13 March 2017, 08:30

Week in the Caucasus: review of main events on March 6-12

Parliamentary elections in Abkhazia; street disorders in Batumi; start of debates at the trial on terror act in Dubrovka; pardoning of woman from Sochi, earlier recognized to be a political prisoner; Azerbaijan's exit from "Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative"; direction of case of deputy head of Cherkessk police to city court for the third time, – see the review of these and other events in the Caucasus on March 6-12, 2017, prepared by the "Caucasian Knot".

Abkhazia elects new Parliament

On March 12, Abkhazia elected the republic’s MPs. Residents elected 35 parliamentarians out of 137 candidates. On the same day, the Central Election Commission (CEC) declared that the elections were successful in all 35 constituencies; by 6:00 p.m., the voter turnout exceeded 49%. For the entire time of the voting, the CEC received only one complaint. It is planned to announce the preliminary outcomes of the voting today, on March 13.

Election observers found some violations, but treated them as insignificant. In particular, the noticed problems include the polling stations’ inadaptability for invalids, illegal additional voters’ lists and marking of voters’ fingers. At one of the polling stations in Sukhumi, two voters refused to vote already after the registration, indignant about the need to mark fingers.

Let us note here that on the eve of the voting, experts stated that the main intrigue of the upcoming elections would be the number of seats at the Parliament won by the party in power, and by the heterogeneous forces of the opposition. The real rivalry of candidates was observed only in several districts of Sukhumi, and was almost not visible outside the capital, residents of Abkhazia said.

Disorders occur in streets of Batumi

On March 11, in front of the building of the Chief Department of Internal Affairs of Adjara in Batumi, a spontaneous protest action began, the participants of which demanded to release the local residents, detained on the previous day during clashes with the police, and to dismiss Malkhaz Batiashvili, the boss of the patrol police. The pretext for the conflict was the behaviour of a patrol policeman, who, according to eyewitnesses, after stopping the car for violating the traffic rules insulted the driver.

The confrontation of policemen and protesters turned into street disorders. Cars were set on fire in Batumi, and power line poles were crushed down. At dawn, policemen and special agents completely cleared Chavchavadze Street of protesters. To disperse the demonstrators, they used tear gas and rubber bullets. As a result, 18 protesters and 15 policemen were injured in Batumi. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), about 40 persons were detained during the disorders.

Trial of Dubrovka terror act enters home stretch

On March 9, the Moscow District Military Court started the parties’ debates on the trial of Khasan Zakaev, a native of Chechnya, accused of aiding the hostage-taking at the Dubrovka Theatrical Centre in 2002. At the March 9 session, the prosecutor voiced out his position, asked the court to find the defendant guilty, sentence him to 23 years in a high-security colony, and satisfy all the civil suits of the victims. In total, according to one of the victims’ advocates, about 20 civil lawsuits were filed to the amount of about 100 million roubles. The victims’ advocates noted the prosecutor's statement that if there had been no storming of the Dubrovka centre, "there would have been no victims by negligence." In Russia, for the first time, a causal relationship was officially declared of the assault with the death of hostages, said the advocates.

Political prisoner from Sochi pardoned by Russian president

On March 7, President of Russia signed a decree to pardon Oksana Sevastidi, a resident of Sochi, convicted on charges of treason; and on March 12, the woman was released from the Moscow SIZO (pre-trial prison) “Lefortovo”. On March 3, 2016, Ms Sevastidi was sentenced to seven years of deprivation of freedom for sending in 2008 an SMS-message to her acquaintance in Georgia with information about the transportation of military equipment to Abkhazia.

The convict herself expressed her disagreement with the indictment and the verdict; her defence insists on Sevastidi’s complete innocence and intends to seek a revision of the verdict. In early February, the Human Rights Centre (HRC) "Memorial" recognized Oksana Sevastidi as a political prisoner. It is noteworthy that the decree about her pardoning was signed 2.5 months after Putin, in answer to journalists’ questions at a press conference, promised to clear out the Sevastidi’s situation.

Azerbaijan quits EITI

On March 10, Azerbaijan officially announced its exit from the international organization "Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative" (EITI), in response to the March 9 resolution of the EITI’s Board to suspend Azerbaijan’s membership in this organization. The press release of the EITI said that the suspension was introduced "because of the inability of the country's leadership to protect the civil society."

The international board of the EITI voiced out three specific demands to the Azerbaijani authorities: to abolish the state registration of foreign donors, the practice of registering grants and contracts, and the rule for NGOs to provide excerpts of their registry data every two years. Azerbaijani rights defenders had predicted the suspension of Azerbaijan's membership in the EITI; and local economists believe that the decision to quit the EITI will negatively affect the investment attractiveness of Azerbaijan.

Rakhaev’s case sent to Cherkessk City Court for the third time

On March 9, the Presidium of the Supreme Court of Karachay-Cherkessia cancelled all the previous judgements on the case of Ruslan Rakhaev, the former deputy head of the Cherkessk police, accused of beating up the detainee Djankezov, which caused his death. The case of Rakhaev was sent to the court for a new consideration by a different composition of judges. Thus, the Cherkessk City Court will have to consider this case for the third time: in November 2016, this court refused to pass a judgment on Rakhaev and sent the case for an additional investigation; and in 2013, the same court passed a guilty verdict, but the Supreme Court of the republic reversed that verdict. The defence of Rakhaev is sure that the case was sent to the first-instance court for the third time without any due reason, believing that they want to bring the case up to the verdict of guilty, despite the fact that their client's guilt has not been established.

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