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Dagestan: Forced Confessions Claims

Two recent cases highlight the alleged Dagestani police practice of framing people.
By Musa Musayev
The prominent Dagestani human rights activist Osman Boliev is taking refuge in Ukraine after facing a second criminal case in the space of a year.

Boliev, head of the Romashka human rights organisation, which had helped a series of people who complained of abuses by the law enforcement agencies in the North Caucasian republic, has been subject to sustained harassment himself, his brother Ruslan Boliev told IWPR.

“When they detained him they wanted to beat a confession out of him that he was supposedly working for the western secret services,” said Ruslan Boliev. “But when they discovered that he is not one of those people who will admit to a crime under duress they just planted a grenade on him. The criminal case collapsed in court and he was acquitted, but without pausing for thought they just laid a new criminal charge against him.”

Osman Boliev has been the leading human rights defender in the western Dagestani town of Khasavyurt on the border with Chechnya, which has been the target of police and military operations for several years. Having a legal education - although not a practising lawyer - he has helped bring cases to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

His case highlights the Dagestani police’s alleged practice of trying to extract confessions from suspects, often by extremely brutal methods.

Boliev was arrested for possession of a grenade last November and said he was beaten in detention. The case attracted widespread attention both in Russia and abroad, and he was acquitted by a judge in Khasavyurt, Yarali Ramazanov, in June.

Immediately afterwards, however, Ramazanov retired and within two weeks Boliev faced a new criminal charge of “participation in an illegal armed formation” and illegal acquisition of an automatic weapon. He left for Ukraine and is now asking for political asylum there.

The new charge, based on one police report, alleges that Boliev was a member of a bandit group in 2000. Boliev’s lawyer, Salimat Kadyrova, said that the prosecuting authorities had made elementary mistakes by relying on just one piece of evidence and failing to question Boliev, who could have provided an alibi. She said the court had been shown a sealed envelope with information from an unnamed source.

Public Prosecutor Gagarin Omarov, who prosecuted Boliev in the failed case of possessing a grenade, declined to comment on either of the cases against Boliev, saying he did not have enough time to do so when IWPR questioned several days in a row.

Boliev was heavily involved in the case of Yerali Israilov, a resident of Khasavyurt, who was detained by the security forces in October 2004 and subsequently disappeared. Boliev took up the case and filed a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights. Israilov’s family say they believe he was tortured and killed in official custody in Chechnya. His body has not been returned to them.

The activist also helped another family, that of an imam in Khasavyurt, whose six-year-old daughter was killed in shootout in a security operation in the town. He helped them filed a complaint to Strasbourg, while they have now fled Russia.

Dagestanis say that instances of police abuse of powers are still common in their republic and that the police often try to beat false confessions out of detainees. Another man who says he has suffered torture and false accusations is bank courier Aminhadji Aminov, from the western town of Buinaksk, whose health was shattered by a prolonged spell in police custody.

Aminov was arrested for the murder of his colleague Abdusalam Khojoev, whose body was discovered in the wreckage of a burned-out car on April 2, a few days after he mysteriously vanished.

Aminov said he was taken to the Buinaksk headquarters and brutally beaten so that he would confess to the crime. When he refused to do so, they filled a plastic bottle with water, wrapped it in a towel and began to beat him about the head. They then poured boiling water over him and when it had run out, beat him with the empty metal thermos flask.

He said he eventually fainted, “The thermos turned flat as a pancake, but I don’t remember what happened to me after that.”

Aminov was given no medical help for a whole day, but on the second day they eventually called a doctor, who said he needed urgent treatment. The police refused and took him to court to ask for permission to detain him further. The detainee was in such a bad state that he could not get out of the car, but the judge came down to him and, paying no attention to his wounds, authorised a further ten days’ detention. He was kept in an isolation cell in the police station in the Dagestani capital Makhachkala and not allowed to see his lawyer.

Aminov was finally released on April 13 after his relatives threatened to stage a sit-down protest on the main highway in their town. Another man was arrested for the murder of Khojoyev.

Photographs of Aminov on his release show him covered in burn marks. Since then he has been having continuous medical treatment for damage to his skull, nervous problems and other complaints. Formerly a healthy man who weighed 96 kilos, he has lost about 20 per cent of his body weight; has breathing problems; dizzy spells and walks with difficulty.

However, a court medical expert determined that the damage to Aminov’s health had been “light” - a diagnosis he and his family strongly contest.

A criminal case has now been opened into the beating of Aminov, but he and his relatives are sceptical that it will end in a conviction. The investigation is being led by Abduragim Malikov, the same prosecutor, who investigated the murder for which Aminov was initially arrested. Malikov told IWPR that the two police officers whom Aminov accuses of having savagely beaten him have both provided alibis.

“There is the testimony of Aminov himself and the results of the expert report that he suffered light damage to his health,” said Malikov. “But that is not enough for us to prosecute certain people. Now a second expert report has been commissioned to assess the extent of the damage to his health as the complainant spent a long time in hospital. The men whom Aminov picked out in an identity parade have presented alibis and say they have witnesses who can confirm where they were.”

Musa Musayev is a correspondent for Severny Kavkaz newspaper in Dagestan.

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