First Trial Against Policemen-Sadists in Ingushetia: Drawn-out Farce, or Real Drama of Justice?

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Jun 18, 2012, 5:06:53 AM6/18/12
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First Trial Against Policemen-Sadists in Ingushetia: Drawn-out Farce, or Real Drama of Justice?

Elena Burtina

In Russia people have finally started to speak out loudly about the use of torture in the justice system. However, there are, currently few legal proceedings against sadists in uniform. In the Northern Caucasus, where the majority of torture takes place, there are none. In Ingushetia, the first such trial is currently under way: on the defendants' bench in Karabulak city court sit the head of the local police department Nazir Guliev and his deputy, Ilez Nal'giev. These people are well-known in the republic, the local internet full of tales about their doings. N. Guliev's closeness to the family of the head of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Evkurov, assured them of their own impunity. In the end, even their subordinates revolted against them. Now, they have been accused of serious misconduct, and Nal'giev of the use of torture against the young Chechen Zelimkhan Chitigov. (Zelimkhan related his experiences in a shocking interview, published in the magazine “Russian Reporter”, No. 37, 2011: http://rusrep.ru/article/2011/09/16/zelim/).

We, the Civic Assistance Committee and the Human Rights Centre Memorial, are following the course of this important trial and are sharing our observations with the public (see: http://www.memo.ru/eng/news/2012/01/17/1701121.html, http://www.memo.ru/eng/news/2011/10/07/0710111.html, http://www.memo.ru/eng/news/2011/09/16/1609111.html).

The trial is more often at a standstill than in progress

Despite the disgrace of the defendants, the trial is progressing with extreme difficulty. At the beginning, the defendants' lawyers were able to disrupt the opening of the trial for an entire month. For the whole of autumn and the beginning of winter 2011 it progressed fairly intensively, such that the judge, F. Ausheva, postulated that a sentence would be reached before or immediately after New Year. However, the trial has still not ended, and no-one would now be likely to try to name even a rough date for its end. Between January and May, 2012, the court met for more than 15 minutes only five times. Such was the chronicle of events at the trial this year.

At the first session after the end of the New Year vacations, the question about the use of measure of restraint against Guliev and Nal'giev was to be considered. On the eve of this session, 11th January, Nal'giev's relatives, together with the local opposition leader Khazbiev, went to the maternal uncle of Zelimkhan Chitigov and tried to persuade him to convince Chitigov to drop his charges against Nal'giev; their efforts unsuccessful, they threatened to deal with him according to Vainakh rules.

On January 12th, Guliev and Nal'giev, with the support of Khazbiev, appeared on the television channel PIK with absurd declarations about the political motivations of the proceedings against them, which were revenge for their opposition to the misappropriation of oil by the brother of Yu-B. Evkurov (see: http://pik.tv/ru/news/story/27937-borba-za-ingushskuiu-neft-i-delo-chitigova; S. Gannushkina, “The Accused Guliev and Nalgiev are Trying to Make their Case Appear Politically Motivated”: http://www.memo.ru/eng/news/2012/01/20/2001123.html).

During the night of January 12th-13th an explosion was heard outside Nal'giev's house, and he was hospitalized – and the session, which the defendant had so wanted to avoid, was postponed. The first reports about Nal'giev's critical condition were not borne out and he was soon discharged from the hospital, but the trial again failed to recommence – this time, through the fault of Guliev's lawyer. The court gave him time to ensure the participation of a lawyer, but Guliev ignored this requirement; a state lawyer was then assigned to him. The new lawyer, however, needed time to acquaint himself with the case – and the trial was again postponed.

On March 1st the trial again recommenced and, over two weeks, four substantial sessions took place. In the middle of the month, though, the trial came to a halt once again: the court awaited the results of examination of the handwriting of three witnesses, who refused to confirm that those were their signatures under the records of interrogation during the investigation. And now there have been no developments in the trial for two and a half months. In a word, this trial is more often at a standstill than in progress.

How is this to be explained?

Firstly, without doubt, the defense has deliberately protracted the trial. The sessions have frequently been postponed at the fault of the defendants' lawyers, and not once due to the victims' lawyers. The point of the protraction is clear: having mindlessly opposed the local authorities, Guliev and Nal'giev hopes rest on a change in the political situation in the Republic in their favour.

Here is a characteristic episode, demonstrating the political sympathies and hopes of the defendants. After the session Guliev, in the courtroom, called some high-up personage and loudly, clearly to the public, said: “If this Chitigov is a citizen of Chechnya then pass this case to Chechnya, I'm sure that the case will be considered there without bias, fairly, and, as is fit, we will be acquitted.”

Secondly, the defendants are on the constant and frantic hunt for means by which to escape punishment, and this hunt also serves to draw out the trial. The extent of their despair, and the lengths to which they are willing to go, is shown by the ridiculous attempt to present their criminal case as political persecution, and to corroborate this version with a little pyrotechnic show.

