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Circassian activist Martin Kochesoko charged again

4 March 2020
Martin Kochesoko (Facebook)

Activist and head of the Circassian rights group Khabze has been charged with drug possession, after a previous charge was withdrawn pending further investigation. 

The new indictment was brought against Kochesoko on 20 February.

In June 2019, Martin Kochesoko was detained along with two other social activists from the Khabze in the Russian Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria. 

Police report that they found a package of drugs in the car the three activists were travelling in.

The two others who were in the car with Kochesoko were soon released, while Kochesoko was placed in the Nalchik pre-trial detention centre. The day after Kochesoko’s arrest, a search and seizure of documents and computer equipment was carried out in Khabze’s office.

In early July, the Supreme Court of Kabardino-Balkaria, under pressure from the public, transferred Kochesoko to house arrest, and in August he was released on bail.

On 10 October, the Kabardino-Balkaria prosecutor’s office refused to approve the indictment and sent the case for further investigation, citing violations in the initial investigation. 

The latest indictment is a result of this further investigation. 

‘Perjury is perjury’

Timur Khutov, Kochesoko’s lawyer, told OC Media that the new charge was a ‘complete copy’ of the previous one and was based on the same evidence, including testimony from two witnesses known only as ‘Vyblov’ and ‘Mkrtulyan’, who the defence has claimed were lying on behalf of the police. 

[Read more on OC Media: Circassian activist Martin Kochesoko released on bail as defence claims rigged witness testimonies]

‘During those summer hearings, the defense found out that the witnesses Vyblov and Mkrtulyan who were present at the detention of Martin are registered in a neuropsychiatric dispensary, and one of them was previously convicted for the same article [in the criminal code], for which they are trying to convict my client today’, Khutov said.

Khutov told OC Media that in February they found out that the prosecution sent Vyblov and Mkrtulyan for examination so as to ascertain ‘their sanity’.

‘We did not insist on such an examination, since we believe that perjury is perjury regardless of who lies — a mentally unhealthy or healthy person’, Khutov said.

Khutov said he believes that the case against Kochesoko ‘was not criminal, but politically motivated’.

According to Khutov, Vyblov and Mkrtulyan are ‘staff’ witnesses and are dependent on the investigators.

‘They will sign anything convenient to the side of the prosecution’, he said, adding that the prosecution was trying to ‘achieve at least a minimum or even conditional term for Kochesoko’. 

‘However, we will insist on his complete acquittal and closure of the case’.

‘Social activity’

According to Azamat Shormanov, a member of Khabze, the reason for the repeated accusations against Kochesoko may be his remaining politically active despite repeated warnings.

‘Martin told me that after his release on bail, he received several anonymous phone calls demanding to moderate his social activism’, Shormanov told OC Media.

Before his detention and arrest, government officials visited the home of Kochesoko’s parents, requesting that their son desist in his activism.

[Read more on OC Media: Circassian activist Martin Kochesoko arrested in Kabardino-Balkaria on drugs charges]

‘Violations eliminated’

‘After a huge number of procedural violations committed by the investigation at the initial stage of the case, the composition of the investigation team has changed twice already, and the last investigator returned the case for further investigation in order to eliminate all violations’, Aslan Beshto, the leader of the Circassian group the Congress of the Kabardian People told OC Media.

‘Now these violations have allegedly been eliminated, and we can only wait and hope for the objectivity of the court and for the professionalism of the defense’.

Beshto said that the investigators and security officials who took part in Kochesoko’s arrest are trying ‘to justify Kochesoko’s criminal prosecution at all costs and avoid punishment for falsifying the case’.

According to him, these people will try to ensure Kochesoko is convicted.

‘Otherwise, they themselves will have to bear criminal responsibility for the provocation organised against Martin Kochesoko’, Beshto said.

According to Beshto, the Department of Internal Security at the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Kabardino-Balkaria should deal with the abuse carried out by investigators and security officials.

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