Not easy being Chechen judge — heart attacks, beatings, abduction and other benefits 

Not easy being Chechen judge — heart attacks, beatings, abduction and other benefits
Head of Russia’s Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov and the Speaker of the Chechnya Parliament Magomed Daudov Photo: RIA Novosti

The attack on the separation of power is going full speed in Chechnya. The republic’s prosecutor informed the judiciary that those of them who would judge people according to the law would be "treated quite unconventionally." Chechen judges have started a final fight for their dignity.

The Chechnya's prosecutor has informed the judiciary of the republic that for each acquittal the judges and lawyers will personally report to Ramzan Kadyrov, warning that "no good will come of it for anyone." Several carpeting sessions resulted in heart attacks. After that, no more non-guilty verdicts were delivered.

Voluntary-compulsory retirements

On May 5, 2016, all the judges of the republic were called to an emergency meeting at the Kadyrov’s office. In view of this, all the trials scheduled for that day in Chechnya were canceled. Later in the evening, local TV channels broadcasted some excerpts from the meeting. Those scenes showed the head of Chechnya flatly accusing the judges of corruption, negligence and bloodthirstiness and literally comparing them to terrorists.

Reading from paper a note, which had apparently been prepared by the prosecutor of the republic Sharpudi Abdul-Kadyrov, the head of Chechnya gave an example of two judgments delivered by district judges Khusainov (probation for the perpetrator in the road accident) and Yandarov (declared missing a Chechen citizen who had perished 10 years ago and had been subject to a national arrest warrant for all this time on suspicion of gang involvement). Kadyrov spoke about those verdicts as if they were a fait accompli, although both decisions had been canceled long ago by a higher court (the Supreme Court of the Chechen Republic) for contravening the law. Obviously, the head of Chechnya was misinformed.

None of the judges at that meeting was allowed any word. Kadyrov was the sole performer all the way. He was completely unceremonious with federal judges, refused to listen when they tried to reply, and demanded their unconditional admission of guilt. Pounding his fists on the table, Kadyrov shouted and almost cried.

Магомед Каратаев, председатель Верховного суда Чечни

Photo: Magomed Karataev, chairman of the Supreme Court of the Chechen Republic (by Novaya Gazeta)

— I’m at a loss, don’t you feel compassion for the people? Don’t you? — Kadyrov inquired, acting as a "great lover of mankind." — I’ve already asked you: please, do not put people behind bars, don’t do that! We... have had lawlessness for 12 to 15 years. We’re not used to comply with the laws, because we did not have them. Our people are not to blame for this... But no, we’re going to convict everyone, including our own... Do not judge my people! Leave them alone!

— I don’t care Basayev [notorious Chechen terrorist, deceased] or a judge, Khattab [another deceased Chechen terrorist] or a supreme judge! — Kadyrov exclaimed, now playing a part of a "Grand Inquisitor." — If all of you are killing, humiliating my people, then I swear by Allah, nothing will stop me from wiping you off <from the face of the earth>...

To sum it up, that was an exciting one-man show. Everyone was waiting for the denouement, and it was not long in coming.

- It was you, Karataev [Chairman of the Supreme Court of the Chechen Republic Magomed Karataev], who did all of this, — Kadyrov declared. — Your appointment changed everything... If you have honor and dignity, you should resign, Karataev...

Video: Ramzan Kadyrov harshly criticized Chechen judges (by the Grozny Chechen State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company)

The Chechen TV channel modestly omitted the details that followed after those events. During the meeting, Kadyrov called the names of the four Chechen judges: Khusainov, Yandarov, Murdalov and Karataev. Those four were actually detained after the meeting. They were released only upon writing a letter of resignation. On the following day, the qualification board of judges of Chechnya stripped the district judges Khusainov and Yandarov of their powers. But as for the Chechnya Supreme Court Chairman Magomed Karataev and his deputy Takhir Murdalov, Chairman of the Judicial Board on Criminal Cases of the Chechen Supreme Court, they were not so easy to dismiss. By law, the issue of their resignation is under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Qualification Collegium of Judges, chaired by a judge of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation Nikolay Timoshin. Apparently, those who detained the judge and forced them to write a statement, had little knowledge of the matter. For this reason they were satisfied with the statements by Karataeva and Murdalov addressed to Chairman of the Supreme Court Lebedev, who is not legally entitled to strip judges of their powers. Upon signing those useless pieces of paper, Murdalov and Karataev were released. The very next day, a notably discreet Magomed Karataev (who was always even more unwilling to make comments for Novaya Gazeta than the Chechen leadership itself – Ed.) made an official statement on the Life.ru channel, which is considered an exceptionally Chechen-friendly federal media outlet. The mass media interpreted this as Karataev’s refusal to resign.

- was intentionally mislead, - Karataev said. - He was sincere in expressing his emotions, let's hope that when the truth is revealed, he will change his opinion. I don’t make assumptions, I’m pretty sure that this was done on purpose. That some people are working to discredit the leadership of the Supreme Court. We had a similar situation... about a year and a half ago. The situation was a bit different, but Kadyrov was also mislead then. When he learned about that, he struck back in kind, with courage and dignity. I still admire , and I hope that this time it will be no different...