Thirdly, not only the defendants but also, possibly, other participants in the trial, including the judge and the prosecutor, await its conclusion with uneasiness, and are disinclined to hurry matters.

Non-restraining measures

As we related in our last report (http://www.memo.ru/d/3296.html), on November 22nd the board of the Supreme Court of Ingushetia, at the appeal of the Chitigov family's lawyers, T. Tsechoeva and N. Khasanova, annulled the Karabulak district court's decision to refuse that restraining measures against Nal'giev and Guliev be changed from a written undertaking not to leave to placement in custody, and sent the case to Karabulak Court for new consideration. However, the judge, F. Ausheva, postponed its consideration and was clearly not in a mood to pass the measures. The prosecutor also made no attempt to place Guliev and Nal'giev under arrest.

However, after the appearance of the Karabulak tandem on the television channel PIK with the coarse accusations directed at the head of the Republic, Yu-B. Evkurov, the situation changed. The prosecutor announced a petition for a change to the restraining measures against Nal'giev and Guliev. Moreover, on the back of rumors about the intentions of Nal'giev's relatives to transport him out of the republic, allegedly in order to receive more qualified medical care, Ingush officers of power structures, not waiting for a decision about the change of restraining measures against him, attempted to transfer Nal'giev from an ordinary hospital ward to a guarded one. This illegal attempt fell through, but in the course of the scuffle the patient neighbouring Nal'giev in the ward was injured, a fracture, only recently healed, again broken (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/199492/).

On January 20, the first court hearing of the case of Guliev and Nal'giev took place in the new year. This is how one of the onlookers describes his feelings:

«Everything is as usual, but the atmosphere in the courtroom was different today. Everyone was laconic, thoughtful, especially the party of the accused. It was clear that something has changed. There is a group of cars belonging to law enforcement authorities on the streets adjacent to the court. There are lots of armed people in masks in the court's yard. They are OMON officers. Also there are many officers of special forces inside the building.

At some moment officers of special forces and bailiffs began to move, and one of them started ordering where people have to stand and what they have to do. It was very strange because they had never done such things before.

Guliev's lawyer, Magomadov, appeared in the courtroom, he could not hide confusion. Nal'giev's mother entered next uncertainly. Then Guliev came in wearing a big mink hat that he did not even take off. He was pale and nervous. It is impossible to describe the rage expressed on his face. It seemed that he understood that he and Nal'giev had lead themselves into a dead end. Now, all branches of government and law enforcement authorities in the republic have a deep interest in the case against them.

Prosecutor Akhilgov addressed Nal'giev's mother: “Your son is in hospital, isn't he?” - Nal'giev's mother confirmed and burst into tears, without trying to hide it. On the contrary, she tried to show herself as a desperate mother who is made to cry by malicious people».

This picture significantly differs from the one which has been observed so far. Defendants considered themselves to be in charge at their trial interrupting speakers, openly threatening victims, their lawyers, inconvenient witnesses, the impudent smile didn't leave Nal'giev's face.

Due to the absence of Nal'giev, consideration of petitions for change in the means of restraint for the defendants has been postponed. But the whole situation in court indicated that this time the decision will be positive.

However, at the following court hearing, on February 7, when the court finally started the hearing for the petition fro the public prosecutor's office, the situation changed again. Prosecutor Murzabekov read out the petition, but obviously had no desire to substantiate it. It was clear, that he was formally fulfilling orders from above. Supporting the prosecutor's office petition, Murzabekov referred to orientation by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ingushetia that Nal'giev and Guliev plan to leave Russia. The judge asked him to report the reasons on which that suggestion was based. Murzabekov responded that it was confidential information which could not be announced in public. The judge reasonably remarked that information should be declassified, otherwise it is worth nothing. The motion was dismissed.

Why the prosecutor's office acted so poorly is a matter for debate. The only obvious thing is that the position of Karabulak court and the prosecutor's office regarding the measure of restraint for Nal'giev and Guliev greatly differs from the position regarding Zelimkhan Chitigov: he was accused under a softer article and was capable of neither seating nor standing due to torture, was arrested without any doubts.

However, the court had to consider similar petition of Zukhra Chitigova, Zelimkhan's mothers, similar petition, who has been threatened by the Nal'gievs multiple times. Questions over changes to a measure of restraint for Nal'giev and of providing state protection to Chitigov's family remained unresolved, so Zukhra along with her children have left Ingushetia due to safety reasons. The result of the hearing of the petition from the prosecutor's office showed that there is no way for her petition to be satisfied. Therefore Zukhra decided to withdraw the petition.

Related "alibi"

We should remind that the most severe punishment - for the use of torture - threatens Nal'giev. Defense tries to disprove this charge with an alibi. On November 1, 2011 Nal'giev’s lawyer Aza Yandieva made a statement that from April 16 to May 8, 2010 Nal'giev had been on treatment at the ENT department of the Ingush republican hospital and, therefore, could not take part in the torture of Zelimkhan Chitigov on 27-30 April 2010. Nal'giev and his lawyer mentioned it neither during the investigation nor at trial. In support of her statement Yandieva presented a certificate from the hospital.

