28 April 2021
Former Interior Minister of Ingushetia Akhmed Pogorov is accused of organising violence against law enforcement officers and of membership of an ‘extremist group.’
Source: Memorial Human Rights Centre
Memorial Human Rights Centre, in accordance with international guidelines, considers Akhmed Pogorov a political prisoner. We believe his prosecution, like that of other leaders of the Ingush opposition, is intended to stop his public criticism of the authorities. Akhmed Pogorov has been imprisoned solely for the non-violent exercise of the rights to peaceful assembly and association.
Memorial Human Rights Centre calls for the immediate release of Akhmed Pogorov and other opposition leaders in Ingushetia.
Context: nationwide protest and its suppression
In 2018 Ramzan Kadyrov and Yunus-Bek Evkurov signed an agreement under which part of Ingushetia was transferred to Chechnya. The agreement was prepared in secret. In Ingushetia, many considered the agreement unfair and began to protest against it.
On 26 March 2019 a 20,000-strong rally (the largest in the region’s history) took place in Magas, the capital of Ingushetia, demanding the resignation of the republic’s leaders and free elections. The authorities had agreed to allow the rally to take place for one day, but some of the participants announced that the rally would be open-ended. By the morning of 27 March a few hundred people remained in the square. They posed no threat to public order and did not hinder traffic or the work of offices in the area.
OMON riot police tried to disperse the protesters. According to the Investigative Committee, ten law enforcement officers were injured, two of them suffering some harm to their health. The protesters left the square when called upon to do so by the protest organisers.
After the clashes in Magas, a criminal investigation was opened and dozens of protesters were arrested on charges of using violence against law enforcement officers. Eight leaders of the protest were charged as organisers.
Who is Akhmed Pogorov and what has he been charged with?
In 2002-2003 Akhmed Pogorov was head of the Interior Ministry of Ingushetia, after which he served as chief inspector of the Interior Ministry of Russia.
In 2018 Pogorov became one of the leaders of the opposition in Ingushetia. He was elected a member of the Ingush Committee of National Unity and co-chair of the World Congress of the Ingush People. He conducted anti-corruption investigations.
On 27 April 2019 an arrest warrant was issued for Akhmed Pogorov on grounds he was suspected of organising violence against OMON riot police.
On 15 July 2019 the Investigative Committee issued a ruling in absentia charging Pogorov with organising violence dangerous to life and health against public officials (Article 33, Part 3; Article 318, Part 2, of the Russian Criminal Code). The same charges were laid against seven other protest leaders: Akhmed Barakhoev, Musa Malsagov, Malsag Uzhakhov, Ismail Nalgiev, Barakh Chemurziev, Zarifa Sautieva and Bagaudin Khautiev.
In December 2019 additional charges were laid against the opposition leaders. Akhmed Barakhoev, Musa Malsagov and Malsag Uzhakhov were charged with setting up an extremist group (Article 282.1, Part 1, of the Russian Criminal Code) while the others, including Pogorov in absentia, were charged with participating in this group (Article 282.1, Part 2, of the Russian Criminal Code).
On 26 February 2021 Akhmed Pogorov was arrested at his home in Nazran and placed in a remand centre in Nalchik. On the grounds that he had been wanted for almost two years, his case was treated separately from those of the other accused. Meanwhile, since November 2020, the seven other defendants in the case have been on trial in Kislovodsk court. Their public defenders are Oleg Orlov, a member of the board of Memorial Human Rights Centre, and Lev Ponomarev, head of the Movement for Human Rights.
Why does Memorial consider Pogorov a political prisoner?
- There was no organised violence
Having studied the documents of the case and the relevant events we have concluded that Akhmed Pogorov, like other protest leaders in Ingushetia, did not organise any violence at the protest.
There is no evidence Pogorov had any intention to harm the health of National Guard officers, or organised or directed violence against them. On the contrary, judging by the video recordings, testimonies of ‘victims’ and eyewitness accounts, the opposition leaders urged the protesters to disperse and prevent clashes.
- There was no extremist group
The decision to bring charges criminalizes legitimate public activity. Mere self-organisation and cooperation among citizens is described as the allocation of roles within an ‘extremist group.’ Participants in the protests, singled out on the basis of their public influence, have been declared ‘an organised group of persons for the preparation or commission of crimes of an extremist nature.’
Calls for the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of assembly (Article 31 of the Russian Constitution), popular sovereignty (Article 2) and the participation of citizens in public administration (Article 32) cannot be considered to be appeals to commit illegal acts.
Memorial considers the main aims of these prosecutions are to deprive the protest movement in the republic of its leaders and to ‘teach a lesson’ to all other Russian regions. The criminal prosecutions of Akhmed Pogorov and other leaders of the opposition in Ingushetia are yet one more step towards the repression of legitimate civic activism and of the rights and freedoms, not only of those living in Ingushetia, but of Russian citizens in general.
Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner does not imply Memorial Human Rights Centre agrees with, or approves of, their views, statements, or actions.
More information about this case and the position of Memorial Human Rights Centre are available on our website.
How to help
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Translated by Simon Cosgrove