19 March 2021
by Lev Ponomarev, human rights defender and member of the Moscow Helskinki Group
“THIS MESSAGE (MATERIAL) IS CREATED AND DISTRIBUTED BY A FOREIGN MASS MEDIA PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT, AND (OR) A RUSSIAN ENTITY PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT” – The Ministry of Justice still forces me to write this sentence.
I have already written about the outrageous situation in the North Caucasus.
Zarifa Sautieva, accused in the Ingush case, is again in custody. The events are becoming dramatic: Elder Akhmed Barakhoev, on behalf of all the accused, announced his refusal to further participate in the process and started a hunger strike, demanding the release of Zarifa.
I see the need to follow this trial and regularly inform the readers of Echo of Moscow about its progress. To begin with, I propose an overview of the chronology of these events and how the North Caucasian human rights defenders and public opinion leaders assess them.
03/10/2021 – At a session at a retreat in Yessentuki, the judge of the Kislovodsk City Court upholds the defence’s petition to change the injunction against Zarifa Sautiyeva. She is being transferred to house arrest. The petition to change the injunction for Malsag Uzhakhov and Akhmed Barakhoev remains unaddressed.
03/11/2021 – The prosecutor’s office files a complaint against the decision of the city court to change the injunction for Zarifa, despite the fact that there are no grounds for this. Zarifa did not violate the restrictions; she sat quietly in her apartment – this was confirmed by the inspector who was assigned to her.
03/13/2021 – An unknown person calls the owner of the apartment where Zarifa Sautieva lives at the time of house arrest, demanding a personal meeting. Lawyer Magomed Bekov suggests that they want to put pressure on the woman to terminate the lease – this may become the basis for the court to return Zarifa to the cell. The Get-contact application identified the caller as Dmitry Romanov, an FSB officer.
03/16/2021 – The session of the Kislovodsk City Court in Essentuki begins at 10 am. Zarifa Sautieva is sitting next to the lawyers – not in the ‘aquarium’ (a glass box where prisoners are held).
Despite the fact that usually the appeal in the Stavropol Region Court is scheduled within three weeks, the Ingush case is urgently heard by the regional court via video conference. The prosecutor uses a standard, absolutely unsubstantiated reference to the fact that Zarifa may hide or influence witnesses. The regional court announces its decision – Zarifa is again taken into custody. They put handcuffs on the young woman and put her back in the aquarium with the rest of the convicts.
Elder Akhmed Barakhoev says the defendants refuse to participate in court hearings and are on an indefinite hunger strike until the measure of restraint for Zarifa Sautieva is changed.
Ismail Zhumaevich Sabanchiev, chair of the Council of Elders of the Balkar people, and his associates come to support the prisoners at the Essentuki City Court. He expresses bewilderment at the change of the Kislovodsk city court’s decision and calls it a disgrace.
The lawyers say they will appeal the decision of the Stavropol Regional Court.
17.03.2021 – Karinna Moskalenko (lawyer with specialism in international law, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group) flies in from Strasbourg and joins the legal team. The city court’s sitting is postponed due to the refusal of the Ingush protest’s leaders to participate in the trial. As Zarifa is escorted away, she says: “The main thing is not to lose faith, Inshallah! We will fight for the freedom of each of the prisoners.”
In Yessentuki, police arrest journalist Alena Sadovskaya, who had participated in a single picket protest in support of the leaders of the Ingush protest. An explanation is taken from her at the police station, after which she is released.
Put simply, security forces are making thorough preparations for the protests they themselves are inciting.
Position of human rights advocates and public opinion leaders
The reaction from civil society didn’t take long to materialise. Representatives of practically all the North Caucasian republics voiced their indignation at the unjust decision by the regional court. Here are some of them:
Valery Khatazhukov, executive director of the Kabardino-Balkar Human Rights Centre
“The decision taken by the Stavropol Regional Court to remand Zarifa Sautieva in custody is unlawful and has a pronounced political nature, as does the ‘Ingush case’ itself. This decision has already provoked a wave of indignation and outrage in the North Caucasus.
Lawyers put forward petitions to change the punitive measures handed down to other prisoners. Medical documents were presented to the court concerning Akhmed Barakhoev and Malsag Uzhakhov, which bear testament to their serious medical conditions and the impossibility of them receiving full treatment while still in pre-trial detention. But elders appealed to the court to at the very least grant the petition in Zarifa’s case. For this reason, it is of absolutely no surprise to me that the accused have declared a hunger strike and refuse to participate further in the trial.”
Ziyautdin Uvaisov, human rights activist, Dagestan
“The leaders of the Ingush protest have acted within the law, and their criminal prosecution does not account for public opinion in Ingushetia. There are no justifications for keeping them in custody. Many people in Dagestan know about this and, of course, are concerned for the accused and for civil society as a whole. Returning Zarifa Sautieva to pre-trial detention ignores public opinion, leading to an increase in tension across the whole region. And this sends a message to residents that legal activities, just like illegal activities, can become grounds for prosecution, which as a result makes it easier to promote illegal actions.”
Ismail Sabanchiev, Chair of the Council of Elders of the Balkar People:
“I know three of the “Ingush case” prisoners very well and they know me. These are proper and balanced individuals. It was necessary to take the mentality of the peoples of the Caucasus into account when resolving the border issue. They should have gathered the elders from both sides and said: this is the problem, we need to solve so that there is no conflict, so that peace and tranquillity remain between us, kindred peoples. I assure you; they would have solved this issue. Even blood feuds have been stopped by elders when they gather to resolve such matters. It was possible to resolve the issue but instead they let the matter develop into a conflict.
I saw this girl among the elders. This is 100% an ignorance of the Caucasus people’s mentality. When the deportation took place, trains went on for three to four weeks. There were no conveniences in the carriages to satisfy their needs. Women were ready to die from a ruptured bladder, so as not to use the toilet in the presence of elders. Do you understand the extent to which this mentality is observed in relation to women and the elderly? Did she commit a crime? Do the people who protested this decision not have daughters, sisters, mothers, or wives? Was it really necessary to focus attention on this. It’s a disgrace! Do you really need some kind of academic education to understand this?”
Kady Khalkechev, Chair of the Union of Repressed Peoples of Russia:
“We sent an appeal to the President of the Russian Federation with a request to change the measure of restraint for the accused in the Ingush case. The appeal emphasizes that among the detainees there are elderly people as well as the girl. All of them enjoy respect and authority in society and in Ingushetia. Zarifa Sautiyeva’s switch to house arrest gave us hope for the elders. The reversal of this humane decision causes great regret. Putting Zarifa back in a pre-trial detention centre will only add to tensions in the region. We propose to start a dialogue and sit down at the negotiating table to resolve all the issues by reaching agreements.”
The protest of the accused is completely understandable – it is their only tool in the struggle for their rights. The elders warned the young people that the court’s behaviour may be a provocation and so everything should be done to avoid clashes with the police.
I ask the Commissioner for Human Rights in the Russian Federation Tatyana Nikolaevna Moskalkova to pay attention to the hunger strike of the leaders of the Ingush protest. We are talking about a threat not only to health but also to the life of the elders. At present, lawyers are planning to prepare a cassation appeal. Let’s hope that the unfair and illegal decision of the regional court will be overturned.