Novaya Gazeta could not reach Magomed Karataev for comment. The only thing we know is that he tried to protect his family and currently resides outside the Chechen Republic. We also know that those people who Karataev called responsible for orchestrating his resignation, are very mad at him for throwing dust in their eyes with the statement they had worked hard to obtain, only to find out that it had no legal force. We also learned, who is most likely to replace Karataev and Murdalov. The first person is the Gudermes city court judge Ramzan Tamakov, a resident of Kadyrov's native village of Tsentoroy [in Chechnya the criminal gangs of this city mean as much as the Ozero dacha housing cooperative in Russia]. And the second person is the current judge of the Supreme Court of the Chechen Republic Musa Vagapov, known for testifying in court against his own clients as a lawyer. In 2012, he already made an attempt to become the chairman of the Chechen Supreme Court, but Moscow refused to consider him as a candidate.

The statement by Magomed Karataev has little to offer for the minds of the general public. Rather, it is addressed to those who have long and consistently tried to make the Chechen justice system serve their own needs. The same people who managed to leave no room for a statistical error in the Chechen judicial verdicts. And by such errors the Russian judges usually mean a negligible number of acquittals.

Still, the most important thing is that Karataev made this statement on the national media. Which means that the Chechen judges are prepared for their last battle.

Jury trial

In today's Chechnya even the status of a federal judge cannot guarantee your protection. Like other residents of the republic, Chechen judges are totally defenseless: they can be publicly humiliated, brutally beaten, threatened till their heart fails, kidnapped; their relatives and close ones can easily be taken hostage.

Суд присяжных.png

Novaya Gazeta has learned some facts connected to the revocation of authority of a certain Chechen judge. The editors have directed the data to the relevant authorities, including the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Presidential Administration. The story goes as follows: the youngest son of the judge wrote a critical post about Chechen realities, and in retaliation the judge himself and his eldest son were arrested. Both were beaten, and the editors are also aware of who did it and where. On the same day, the judge signed a letter of resignation, which took effect the following day. It is worth noting, that all members of the Qualification Board of Judges of Chechnya knew about the circumstances of this situation. The junior son of the judge himself, the author of the ill-fated post in a social network, surrendered after his father and brother had been arrested. The family remained unaware of his fate (or if he was alive at all) for six months. Just recently, he was finally released.

This story would have been quite common for Chechnya, if not one for the fact that it happened to a federal judge. And this federal judge refused to file any petition, knowing that nobody in Russia will be able to protect him.

The practice of non-public pressure on the representatives of the Chechen judiciary, including coercion of judges to resign "voluntarily", has a long history. Until May 5 it was difficult for the federal government to do anything about it, because such pressure was always applied quietly and victims remained silent.

But actually, that may not even be the most terrible thing there is. Chechnya has long been cultivating an open practice of hamstringing justice, while Moscow has always turned a blind eye to this. As a result, we got Kadyrov, who can influence any trial even in the remote Russian regions, such as Sakhalin.

At one time, Ramzan Kadyrov's father dreamed of a strong Chechen court and prosecutor's office. He did much for the real development of these two Russian legal institutions in post-war Chechnya. He personally persuaded many Chechens with experience, who were forced to flee from the country in times of Ichkeria, to get back and work in the relevant federal institutions.

Akhmad Kadyrov had an ideology, which contradicted that of Moscow. His priority, which he did not conceal, was to prosecute the federal military officers guilty of war crimes in Chechnya. And he was quite successful in his beginnings, given the verdict on the Khanty-Mansiysk police, the verdict in the case of Ulman, and the verdict in the case of Colonel Budanov.

Someone might say that this was only a drop in the ocean, but who knows what would have happened if not for a terrorist attack in May 2004, which killed the previous Chechen leader.

Since 2007, when Ramzan Kadyrov became the new head of Chechnya, this process stopped. The repeated trial of the Khanty-Mansiysk police was going very quietly. The new Chechen authorities maintained shamefaced silence and carefully avoided this inconvenient trial. Yet this silence went in stark contrast with the open war that the new leadership had declared upon jury trials in Chechnya.

In 2010, Chechnya became the last Russian region to introduce the jury trial. The first two trials by jury acquitted Chechens accused of grievous crimes. The acquittals were subjected to public criticism, and the jurors themselves were severely criticized. There is even a footage of the first blatant attempt of the Chechnya’s executive branch to interfere in the administration of justice.

On May 30, 2011, a jury trial fully acquitted Magomed Dudayev, Salam Ustarkhanov, Badruddi Yusupov and Mayrbek Dzhabrailov, who were accused of banditry, infringement on life of law enforcement officers, arms trafficking and aiding militants. Immediately after the verdict was delivered, the law enforcement system curator and the first deputy chairman of the Chechnya government Magomed Daudov [also known as ‘Lord’] summoned the jurors and severely rebuked them: "You should be ashamed, you - the people who bring down judgment before God. The people who were to represent that district in the hope that you will speak the truth, thinking about the one that lost her father, the one who had his brother killed by the Wahhabis, the one who lost his cousin <...>. But you’re bewildered, you’re not Chechens, you’re guilty in the eyes of God, because you’ve pronounced an unjust sentence, you trampled on the blood of others, their blood is on your hands, and you released those criminals... Padishah [Kadyrov] took <this matter> under his personal control, <because> this will take its toll. They <the acquitted> will be punished, as required by our law…"

Video: 2011. Magomed Daudov summoned jurors and scolded them

Translation from Chechen

Announcer: Guilty or not? This scene resembles the Russian movie "Twelve" [about jurors], only this time the jurors stand accused. These people are blamed for delivering a verdict of non-guilty. Murder, banditry and terrorism - these facts alone were not enough for them to convict those who had committed especially dangerous crimes.

