A protest action in Tbilisi. Photo: Novosti Gruziya (Georgia News) https://t.me/NGnewsgeorgia/12161

15 January 2024, 23:16

Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of January 8-14, 2024

Authorities and opposition in Azerbaijan, persecution of pacifists and activists in Southern Russia, scandal with an icon in Georgia, and official data on the natives of Southern Russia who perished in Ukraine, – see the review of these and other events in the Caucasus during the week of January 8-14, 2024, prepared by the “Caucasian Knot”.

Authorities and opposition in Azerbaijan

On January 9, the Central Election Commission of Azerbaijan registered four more candidates to run for presidency. Gudrat Gasanguliev, the chair of the “Popular Front of Integral Azerbaijan” Party, Fazil Mustafa, the leader of the “Great Creation” Party, Elshad Musaev, the head of the “Great Azerbaijan” Party, and Fuad Aliev, the former leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, have been allowed to participate in the presidential election.

The Central Election Commission (CEC) of Azerbaijan has completed accepting documents for participation in the presidential election. Candidates who did not have administrative resources were unable to collect the required 40,000 voters’ signatures due to time pressure and New Year holidays, claimed the candidates who were not allowed to participate in the election.

After an interrogation, journalist Elnara Gasymova was detained as a suspect under the article “Smuggling committed by a group of persons by prior conspiracy.” The journalist became the sixth person detained in the case against “Abzas Media” journalists. Earlier, from November 20 to December 14, the publication’s director Ulvi Gasanli, editor-in-chief Sevindj Vagifgyzy, activist Mokhammed Kekalov, who cooperated with the “Abzas Media”, and journalists Nargiz Absalamova and Khafiz Babaly were detained. They are accused of currency smuggling, as during a search in the editorial office, the police found 40,000 euros.

At the same time, arrested journalist Khafiz Babaly denied the “absolutely false and slanderous” materials about him circulated in the media, which “were discrediting him and damaging his business reputation.” According to the Khafiz Babaly’s statement, he had no connections with the foreign institutions mentioned by the media and did not receive any instructions from either international or local organizations or individuals, and did not conduct “custom” investigations.

On January 12, a public prosecutor requested the court to sentence Avaz Zeinally, the director of the “Khural” TV Channel, to 10 years of imprisonment and a ban on engaging in journalism for three years after the release. At the same time, public prosecutors requested the court to sentence to five years of imprisonment Elnur Shukyurov, another person involved in the case on bribery and influencing decisions of officials. The request of the ban on the professional activities highlights the political nature of the persecution, emphasizes a spouse of Avaz Zeinally.

The Baku Court on Grave Crimes has dismissed the defence’s request to transfer under house arrest Elbai Kerimli, an activist of the “Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan” (PFPA), accused of drug trafficking. And in Salyan, the police detained Mirsultan Bagirov, a member of the “Muslim Unity” movement. Activists of religious movements make up the majority of political prisoners in the country, reports a spokesperson for the “For Freedom for Political Prisoners in Azerbaijan” Union.

The defence requested the court to transfer opposition politician Gubad Ibadoglu under house arrest taking into account his health condition, but the court of appeal in Baku upheld the decision on the politician’s detention. The court of cassation did not grant an appeal against the sentence of Azerbaijani activist Djafar Mirzoev, who was sentenced to five years of imprisonment in a case on drug possession. In Baku, a court dismissed the arguments submitted by the defence of opposition politician Tofig Yagublu and refused to transfer him under house arrest.

Persecution of pacifists and activists in Southern Russia

The Taganrog City Court sent local resident Irina Skorovarova under house arrest until March 11 in a case on repeated discrediting of the Russian Armed Forces. According to a woman’s advocate, the criminal proceedings were instituted against Irina Skorovarova for a video about a Russian military man which she posted on her page in the “Odnoklassniki” social network.