To confirm the alibi of Nal'giev, the court, at the request of defense, called witnesses - employees of the ENT department of the republican hospital and patients who were on treatment at the same time as Nal'giev was. However, these witnesses were clearly trying to avoid involvement in the process. At the hearing on December 19 the judge noting that the doctors had who issued a medical certificate to Nal'giev, again failed to appear before the court and testify, decided to execute compulsory process.

Only on February 7, 2012 the court managed to question doctor Khadizhat Kodzoeva, which, according to the defense, was the doctor in charge of Nalgiev's case during his stay in the ENT department of the republican hospital in April and May 2010. Initially, the witness answered questions of the victim’s lawyer glibly, so it was evident that she had prepared. However, at some point, she was confused and did not know what to say. She could not explain why an extract from the history of the disease of Nal'giev had been signed by her by 2009 year. In the end, she said that this document was not written and signed by her hand.

On March 1, 2012 a nurse of the ENT department Amina Gazdieva testified. Despite the fact that she is a defense witness, her appearance in court was provided by Chitigovs' lawyers. Gazdieva confirmed that Nal'giev had been in the ENT department of the republican hospital from 16 April to 8 May. She remembered him very well, however, could not explain why. Responding to questions from lawyers of the injured party, she began to lose confidence. In the end it turned out that she could vouch only for the days when she took Nal'giev to consult the experts of other departments of the hospital. Gazdieva remembered three or four such visits. A reasonable question of the lawyers of the injured party arose: why there were no records of his examinations by specialists from other departments in the history of the disease. Gazdieva confused and said she did not understand how this could had happened.

All other witnesses who were to prove an alibi of Nal'giev, were... Nal'gievs. The judge refused in questioning of the brothers of Nal'giev - Adam and Akroman - due to the fact that they had been in the courtroom during sessions earlier. Questioning of Dzhabrail Nal'giev was terminated by the fault of the lawyer of Nal'giev Yandiyeva: her questions to the witness looked like tips.

On March 12 Eset Nal'gieva, second cousin of the defendant, and his aunt Zina Tsechoeva were questioned. Both said they had visited Nal'giev in the hospital in the period from April 16 to May 8, 2010. It was no more than three or four times, so their testimony could not confirm his permanent stay in the hospital, even if they were true. Lawyer T. Tsechoeva asked on which floor the ward, in which Nal'giev had been, was, his aunt said that on the third floor, but here's the rub: in the building of the ENT department, there is no third floor.

Witness Magomed Nal'giev was in the ENT department for one day – on the 24th April, he could recall nor month, nor any other details of his stay there. He said that he had a fever. But the fact that his neighbour in the ward was Ilez Nal'giev, he remembered well. However, as the lawyer of Z. Chitigov, Toma Tsechoev, learned, Magomed Nal'giev does not appear in the list of patients treated at the ENT department in April-May 2010.

That's the “alibi”.

Publicity is annoying

In early March, suddenly the issue of coverage of the process in the Internet appeared in the process. The reason for this was the appeal of a Zaur Sultygov (we do not know the person) to different instances, which reported that HRC Memorial illegally distributes statements of the court of this process in the Internet. Obviously, it is about articles of Svetlana Gannushkina and mine from the Civic Assistance Committee and Memorial, which were placed in media. In these articles, based largely on personal experiences and partly on reports from colleagues, some episodes of the process are described in details that apparently caused the impression that the court records are quoted.

On March 5, judge F. Ausheva tried to prohibit a lawyer T. Tsechoeva to audio the process. However, the lawyer convinced the judge that such a ban does not have legal grounds. During the debate on this issue the judge said: "I understand that something about the process might be interesting to the reader, but why is it necessary to write in the Internet what way people behaved in the courtroom, which ear were scratching, who was coughing or blowing his nose…"

It's an interesting observation. Of course, there are no words about who "was scratching the ear, coughing or blowing his nose" in our publications. But, for sure, there was information about "the behavior in the courtroom": sometimes the sense of the events is demonstrated by the participants' behavior, fragments of dialogues etc. so clearly that there is no need to comment.  And if someone has the impression that we are publishing court records, it means that our description is correct. It is clear that the defendants, their lawyers, relatives and witnesses may be discontented with these publications. But why do they annoy the court?

We have only one explanation why these detailed descriptions appearing in the media cause some participants' irritation: they can prevent the achievement of undercover compromise revealing a striking difference between the course of the process and its results.

On June 4 after a long break the Karabulak process resumed. The results of the examination of signatures of three witnesses, who rejected them at the beginning of the process, were announced at the hearing. Moscow experts concluded that the signatures are original.

Thus, the process is ongoing. Soon it will become clear what this process was - a protracted farce or a drama of true justice. The first would mean that many more residents of Ingushetia would have to go through unspeakably terrible events, that Zelimkhan Chitigov has gone through, and that someone will probably not survive.

June 18, 2012

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