Magomed Daudov: So we have some people, the so-called trial by jury, and because of the decision that they made, Ustarkhanov and three of his associates, four of them in total, the ones who killed people, blew mines, so that one of the victims will remain in the wheelchair till the end of life; armed people, who were accused of banditry and terrorism. And these people <the jury> calmly entered <in the courtroom> and, without thinking about the families <the victims' families>, without thinking about their fathers and mothers, without thinking of their relatives… how do we even speak about these people, how are they introduced by those who speak about them… for example, there is that woman from <the town of> Argun, her father was killed <by the Wahhabis>, that one also had his father killed by the Wahhabis, that murid Kunta-Haji, who visits people and performs dhikr <prayer>. And these people, not knowing anything, saying that they are innocent <Ustarkhanov and others>, raised their hands and released them.

Announcer: The presence of corpus delicti, and even the confession of the accused were not enough to influence the decision of the jury. Four dangerous criminals were released, and the jurors still failed to explain clearly the reasoning behind this verdict.

Magomed Daudov: They are literally telling: "We killed such and such, this one we blew up, we had weapons." Did you see the weapons we confiscated from those people (talking to a murid on the left)?

Juror 1: Yes, I saw the ones that were confiscated.

Magomed Daudov: Did you see the man who became disabled because of them?

Juror 1: Yes, I saw him.

Magomed Daudov: Then how is it that you acquitted them?

Juror 1: Well, the one that was injured... yes, he suffered bodily injuries, well...

Magomed Daudov: (interrupting) So what, he just pretended that he was hurt? You're a Muslim, you know that if you brought in the verdict of not-guilty for a person with blood on his hands, you know that this blood would be on you, you perform a dhikr and other Islamic rites, did you know that?

Juror 1: Well, before God, if he was guilty, I will be guilty than <meaning, as a person who acquitted him>.

Magomed Daudov: You, like everyone else here, pronounced that those four, who were killing people, are innocent, and you let them go. So does that mean that their blood is on your hands?

Juror 1: Well, uhm…

Magomed Daudov: Well, if you are a Muslim, then the blood is on you, is not it?

Juror 1: Yes, on me.

Magomed Daudov: ...so, this blood is on you.

Juror 2: Well, I voted against their acquittal.

Magomed Daudov: Oh, you voted against... And what about you, do you consider them guilty?

Juror 3: In some ways, I do, in some ways - not.

Magomed Daudov: Wait, now that we have all of you gathered here, you find them guilty, you’re saying that they are guilty. Then how come they were acquitted following your decision and released?

Juror 3: Well, we had questions that required the "yes" or "no" answers. We answered "yes" on some of them and “no” on others, something like that.

Announcer: The jury trial consisted of 12 people, and only two of them could give an adequate assessment of the situation, but in this case it did not affect the outcome, and thus the non-guilty verdict was delivered.

Magomed Daudov: Look, of all the twelve people, only two women told the truth to the people and the Almighty <meaning, by pronouncing the accused guilty>… So, how did it come to this?

Juror (female) 3: Well, I considered that the evidence is strong, and the proof is obvious, so I voted in good conscience. 

Announcer: By participating in the trial, these people become responsible not only for the fate of those sitting in the dock. The competence of their actions determines the fate of the whole of society. Having released the criminals, they did not just break the law, but also became their accomplices.

Magomed Daudov (speaking to the second woman - jury 4): Why did you consider them innocent? 

Juror (female) 4: Well, there were unclear questions, some of them I could understand, some of them not so much.

Magomed Daudov: Well, then you could have said that you did not understand, you could withdraw <from the trial>, could say “leave me be”... (After that, addressing everyone) You should be ashamed, you - the people who bring down judgment before God. The people who were to represent that district in the hope that you will speak the truth, thinking about the one that lost her father, the one who had his brother killed by the Wahhabis, the one who lost his cousin <...>. But you’re bewildered, you’re not Chechens, you’re guilty in the eyes of God, because you’ve pronounced an unjust sentence, you trampled on the blood of others, their blood is on your hands, and you released those criminals... Padishah [Kadyrov] took <this matter> under his personal control, <because> this will take its toll. They <the acquitted> will be punished, as required by our law… It's just that you’ll have to live in the Chechnya, and it’s shameful. If your own family had people who spend day and night, seeking for those criminals everywhere, going into in the woods, then you would’ve known…

The local media did not hesitate to show this story, but chose to omit the following significant details.

