The leader of Circassian group Khabze, Martin Kochesoko, has been arrested in the Russian Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria on drugs charges. Two other members of the group were also detained.
The car in which Martin Kochesoko and his colleagues Murat Shurdumov and Aslandzheri Dymov was stopped by traffic police in Lesken District in the south-east of Kabardino-Balkaria on 7 June, Caucasian Knot reported.
According to the police, during a search and inspection of the car, a bag of drugs was found on Kochesoko.
The detainees were taken to the police station of the city of Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, after which Kochesoko was sent to the Nalchik Detention Centre. His colleagues were forced to sign an agreement not to leave their place of residence.
Law enforcement agencies have not commented on the arrest.
According to Russian News Agency Region Online, on the morning of 8 June, a search was conducted in Khabze’s offices, during which all computers were seized.
The Caucasus Times news site reported that pressure was being exerted on Kochesoko through his relatives, so that ‘he will confess’ and receive a smaller penalty.
On 11 June, Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported that the Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights under the President of Russia would take over the Kochesoko’s case.
‘Politically motivated case’
Aslan Beshto, the leader of the Congress of the Kabardian People, told OC Media that he considered Kochesoko’s criticism of the authorities to be the real reason for his arrest.
‘The very fact of a search and seizure of computers and electronic media in the office of the public organization Khabze says that the real reason for the persecution of Kochesoko is his public activity’, Beshto said.
He said he was confident that the drugs were planted on Kochesoko. ‘Anyone who knows Martin closely will never believe that Martin ever used or distributed them [drugs]’.
Valery Khatazhukov, head of the Kabardino-Balkaria’s Human Rights Centre, told OC Media that he also believed the real reasons for Kochesoko’s arrest were his public criticism of the authorities.
According to him, Kochesoko had been critical of the ‘targeted destruction’ on the rights of ‘national autonomies and small peoples’, ethnic minorities protected by the constitution, in Russia.
He said Kochesoko had also spoken out about how people in Russia’s regions ‘are in fact deprived of the opportunity to elect their leaders and representatives to legislative bodies’, about corruption in the power structures of Kabardino-Balkaria, and on the double standards of the country's leadership on the issue of repatriation of compatriots.
[Read on OC Media: Right of return? — The struggles of the Circassian diaspora to settle in Adygea]
According to Khatazhukov, Kochesoko’s arrest was directly related to his participation in roundtables organised by the Democratic Congress of the Peoples of Russia, a nationwide public organisation.
The congress formed in May 2018 ‘to protect the principles of federalism’ in Russia, during discussions of amendments to the Federal Law on Education which made the teaching of minority languages no longer mandatory.
[Read on OC Media: Indigenous languages protest banned by Nalchik city authorities]
‘To moderate his public activity’
On 17 May, a roundtable on ‘the crisis of federalism in Russia’ was held at the offices Khabze, with a number of Circassian academics and activists attending.
During the event, Kochesoko criticised the republic’s leadership and said he believed that the only instrument for solving the problems of the population of Kabardino-Balkaria was a return to the traditional institutions of people’s self-government.
‘We believe that we should build our self-government. We have a traditional form [of it] — khase. This is the totality of all households in the village, and its assets and representatives’, Kochesoko said.
On 25 May, while Kochesoko was not at home, officials from Lesken District visited his home and told his parents that Kochesoko was involved in a ‘conspiracy’ and that they should tell him ‘to moderate his public activity’, Caucasian Knot reported, citing Kochesoko.
Members of Khabze who did not wish to be named told OC Media that after the roundtable, allegations that Kochesko had connections to foreign intelligence services were published on the Telegram-channel Stantsiya Nalchik (Nalchik Station).
Participants of the roundtable appealed to Kazbek Kokov, the acting head of Kabardino-Balkaria, with a request to protect members of their movement ‘from unwarranted attacks from dubious adventurers’.
On 25 May, Kochesoko took part in a conference of the Democratic Congress of the Peoples of Russia in Moscow.
Following Kochesoko’s arrest, activists from the congress demanded his immediate release. Maksim Shevchenko, the organisation’s co-chair and a member of the Legislative Assembly of the Vladimir Region, published a video on Instagram in support of Kochesoko.
Other prominent activists including Zaurbiy Chundyshko, chair of the Adyghe Khase (Circassian Council), public figure Yury Yakhutl, and the chair of the Circassian Progress movement Aslan Aghirov also spoke out in defence of Kochesoko.
At a rally in on 9 June in Makhachkala, the capital of the Russian Republic of Daghestan, protesters denounced Kochesoko’s prosecution, as well as that of Meduza journalist Ivan Golunov.
[Read on OC Media: Daghestani activists detained in rally for arrested Meduza journalist]
On 12 June, A number of Circassian groups are set to meet in Nalchik to draft a joint appeal to the authorities.
A petition addressed to the Prosecutor of Kabardino-Balkaria calling for Kochesoko’s release has been signed by more than 2,700 people.