Independence Day, after which the opposition and the war veterans put forward a demand for the resignation of Dmitry Dbar, Abkhazian Minister of Internal Affairs. However, Aslan Bzhaniya did not dismiss Dmitry Dbar from the post of minister until November 29, when he appointed the former minister the chief of the State Security Service. According to journalist Izida Chaniya, the protests in Sukhumi were provoked by the Aslan Bzhaniya’s reluctance to initially make concessions to the opposition. The Abkhazian opposition seeks to undermine the position of Aslan Bzhaniya until he strengthened his influence, but such a plan has no real prospects, political analyst Anton Krivenyuk believes.

Kidnapping of relatives of Ramzan Kadyrov’s critics in Chechnya

Last week, several active critics of Ramzan Kadyrov, most of whom live abroad, reported that their relatives had been kidnapped.

On December 22, blogger Tumso Abdurakhmanov reported that his relatives on the father and mother’s sides had been kidnapped in Chechnya. The blogger associated the kidnapping with his brother’s criticism of Magomed Daudov, the speaker of the Chechen parliament. On December 24, the blogger said that six out of his nine kidnapped relatives were released, but two of his wife’s female relatives were kidnapped in Astrakhan. On December 22, Ramzan Kadyrov’s critic Minkail Malizaev also reported about the kidnapping of his relatives in Chechnya. He asked journalists and human rights defenders to help release his relatives. On December 23, according to Minkail Malizaev, most of his kidnapped relatives were released, except for a brother and a sister. On the same day, Tumso Abdurakhmanov posted the information stating that a similar fate befell relatives of Mansur Sadulaev, a founder of the “Vayfond”. On December 24, Khasan Khalitov, a critic of the Chechen authorities, who lives in Turkey, reported about the kidnapping of at least five of his relatives in Northern Caucasus. Following other critics of Ramzan Kadyrov, Aslan Artsuev, the director of the human rights organization “Human Rights Centre Ichkeria”, also reported that four of his relatives had been kidnapped in Chechnya. On December 25, Abubakar Yangulbaev, a human rights defender from the “Committee against Torture” (CaT), reported that 37 of his relatives had been kidnapped by Chechen law enforcers and held for two days in regional police departments. On the other day, Abubakar Yangulbaev said that some of his relatives kidnapped in Chechnya had been released. He believes that the fate of his relatives was influenced by the wide public outcry caused in the media by the news about the kidnapping. On the same day, during a press conference in Grozny, Ramzan Kadyrov stated that the Chechen law enforcement bodies had no information about the kidnappings and accused the bloggers, who disseminated the messages on kidnappings, of supporting terrorism.

The kidnappings of the relatives of blogger Tumso Abdurakhmanov and other critics of the Chechen authorities was committed against the background of the trials against the “Memorials”* NGOs (the International Historical, Educational, Charity and Human Rights Society “Memorial” (International Memorial) and the Human Rights Centre (HRC) “Memorial”), when the main attention of Russian and foreign human rights defenders is focused on the trials and diverted from Chechnya, human rights defenders note. They called the kidnapping of relatives a historically alien practice in the Caucasus.

Mass hunger strike of Mikhail Saakashvili’s supporters in Tbilisi

On December 21, the birthday of imprisoned former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, his supporters went to a protest action in Tbilisi. They demanded to release the politician. At the rally, members of the opposition “United National Movement” (UNM) Party announced the start of a mass hunger strike, which they intend to continue until the Mikhail Saakashvili’s release. The activists set up tents for the hunger strikers in the area adjacent to the UNM’s central office. On December 22, several dozen people from the regions of Georgia joined the hunger strike. Members of the “Georgian Dream’ Party reproached Mikhail Saakashvili for forcing supporters to hold the hunger strike. On December 25, 150 people took part in the protest action. The day before, three protestors stopped their hunger strike on the recommendation of doctors. Several of the hunger-strikers had high blood pressure, and doctors provided them with medical assistance.

Criminal case against Mayor of Krasnodar

On December 22, searches were carried out at home and in the office of Andrei Alekseenko, a recently elected Mayor of Krasnodar. The Investigating Committee of the Russian Federation (ICRF) reported that Andrei Alekseenko was detained in a case on taking a bribe as the first vice-governor of Kuban. According to the investigators’ version, Andrei Alekseenko got a bribe in the form of an expensive gun worth about 1,600,000 roubles for assistance in the commissioning of an apartment building, which was built with violations. The “Edinaya Rossiya” (United Russia) Party has suspended the Andrei Alekseenko’s membership in the party. However, in the evening of the same day, Andrei Alekseenko returned to his duties, the Mayoralty of Krasnodar reported.

*The organization has been put by the Russian Ministry of Justice on the register of foreign agents.

This article was originally published on the Russian page of 24/7 Internet agency ‘Caucasian Knot’ on December 27, 2021 at 09:35 am MSK. To access the full text of the article, click here.

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