All the jurors in this case were subsequently detained. They were taken into the forest on a so-called anti-terrorist operation and forced to walk in front of the Chechen police (in fact, making primary targets of them for the militants). The judge and the lawyers of the defendants were also carpeted, upon which one of the lawyers was taken to a hospital with a heart attack and later died. A hunt was declared on the acquitted.

Some people managed to escape from Chechnya and hide, but in this case their family members were taken hostage. Novaya Gazeta, together with human rights activists, helped the family of one of the acquitted to leave the country and go to Europe. The head of the family knew that nobody would leave them alone in Chechnya, and he had two sons, senior high school students.

A few months later, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation approved the acquittal verdict of the jury in this case. However, by that time the families of the former defendants had all been affected in one way or another.

In 2012, the chairman of the Supreme Court of Chechnya Ziyavdi Zaurbekov retired, and Moscow transferred the reins of power to the chairman of the Khasavyurt District Court (Dagestan) Magomed Karataev. Through female lineage Karataev was distantly related with Ramzan Kadyrov himself. In the same year, Sharpudi Abdul-Kadyrov, also a distant relative of Ramzan Kadyrov through male lineage, was appointed a new Chechen prosecutor. At the same time, he was related to the new President of the Supreme Court of the Chechen Republic. It seemed that a steady balance was struck between the executive and judicial branches of the Chechen government. However, almost immediately upon his appointment as the new Chechen prosecutor, Abdul Kadyrov entered into an alliance with the tacit curators of the Chechen judicial system - Magomed Daudov and Khasin Taymaskhanov (assistant head of the republic). Together they shaped a course for the complete destruction of the adversarial principle of the judicial proceedings. Even those guilty verdicts when a Chechen judge spoke a bit more in favor of the defendant, than it had been suggested by the prosecution, gave grounds for sanctioning the representative of justice. Moreover, each jury trial was literally considered as a high-level threat. To wean the people of Chechnya once and for all from the non-guilty verdicts, the Chechen justice curators resorted to a "nuclear weapon," Ramzan Kadyrov.

On February 25, 2014, in the Supreme Court of the Chechen Republic, a jury trial returned a verdict against Chechnya residents Abdurakhmanov, Akayev and Bakaniev, declaring them not guilty in banditry, arms trafficking, robbery, etc. Only one of the defendants, Ibragim Bakaniev, was found guilty by the jury of the infringement on life of a law enforcement officer, the two others were acquitted. By and large, the prosecution obtained its body of evidence only due to "confessions" made by the defendants. According to the Memorial human rights center, the defendants provided that evidence under torture.

Immediately after the juries had announced their verdict, Abdurakhmanov and Akayev were released from custody. The same day, Akayev left Russia, and thus saved his life. Abdurakhmanov, unfortunately, was not as lucky. He tried to hide at the house of distant relatives in the Chechen village, but the wrath of the authorities was so great that the Abdurakhmanov’s parents themselves surrendered their son to the police. It is not as if they had a choice though.

In the evening of February 25, the local TV channel showed a huge story on this subject. Chechen judges, including the president of the Supreme Court Magomed Karataev, were called to report to Ramzan Kadyrov. Chechnya’s prosecutor Sharpudi Abdul-Kadyrov and all the law enforcement of the republic were present in the same room. Everyone listened attentively to the angry rant by the head of the region. The prosecutor nodded approvingly.

Announcer: Head of the Republic met with the leadership of the Interior Ministry, the Prosecutor's Office, the Supreme Court, the Security Council, and criticized the trial jury. The lay judges first acquitted those who had shot at the police, and then they admitted their guilt...

Kadyrov: We had a skirmish there, one shaitan [Kadyrov’s way of calling bad guys] was killed, others captured. Then the trial jury acquitted them. They admitted that they had been firing guns, robbing <people>, that they had electrocuted a child. Their crimes were evident. Still, they were released.

Announcer: Kadyrov intends to apply to the federal government with a request to ban the trial jury system in the Chechen Republic.

Kadyrov: We have sent people with our requests (I’m talking about the state leadership). This does not fit in with our mentality. Our judges are related to one another as it is, through their wives, husbands, etc. This is a problem for the Supreme Court... 

Kadyrov, addressing the terrified chairman of the Supreme Court of the Chechen Republic Magomed Karataev and other judges: If such a thing happens again in our republic, then we'll stop being comrades... 

On the same day, police officers came to the relatives of the former defendants Akayev and Abdurakhmanov. The next day, Abdurakhmanov’s relatives told him that they would help him leave the country, after what put him in a car… and brought to Grozny, to the 2nd Special-Investigative Unit of the Special Investigative Bureau under the North Caucasian Federal District Department of Russian Interior Ministry.

It was the first time in the history of Chechnya, when a father gave his son to help the rest of the family survive.

The judge and the jury of the case were summoned to the administration of the head of the republic (at the time Magomed Daudov was already appointed head of the administration). While Daudov was harshly reprimanding the jurors, the judge was sitting in the hallway waiting for his turn. He was left for last on purpose. As a result of the emotional stress, the judge suffered a heart attack; he was put in intensive care, and luckily survived.

