06 March 2017, 09:00

Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of February 27-March 5

Resonant judgement of Georgian court to transfer "Rustavi-2" TV Company back to former owner; presentation of the film about Boris Nemtsov in Rostov-on-Don; conviction of blogger who posted materials about corruption in Azerbaijan for defamation; debates in Makhachkala on problems associated with stray animals; death of seven tourists in an avalanche on Mount Cheget; completion of World Military Games in Sochi, – see the review of major events in the Caucasus on February 27-March 5, 2017, prepared by the ‘Caucasian Knot.

Tbilisi court rules to return "Rustavi-2" TV Company to its former owner

On March 2, the Collegium of the Georgian Supreme Court (SC) approved the transfer of the "Rustavi-2" TV Company into the ownership of its former owner Kibar Khalvashi, thus upholding the judgement of the Tbilisi City Court of November 3, 2016, on Khalvashi’s lawsuit. He went to court with a demand to return his share of assets of "Rustavi-2", which he considers illegally alienated, back in August 2015. The editorial staff of "Rustavi-2" disagreed with the judgement and appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which suspended the enforcement of the judgement on the case. Before that, the team of "Rustavi-2" offered Khalvashi to buy out all his shares for 3.944 million US dollars, but the businessman stated that he was not going to sell the TV Company.

Opponents of the transfer of the property of the TV Company believe that by doing so the authorities endanger the freedom of speech in the country and have been holding regular mass protests not only in Tbilisi, but also in other cities of the country, in particular, in Zugdidi and Kutaisi. The trial of the "Rustavi-2" case has caused a broad resonance in the Georgian society from the onset. The MPs, who represent the ruling coalition, stated that the "Rustavi-2" defends the interests of the former ruling "United National Movement" (UNM) Party. Rights defenders and activists have treated the court judgements on Khalvashi’s lawsuit as a threat to the democratic development of Georgia.

Boris Nemtsov’s comrades-in-arms present film about him in Rostov-on-Don

The presentation of human rights projects of the "Open Russia" and a free screening of the film "Nemtsov" in Rostov-on-Don were devoted to the second anniversary of his murder, committed in Moscow on February 27, 2015. The actions were held on March 4 at the "Hermitage" hotel and were attended by 35 persons, mostly local oppositionists. Activists of the "Open Russia" had to change the venue of the screening and presentation of projects after three days before they were told that the initial venue needed urgent technical work. Activists of the "Open Russia" are sure that the attempt to disrupt the events was backed by city authorities. Their opponents from the "National Liberation Movement" (known as NOD) held a series of solo pickets in front of the hotel in Rostov-on-Don, where the film "Nemtsov" was screened. The organizer of the event reported that after the show, Maria Baronova, the local coordinator of the "Open Russia", was attacked with a cake that hit her son.

On February 26, actions in memory of Nemtsov took place all over Russia, including Volgograd, Sochi and Rostov-on-Don. In Stavropol, the campaign, during which passers-by were given leaflets with "explanation of the ideas for which Boris Nemtsov had struggled," was accompanied by detentions of supporters of the "Yabloko" Party.

Blogger who posted materials on corruption in Azerbaijan sentenced to two years in prison for defamation

On March 3, the Surakhani District Court of Baku sentences Mekhman Guseinov, the Director of the Institute of Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), to two years in prison for defamation. The case against him on defamation was initiated after Guseinov stated that he had been tortured by policemen after his arrest on January 9. The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) and personally Musa Musaev, the head of one of police departments, treated the blogger’s statement as slander. The court sentenced Guseinov, not allowing his defence to prepare the last plea. His advocate has treated the judgement as illegal and politically motivated, and announced his intention to appeal against it. Azerbaijani civil society figures and media professionals believe that Mr Guseinov, who published on the Facebook video materials about corruption among high-ranking Azeri officials, was convicted for his activities as a journalist and blogger. The IRFS, headed by Guseinov, has linked his sentence with his journalistic investigations.

Dagestani society activists offer to adopt regional law on stray animals

On March 2, the Public Chamber of Dagestan held public hearings on the problems of homeless (stray) animals in the urban environment. This was preceded by a death on February 19 inMakhachkala of a nine-year girl, who perished, under the investigators’ preliminary version, from an attack of stray dogs. After the death of the girl, the Makhachkala Mayoralty organized catching of stray animals in streets and yards, and dismissed the official who had been in charge of the process. However, after the incident, local residents began reporting mass shooting of dogs in Dagestan. The report "Desire to Kill", published in the "Novaya Gazeta" on February 27, stated that after the death of the schoolgirl Makhachkala had turned into a "slaughterhouse". On the same day, the MIA of Dagestan stated that they had not found evidence of mass shooting of dogs in Makhachkala. On February 22, the Makhachkala Mayoralty announced the start of building a shelter for stray dogs on the basis of the abandoned farm on the border of two Makhachkala settlement – Leninkent and Semender. On February 23, residents of Semender held a protest action, demanding to abandon the project of building an animal shelter in their settlement. Residents said that the authorities promised them roads and sewers, should they accept the shelter. On March 1, the first ever Makhachkala shelter for stray dogs was opened.

Within the debates on stray animals in the urban environment, held by the Public Chamber of Dagestan, public activists demanded to punish people, who cruelly treat dogs. Activists of animal-protecting organizations and members of the Chamber offered to build shelters for animals in all cities of the republic. It was decided to hand all the recommendations over to the National Assembly for drafting a bill on stray animals.

Seven persons perish under avalanche on Mount Cheget

On March 3, the northern slope of MountCheget in the Elbrus District of Kabardino-Balkaria was hit by an avalanche, which covered snowboarders. On the same day, rescuers brought down bodies of four tourists and one injured person, a resident of Nizhny Novgorod. In the evening, local tourists informed about the disappearance of their friends, who could also get under the avalanche; and on the following day, the search was continued. On March 4, employees of the Ministry for Emergencies (MfE) found under the snow the bodies of three other tourists; and the search operation was over. The casualties were identified as six Muscovites and a woman from Kirov. Investigation into the tragedy is underway. Experts, quoted by "Channel One", did not rule out that extreme athletes could themselves provoke the avalanche by cutting it. It is known that on the day of the tragedy the northern slope of Cheget was closed for tourists.

World Military Games in Sochi end with victory of Russian national team

The closing ceremony of the Third Winter Military World Games took place on February 27 in Sochi. The flag of the Games was passed over to Germany, which will host the Games in 2021. The Games, which were held on February 22-27, ended in the victory for the Russian national team in the unofficial medal standing. Russians won 42 medals, including 22 gold ones. Italy was the runner-up (8 gold, and 6 silver and bronze medals each); and the third place went to France (6 gold, 12 silver and 5 bronze medals).

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