Law enforcers take an activist away from the site of the rally in Baku. Photo by Aziz Karimov for the "Caucasian Knot"

11 March 2024, 23:16

Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of March 4-10, 2024

Ilham Aliev was only provoked by the presidential election, Inal Djabiev’s case, persecution of pacifists and activists in Southern Russia, Zarema Musaeva’s cassation, unsafe shelters, 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 March 4-10, 2024, prepared by the “Caucasian Knot”.

Ilham Aliev was only provoked by presidential election

The uncontested presidential election in Azerbaijan, which Ilham Aliev “won,” did not stop the repression within the country. On March 6, a search was carried out at the “Toplum TV” office. Alesker Mamedli, a founder of the online TV channel, reported that law enforcers had sealed the office. On March 8, Alesker Mamedli, a founder of the “Toplum TV”, and Ruslan Izzetli, a board member of the “Platform III Republic” public organization, were detained in Baku. Law enforcers claimed that they found foreign currency banknotes in the detainees’ apartments. Alesker Mamedli and Ruslan Izzetli stated that the foreign currency banknotes were planted to them by the law enforcers. On March 9, the court arrested them for four months.

Also on March 8, a court in Baku arrested for four months Akif Gurbanov, the head of the board of the “Platform III Republic” public organization, Mushvig Djabbar, an employee of the “Toplum TV” online TV channel, as well as Ramil Babaev, Ali Zeinal, and Ilkin Amrakhov, three employees of the Institute of Democratic Initiatives. They are involved in a case on currency smuggling.

On March 10, the National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF) of Azerbaijan expressed the protest against the unjustified closure of the “Toplum TV” online TV channel and the mass arrests of journalists. “For the last 30 years, the situation of the media in the country has been deteriorating every year. Representatives of freedom of speech have to work under constant pressure and persecution, journalists are arrested and even killed,” reported the NCDF in its statement.

Repressions against employees of the “Abzas Media”, a human rights online media outlet, were repeated with similar cruelty against employees of the “Toplum TV”, an online TV channel. This time, the target was not only professional journalists, but also activists, the NCDF emphasized in its statement.

A court in Baku extended the prison term of Elnara Gasimova, a journalist of the “Abzas Media”, by three months. The arrest of Khafiz Babala, another journalist of the “Abzas Media”, in a smuggling case has been extended despite the defence’s request to commute his pre-trial restriction measure for health reasons.

Oppositionist Gubad Ibadoglu was denied transfer to house arrest, despite his rapidly deteriorating health condition.

At the same time, Baku continues to destroy monuments in Nagorno-Karabakh: the buildings of the National Assembly and the Union of War Veterans have been destroyed, and the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Holy Mother of God has been desecrated, activists report. The National Assembly of Nagorno-Karabakh called on the international community to respond to the actions of Azerbaijan.

On March 9, the Azerbaijan’s territorial demands on Armenia were again announced. “Azerbaijan <...> demands the liberation of its four villages,” announced Shakhin Mustafaev, Deputy Prime Minister of Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani senior official has noted that the four villages of Baganis Airym, Ashagy Askipara, Kheirimly, and Gyzylgadjily, which stay under the control of Armenia, “undoubtedly” belong to Azerbaijan.

Inal Djabiev’s case

The case on the death of Inal Djabiev was brought to court in October 2023. On January 22, MPs from the “United Ossetia” Party requested the court to release the five defendants from custody “under the guarantee of authoritative citizens of South Ossetia.” A widow of Inal Djabiev was outraged by such interference in the trial.

On March 4, eight public prosecution witnesses were questioned in the Tskhinvali City Court. The questioned law enforcers insisted that while being at the police department, Inal Djabiev and Nikolai Tskhovrebov had no signs of violence on their bodies. At the same time, Roland Bibilov, an employee of the General Prosecutor’s Office, claimed that there were numerous bruises on the Inal Djabiev’s body. A medical officer also confirmed that Inal Djabiev was dead upon admission to the hospital, and there were abrasions on his body.

Persecution of pacifists and activists in Southern Russia

Gennady Vladimirov, a resident of Primorsko-Akhtarsk, was accused of repeatedly discrediting the Russian Army, calling for terrorism, extremism, and anti-state activities.

In Krasnodar, a court arrested a local resident for 30 days and fined him 250,000 roubles, recognizing that his posts in a messenger contained propaganda of Nazi paraphernalia and also discredited the Russian Armed Forces.

A court sentenced to two years of suspended imprisonment a resident of a village in the Shpakovsky District of Stavropol, whose posts on social networks were assessed by the police as calls for extremist activity.

The Baksansky District Court of Kabardino-Balkaria sentenced local resident Khusen Gukov to one year and six months of suspended imprisonment. The court also banned Khusen Gukov from leaving the country and imposed a year of probation on him.

The City Court of Slavyansk-on-Kuban fined Viktor Yevdoshenko, a member of the election commission from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), 30,000 roubles under the article on discrediting the Russian Armed Forces. The reason for the fine was a video in the commission’s chat on WhatsApp*, which contained criticism of the actions of the Russian Army in Ukraine.

Zarema Musaeva’s cassation

On March 5, the court of cassation in Pyatigorsk reduced the prison term of Zarema Musaeva by three months, to four years and nine months. The court ignored the defence’s arguments that there was no evidence of Zarema Musaeva’s guilt in the case.

On July 4, 2023, the court sentenced Zarema Musaeva to 5.5 years of imprisonment in the criminal case on an attack on a policeman. The Supreme Court (SC) of Chechnya reduced the sentence to five years of imprisonment. On November 3, 2023, an advocate requested the court of cassation in Pyatigorsk to cancel the verdict due to the unsubstantiated charges and violations of the laws.

Unsafe shelters

Armenia and Georgia are not a reliable refuge for those who left Russia for political reasons, since the influence of the Russian special services is high in the above-mentioned countries and there is a risk of extradition to the refugees’ homeland, Russian human rights defenders point out. However, according to them, the cases of extradition to Russia or kidnapping of dissenters that caused the widest public outcry do not seem to be a trend.

“There are many Russian citizens living in Armenia and Georgia who left the home country after the start of the <special military operation (SMO)> for political reasons. Three cases are not enough to say that a Russian citizen should not go to those countries at all, as is the case with Belarus, where the risk of being extradited for political reasons is extremely high. However, people with serious risks in political cases should definitely consider safer countries for their long-term migration,” said Alexandra Miroshnikova, the press secretary for the “SK SOS Crisis Group”**.

Official data on natives of Southern Russia perished in Ukraine

By March 10, the authorities and the law enforcement bodies reported about at least 3550 residents of Southern Russia perished in Ukraine, including 1742 residents of the North-Caucasian Federal District (NCFD) and 1808 residents of the Southern Federal District (SFD).

In Dagestan, the authorities reported about 776 local residents perished in Ukraine, in the Volgograd Region – 691, in the Rostov Region – 397, in the Krasnodar Territory – 336, in Stavropol Territory – 299, in the Astrakhan Region – 273, in North Ossetia – 263, in Chechnya – 175, in Kabardino-Balkaria – 129, in Kalmykia – 61, in Ingushetia – 52, in Adygea – 50, and in Karachay-Cherkessia – 48.

*On March 21, 2022, the Tverskoi Court of Moscow banned the activities in Russia of the Meta Company, owning the Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, in connection with extremist activities.

**Included by the Russian Ministry of Justice (MoJ) into the register of foreign agents.

This article was originally published on the Russian page of 24/7 Internet agency ‘Caucasian Knot’ on March 11, 2024 at 09:10 am MSK. To access the full text of the article, click here.

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