Volgograd activist Natalia Dorozhnova was fined 15,000 roubles for her statements in an interview, which a court recognized as discrediting the Russian Armed Forces. Natalia Dorozhnova refused to admit her guilt, recalling that freedom of speech was enshrined in the Russian Constitution. Ivan Kuibichkin, a resident of the Pavlovsky District of the Krasnodar Territory, was fined under the same article on discrediting of the Russian Armed Forces for his posts and comments on a social network.

Alexei Lavrov, an unemployed resident of the Stavropol Territory, was fined under the administrative article about discrediting of the Russian Armed Forces. The official website of the Aleksandrovsky District Court reports that Alexei Lavrov left a comment on another person’s page on the “VKontakte” social network, in which he spoke critically of participants in the special military operation (SMO) in Ukraine. The linguistic specialist who conducted the examination found that Alexei Lavrov’s statements were “humiliating and offensive in nature, aimed at undermining the authority of the military personnel participating in the special military operation.” Alexei Lavrov has refused to admit his guilt and stated that he considers it unacceptable to involve in participation in the special military operation those sentenced for grave and especially grave crimes who had been granted an amnesty.

Scandal with icon in Georgia

An icon depicting Joseph Stalin was noticed in the Holy Trinity Cathedral (Tsminda Sameba) of Tbilisi. A video of the icon depicting Joseph Stalin was posted on a social network by Georgi Kandelaki, a researcher from the “SovLab” Institute for the Soviet Past Studies.

On January 9, activist Nata Peradze posted on the Internet a video showing spots of blue paint on the icon framing the icon of Saint Matrona with Joseph Stalin. On January 10, supporters of the “Alt-Info” movement came to a Nata Peradze’s house; but the police did not let them approach the building.

A Joseph Stalin’s meeting with Saint Matrona, who is depicted on the icon donated to the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi, has not been confirmed, the Georgian Patriarchate states. The donators have been called on to “make changes” to the icon. The appearance of the icon with Joseph Stalin in the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi should have been reported to the Georgian Patriarchate, emphasizes Archimandrite John (Mchedlishvili). The priest has apologized to the Georgian Church and parishioners. The icon will be rewritten at the cathedral, report the leaders of the “Alliance of Georgian Patriots”.

On January 13, members and supporters of the pro-Russian “Conservative Movement”, also known as the “Alt-Info” movement, held a rally in front of the Georgian Parliament building with the demand to tougher punishment “for the desecration of holy places.” The activists explained their protests by the fact that the icon of Saint Matrona of Moscow with the portrait of Joseph Stalin was doused with paint.

Members of the “Alt-Info” have movement requested the Georgian authorities to detain Nata Peradze. Furthermore, after the protest action held on January 13, the leaders of the “Alt-Info” movement have filed a complaint to the police with a request to re-classify the administrative case on petty hooliganism into a criminal case under the article on illegal obstruction of religious rituals through the use of violence, threats, or insulting the feelings of believers.

The Georgian legislation prohibits the use of communist and fascist symbols, their monuments, inscriptions, and names under threat of a fine. In addition, the use of Soviet symbols also caused protests. At the same time, on May 9, 2023, the Parliament of Georgia congratulated WWII veterans on the Victory Day, using a photograph with Soviet symbols banned in the country. The photo was changed after the opposition had expressed the indignation with the violation of the Georgian law.

Official data on natives of Southern Russia perished in Ukraine

By January 14, the authorities and the law enforcement bodies reported about at least 3253 residents of Southern Russia perished in Ukraine, including 1591 residents of the North-Caucasian Federal District (NCFD) and 1662 residents of the Southern Federal District (SFD).

In Dagestan, the authorities reported about 717 local residents perished in Ukraine, in the Volgograd Region – 651, in the Rostov Region – 369, in the Krasnodar Territory – 288, in the Astrakhan Region – 256, in North Ossetia – 251, in Stavropol Territory – 262, in Chechnya – 170, in Kabardino-Balkaria – 116, in Kalmykia – 54, in Ingushetia – 45, in Adygea – 44, and in Karachay-Cherkessia – 30.

This article was originally published on the Russian page of 24/7 Internet agency ‘Caucasian Knot’ on January 15, 2024 at 09:05 am MSK. To access the full text of the article, click here.

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