After three and a half months, the Russian Supreme Court fully endorsed the Chechen Supreme Court verdict. However, Alvi Abdurakhmanov, who had thus been acquitted at the level of the Russian Supreme Court of Russia, remained imprisoned for several months more. Admittedly, he was treated with humanity. Nobody beat him, he was well fed, and released for the weekend to see his wife and children. Still, the authorities did not have a defined stance on the matter of his final release. Besides, the top branch remained silent after losing an appeal in the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, and the Chechen authorities have lost all interest in Alvi Abdurakhmanov...

Of course, the jury trials in Chechnya were still active, but they did not dare to bring in acquittal verdicts anymore.

The Prosecutor

Прокурор Чечни с главой республики

Photo: Chechnya’s Prosecutor with the head of the republic (by Vesti Respubliki)

Sharpudi Abdul-Kadyrov was the first Chechen appointed prosecutor of the republic in the post-war Chechnya. It was a very important moment in the political sense. The fact is that for quite some time Moscow refused to consider local candidates for this key position, which was to help integrate the post-war Chechnya in the legal field of the Russian Federation. At that time, all the candidates proposed by Akhmad Kadyrov, were rejected. In the early 2000s, the federal government was afraid to trust the positions of power to ethnic Chechens. Still, no better specialists could be found in Chechnya than those that Kadyrov senior had suggested. This was the last Soviet generation of traditional lawyers skilled in the federal field. They all received outstanding education and gained exceptional experience. All of them eventually became Chechen judges.

Those who remember the current prosecutor of Chechnya when he was a simple employee of the Achkhoy-Martan inter-district prosecutor's office, hold Sharpudi Abdul-Kadyrov in pretty high regard. Not because of fear, but apparently because he had nothing too compromising about his career. From the scant biographical information we have learned that Abdul Kadyrov was a diligent student (received an enhanced stipend), he gained experience and climbed the career ladder steadily, from trainee to first deputy prosecutor of the republic, without skipping transitional job positions. That means there was no obvious backstairs influence in his career history. However, it is not clear if he was all business as a prosecutor of the Achkhoy-Martan prosecutor's office, in the period from 1996 to 2000, when Chechnya was called Ichkeria. Given the fact that he received a diploma in 1990, the five subsequent years of practicing skills in the prosecutor's office of Ichkeria were quite meaningful for his careers. This was especially true for such a young professional, and it certainly influenced his career development.

Upon introducing Abdul-Kadyrov to the Chechen parliament, Deputy Prosecutor General Ivan Sydoruk called him "a professional with extensive experience of work in the supervisory bodies, who is known for extraordinary promptness in dealing with issues related to violations of the law." By the way, Sydoruk still remains Abdul-Kadyrov’s curator. Ramzan Kadyrov himself stressed that he was "a true professional, we fully welcome this appointment."

However, we can tell what has become of this "true professional" in just two years on the basis of the following transcript of the meeting with Chechen judges, which was initiated by Magomed Daudov and the Chechen prosecutor Sharpudi Abdul-Kadyrov (Novaya Gazeta has an audio in its possession and it will be sent to the appropriate authorities so that they could institute criminal proceedings on the fact of abuse of office by the Chechen prosecutor and to tampering with the judges in the form of intimidation and blackmail - author's note).

On December 29, 2014, judges of all instances, including magistrates, gathered in the Supreme Court of the Chechen Republic. The formal reason was the summing-up of the year 2014. Apart from the judges, the meeting was attended by invited guests, namely Chechen prosecutor Abdul Kadyrov and Dmitry Kashlyunov, the latter having his position described in the meeting protocol simply as "assistant to Daudov" (it is needless to clarify, which Daudov - everyone in Chechnya knows that). Judging from the transcript, those "invited guests" were definitely not the public prosecutor of the republic and the "assistant to Daudov". In truth, they felt like hosts on the meeting.

The Chechen prosecutor immediately set the needed pace of the meeting, "The main reason why we all are gathered here is a recent meeting with the head of the republic, Kadyrov. <...> The head of the republic expressed great concern over the situation prevailing in the republic, in regards to the authority of law enforcement bodies... The head of the republic said, "Sharpudi Muaydovich, who initiates criminal proceedings?" I responded, "The prosecution bodies." To that he inquired, "What are your credentials?" You cannot even imagine, from the moment of registration… of the crime, what pressure experienced the prosecutor of the republic. Thousands of people, who do not want to register the crime.

I personally have to fight them all, because I do not want to be a bad guy. Because we’re doing our best to investigate this criminal case. We’re trying to keep our end up in front of you, we initiate supplementary investigation, we’re trying so hard to keep the law upheld, at least partially. So that you could properly, in a comfortable environment, hear criminal proceedings... We’re bringing it to court, only to hear that from now on we <the prosecution> have nothing to do with this case... On the contrary, gentlemen! When you acquit someone, is it you who apologize <to the acquitted>? Of course not, it’s me who offers an apology in person, as the prosecutor of the republic, to the acquitted person... Do you travel to Moscow and explain yourself before the Russian Prosecutor general for each acquitted defendant? No, it’s me who goes in person and makes excuses... The head of the republic said to me, "For every acquittal the prosecutor of the republic will answer to me personally…"

... Then I said, "Ramzan Akhmatovich, I'll go <to you>, along with the loose-lipped judges, and tell <about each of them> who he actually is.

... Magomed Evurkhaevich and I are regularly criticized. But not in a bad way, in a good one. They tell me that if the judge passes an illegal sentence, then I should give his name and surname, so that we could report to the Russian President that this judge undermines the foundations of the constitutional order of the Russian Federation.

... I’m being completely frank with you today, so that you won’t feel surprised tomorrow, when I'm going to visit the head of the republic and take one or two of you (of the judges - author’s note) with me. And this time I will be the accuser (apparently, before Ramzan Kadyrov – author’s note), not somebody else...

I hold the status of the court in high regard <...> I want you all to understand me correctly, because in no way I’m trying to infringe your rights, in no way I’m trying to deprive you of autonomy... I’ve never encouraged any prosecutor to say anything illegal before the court. Never have I called any judge to ask for acquitting someone. <I am ready to> crawl, <if> ... a person's blame is 100% proven. Why do you then exonerate him?.. Only a few chairmen <of the district courts>, who I know, received such calls...

I’m always grateful when you <...> improve punitive practices, although you could do the other way around to make, and that could be absolutely legal…

Well, then... The institute of jurors... So, being the prosecutor of the republic, I cannot ignore the requests of the head of the republic, though I’ve never faced any illegal requests. Magomed Evurhaevich cannot <ignore the requests as well>! None of those present can! So, what about this "maid" <...> who has been invited to the court? She ignores the law, Ramzan Akhmatovich and the country’s president <Putin>. And she says, "I will acquit, watch me do this." And brings in the verdict of not-guilty.

The head of the republic said literally as follows, "If there are unjust acquittals in the republic, then you will be personally accountable for this..."

Judge of the Chechen Supreme Court Ismailov: The report of Sharpudi Muaydovich features a lot of information regarding the not-guilty verdicts rendered by the republican judges. If we refer to the statistics, as of December 1, 2014, the republican courts reviewed 1727 cases with sentencing outcome. Of those, we had only 2 acquittals. The first case was returned to the prosecutor under art. 237 of the Criminal Procedure Code of the Russia Federation. That's all the exonerative practice we can talk about.

Prosecutor: I didn’t want to tell this to Ismailov, but now I will. Ismailov was the author of one of the criminal cases in which a woman who had killed a swindler was acquitted. I haven’t told the head of the republic about it just yet... Well, this is going to be the first criminal case that we’ll bring to the attention of the head of the republic ... I’ll tell that you misguided the jury...

Judge Ismailov: I didn’t misguide anyone.

Prosecutor: I'll say it in some other place.

Judge Ismailov: Please!

Prosecutor: You misguided the jurors by urging them not to pay attention to the evidence <in the videotape>, where that woman gives her confession before the head of the republic, for everyone to hear.

Judge Ismailov: Sharpudi Muaydovich, how can you say that it was confessionary evidence, when some man in camouflage is just standing there and talking to that woman? No procedural implementation, no record <of interrogation>. It was unclear who was asking these women questions and who was standing out there in front of the camera... (at this point the assembly hall of the Chechen Supreme Court explodes with applause – author’s note)

The Prosecutor (apparently smitten by this unanimous support the judges provided to their colleague): I haven’t said in my speech that we have a lot of acquittals. I'm talking about something else.

Judge Ismailov: You said that we have acquittals rendered in the republic...

Prosecutor: I said that one of them had been completely illegal, and it had been yours, which was incidentally canceled afterwards.

Judge Ismailov: Pardon me, the sentence came into force. It wasn’t canceled, it was modified, and the sentence was even reduced. 

Prosecutor: We'll come back to this...

Chairman of the Nadterechniy Chechen District Court Ibragimov: I have a question. I’m the Chairman of the Nadterechniy District Court, I worked in the investigation and the prosecutor's office, you did as well; I've known you for quite some time, and you’ve known me. Is it possible to "break" a properly investigated case?

Prosecutor: In the Chechen Republic, and I’m telling you this with certainty, it’s possible to "break" any criminal case, if there is such a need.

Judge Ibragimov: I can never agree with you... You mentioned the inactivity of the Chechen Supreme Court. If we had illegal verdicts rendered, how many of them did you appeal, and how many were canceled by the Supreme Court of the Chechen Republic and the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation?

Prosecutor: I’ll explain in simple words... The law goes as follows: the supervisory authority works only in the case of fundamental violations in the sentence... Anyone who is at least familiar with the law, knows that the prosecutor is practically in a procedural impasse because of this supervisory instance. He cannot apply to the supervisory body, if not in case of fundamental violations of the law, and their list is strictly limited. We cannot apply, we just cannot <...> Next. If we say that we all wish the best for our republic and we're all in here for justice, then we should not hold any discrepancies among us <...> What’s wrong with the judge having the same stance on the matter as the prosecutor?

Judge Ibragimov: He may also have the same stance as the defendant’s lawyer – this is the adversarial nature of the judicial process. Why should I give preference to one <of the parties>?..

Prosecutor: It turns out that today the prosecutors are on their own, and you are also on your own. But then let's see where that will lead us. You will be checked, and we will be checked as well. And nothing good will come of it for anyone. The Head of the Republic said, "I’m going to invite this judge with you and listen to both of you..." <And> when they’re going to have an unconventional approach to you, it’s me who’ll be there to stand for you, not Magomed Evurhaevich <Karataev>...

Soon afterwards, on May 5, Karataev himself suffered from the so-called “unconventional approach.”

Total control

I have no doubt that the Chechen prosecutor may be directly responsible for the events of May 5, for this illegal attempt to change the leadership of the Chechen Supreme Court using the hands of the head of the republic. The shorthand notes of the meeting serves as an obvious proof of that. Ramzan Kadyrov word for word repeated the accusations made by Shapsudi Abudul-Kadyrov in December 2014.

The December meeting gave the desired results, eloquently confirmed by statistics. If in 2013, the Chechen courts rendered 12 not-guilty verdicts, in 2014 the republic already had only 2 acquittals.

In 2015, there were none at all.

Last year was the most difficult in recent history of the judicial system in the Chechen Republic. To avoid being called to account by Daudov and Kadyrov (with further sanctions, including voluntary-compulsory resignation, which is not even the worst outcome), judges started to make gross violations of the judicial process. However, jury trials still remained the most problematic issue...

Last year, in the Grozny District Court, there was an ordinary hearing (without juries) presided over by the same judge Khusainov, whose resignation Kadyrov would then demand at the May 2016 meeting. During this process, the lawyer asked for the prosecutor’s recusal. That was a common case that occurs quite often in the courts all over Russia. If not for one peculiar detail, namely, the very content of the motion for disqualification of the prosecutor, which was a telltale sign of how the jury trials were now held in the Chechen Supreme Court:

"Prosecutor NN told <me and three other witnesses> that he was convinced they <the defendants, one of whom I counseled> were innocent, but admitted that would not be able to say so in court and to drop the charges, because he was tied with the position of the Chechen Prosecutor Sharpudi Abdul-Kadyrov and his deputy Zaurek Dzhankhotov.

I protested <to the prosecutor>, saying that the public prosecutor in the trial should act from the opinion of whether the defendant is guilty or not, the opinion he personally developed during the trial. To this <prosecutor NN> replied that it was what the law required, but "such things are impossible in our republic." Then he began to tell that no indictment, even in the district prosecutor's office, could be approved by the prosecutors without the written consent of the 16th Division of the Prosecutor's Office of the Chechen Republic, signed by Deputy Prosecutor Dzhankhotov.

After that <prosecutor NN> said that he was going to retire from the prosecutor’s office within ten days. Furthermore, he spoke about the reasons for his decision: he supported the prosecution in a court session with the trial of juries, in which the jurors acquitted the defendant with a vote of 9 to 3. Then, under the false pretext, the chairman sent the jurors to the deliberation room, and soon they returned with a unanimous not-guilty verdict. The judge was furious, he announced a break for a few days, after which it turned out that one of the jurors got a heart attack and was replaced, while the rest rendered a unanimous guilty verdict.

<Prosecutor NN> said that he could not work in the prosecutor's office, which is actually the chief violator of law in the Chechen Republic...

When asked <...> how can a judge issue a guilty verdict in the absence of proof, <prosecutor NN> stated that during the meeting of Chechen judges prosecutor Abdul Kadyrov informed that any judge who would bring in a not-guilty verdict... would go on trial himself, and that Abdul Kadyrov would be the accuser..."

With the assistance of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, we have obtained the materials of that very case, which was considered by the jurors, and we familiarized ourselves with the record of the hearing. The claims were substantiated. The judge did sent the jurors to the deliberation room three times, each time insisting that the verdict was "vague and contradictory." There was indeed a two-day break in the hearing process, during which one of the jurors got into hospital and could not make it back to the court room. And finally, after a two-day break, the jury did return to court and render a unanimous guilty verdict.

The Clientele

Today, Chechnya is having another jury trial for a political cause that the media referred to as "the case of the UNA-UNSO members" (Ukrainian National Assembly – Ukrainian People’s Self-Defense). This case is extremely sensitive, because it is the first one that Moscow entrusted to Chechnya. Therefore, it is strictly controlled by the federal authorities.

Two Ukrainian citizens, Stanislav Klykh and Nikolay Karpyuk, stand accused of fighting against Russian federal troops in the end of 1994 - beginning of 1995 as part of the armed forces of the self-proclaimed Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. Twenty years later, the Russian Investigative Committee allegedly managed to prove that Klykh and Karpyuk personally tortured and killed 30 Russian soldiers during clashes in Grozny in the period from 10 a.m. local time on December 31, 1994, to the evening of January 2, 1995.

The Memorial Human Rights Center, the only Russian archiving utility of the real events during both Chechen military campaigns, has prepared a detailed analysis of the indictment. Alexander Cherkasov, chairman of the Memorial council, spoke in court as a defense witness. He proved by documentary evidence that the charges against Klykh and Karpyuk do not correspond to the actual circumstances of the death of Russian soldiers. Cherkasov questioned the testimony regarding the battles on Minutka Square during the assault on Grozny on December 31, 1994 and in the early days of 1995. The relevant data was provided during the investigation by the defendants themselves, as well as a key prosecution witness, a certain Malofeyev with multiple convictions. The human rights activist noted that at the time specified in the indictment, the Minutka Sqaure had been located in the rear of the Chechen army, and that the fights for it had begun only at the end of January 1995.

Cherkasov also refuted Malofeyev’s testimony of torture of federal prisoners by Ukrainian soldiers, which allegedly had taken place in February 1995, in a house on the Pervomayskaya Street. At that time, he elaborated, this part of the city, on the contrary, was in the rear of the Russians.

"... The investigators obviously chose not to examine the real circumstances of the death of Russian soldiers, hoping that no one would indulge himself with this hopeless task…"

... Of the thirty deceased soldiers listed in the indictment, 18 people were killed at a considerable distance from the sites of the clashes with Ukrainians mentioned in the indictment. 

Of the remaining twelve, ten died not from small arms (they burned to death in tanks and military vehicles shot by grenade launchers, and one of them had multiple shrapnel wounds from a mine explosion). With this in mind, Karpyuk and Klykh are incriminated with murders as part of the gang, which was equipped only with small arms. 

The investigation did not bother to establish not only the place of the soldiers’ deaths, but their corps as well (they are qualified as motorized infantry of the 131st Motorized Rifle Brigade, 81th and 276th Motorized Infantry Regiments, while in reality four of them were the paratroopers of the 76th Airborne Division, which means that they belonged to a different branch of arms).

Thus, we can confidently assert that the murder charges against Nikolay Karpyuk and Stanislav Klykh in connection with the death of thirty Russian soldiers are in no way based on the investigation of the actual circumstances of those tragic events..."

The trial over the UNA-UNSO case is conducted by the judge of the Chechen Supreme Court Ismailov. The one who stated the insignificance of evidence obtained under duress before the Chechnya’s prosecutor himself, at the meeting last December. Ismailov was the one who was met with applause by his colleagues during that speech. Today judge Ismailov shows it in the field how evidence obtained under torture may form the basis of a terrible sentence.

Klykh and Karpyuk face a strong possibility of life imprisonment. At this prospect, defendant Stanislav Klykh went mad, as reported by his lawyer Marina Dubrovina. Indeed, his behavior seems abnormal, which is pretty obvious for everyone. But judge Ismailov, who is supposed to commission a psychiatric examination in this case, does not notice any oddities in the behavior of the defendant. If the examination proves that Klykh is insane, it will automatically make the rendering of the guilty verdict with a real punishment impossible. He would have to be sent to a special hospital. This would not be the best alternative for him, because the Russian special hospital are no different from prisons. But still, this outcome is unacceptable for the prosecutors, who seek victory in the form of maximum term of imprisonment (for life). So, the same judge Ismailov cannot allow to make even this kind of minor concession.

All of this brings us to another question: if the Chechen court is literally buried, then why change the leadership? Especially by making such a mess out of it way and putting the head of Chechnya himself at risk?

The truth is very simple. At this point, Chechen and Russian courts are conducting two judicial proceedings that directly affect the interests and compromise the reputation of three people — Sharpudi Abdul-Kadyrov, Magomed Daudov and Khasin Taymaskhanov. That is, all of the so-called "curators" of the republican justice system. These cases are nothing if not a professional revenge of the Chechen judges for all the humiliation they endured. Novaya Gazeta is carefully monitoring the proceedings in these cases that went beyond the borders of the republic, which means that it will not be so easy to cover the tracks this time (Novaya Gazeta has obtained the case materials and intends to publish them in any case – author’s note).

This fact was the main reason for that thoughtful and well-orchestrated performance on May 5, followed by the dismissal of the Chechen Supreme Court leadership. But it highly doubtful though that the actor, who played the main role, was aware of the true motives of this “clientele,” as they were called by the chairman of the Chechen Supreme Court Magomed Karataev.

However, it is said that ignorance of the law is no excuse. Ramzan Kadyrov, being only a representative of the executive power, is not entitled to put pressure on judges and demand their resignation.

Putin's Injunction

On March 25, Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed Ramzan Kadyrov acting head of Chechnya, until the election of the head of the region, which is to take place in September. Kadyrov previously announced that he would fight for this office. Putin's decision was absolutely predictable, and the information that Chechnya was allowed to hold the elections, had gone public as early as last year. However, six weeks before reappointment Kadyrov made a sensational statement in the Yeltsin "I'm tired, I'm leaving" style. That announcement provoked strong rumors of the strained relations between Moscow and Chechnya. People started suspect that the Kremlin could go as far as to cancel the elections and appoint a new head of the republic, not Ramzan Kadyrov.

In the evening of March 25, the city of Grozny shuddered from the cannonade of explosions. The ten-minute fireworks show was to defuse the tension that had been dominating the Chechen authorities for the last couple months. This show was also an indirect proof that Kadyrov’s fears were justified. Putin’s unconventional public instructions Kadyrov sounded more like a rebuke from the president to the Chechen leader, "Of course, both you and the future leaders of the republic must do everything to uphold the Russian laws in all spheres of our life, and I want to emphasize that — in all spheres.”

Seems like on that day Ramzan Kadyrov was beyond himself with happiness and therefore somehow missed the presidential instructions.

Audio


The meeting of the Chechnya Prosecutor with the judges. December 2014

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