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On Friday, former employees of Ingushetia’s Centre for Countering Extremism were sentenced by a court in Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria. Neither the prosecution nor the defence was satisfied with the verdict, although many activists maintained that sentencing was ‘a huge achievement for human right defenders in the North Caucasus’.
On 27 July, the North Caucasian Military Court in Nalchik announced the sentences of former officials from the Ingush police and the Federal Security Service (FSB) who were accused of malfeasance, torture, and the murder of a detainee.
The main defendant, the former head of the Ingush police force’s Centre for Countering Extremism, otherwise known as Centre E, Timur Khamkhoyev, was sentenced to seven years in prison. Accomplices Alikhan Bekov, Andrey Beznosyuk, and Isa Aspiyev received prison sentences of 5-10 years. Former FSB officer Mustafa Tsoroyev was sentenced to five years in a penal colony and the former head of Sunzha police department, Magomed Bekov, was sentenced to three.
Only one defendant, former Centre E deputy head Sergey Khandogin, was allowed to retain his rank of colonel and state awards while receiving a suspended sentence of three years in a penal colony. Other defendants lost the right to work in law enforcement.
The officials were also charged with the unlawful detention of an Ingush man, from whom they tried to force a confession of a crime against a law enforcement officer. According to the investigation, similar abuses also took place in 2010 and 2012. Additionally, the officials were accused of killing detainee Magomed Daliyev and torturing his wife, Marem Daliyeva. Only one of the seven convicts was directly found guilty of the murder.
The court heard testimony from eight victims and 130 witnesses.
[Read on OC Media: Head of Ingush ‘torture centre’ claims to be victim of political intrigue]
Neither the prosecution nor the defence said they were satisfied with the verdict. Relatives of the victims said it was too mild, while those convicted and their lawyers said it was too harsh. The prosecution had demanded a minimum sentence of 6-16 years in a penal colony for each of the defendants.
‘A landmark sentence’
Local activists following the trial noted the verdict demonstrated that ‘criminals in uniform’ could be punished, even in the ‘most problematic’ region of Russia.
Konstantin Gusev, a member of Committee Against Torture, told OC Media that ‘whatever the verdict, it was a landmark. Not only for the North Caucasus, but for the whole country’. He added that he considered the verdict neither too strict nor too soft. ‘They received a standard punishment’, Gusev said.
According to him, Russian records show that ‘in most cases like this, police escape punishment or receive minimal, suspended sentences’. That, he said, made the ruling ‘a huge achievement for all human rights defenders in the North Caucasus and a [victory for] the courage of the victims, who fought to the end despite the pressure’.
The head of the Ingush branch of the Human Rights Centre — Memorial, Timur Akiyev, told OC Media that the ruling sent a signal to other ‘dirty cops’ that they would have to answer for their crimes. He added, ‘if we take into account our current realities and the fact that the trial over the Centre E staff was unprecedented, we can only welcome the court’s decision. When the trial was first initiated, few believed it would bring such an outcome’.
‘For those who still prefer to use violence on suspects during interrogations, [this trial] made it obvious that punishment for those actions is quite realistic and, sooner or later, sadists must disappear from law enforcement bodies’, Akiyev told OC Media.
Official statistics show a decline in the number of Russian law enforcement officials convicted of malfeasance — from 2010 to 2017, the number decreased by half, from 1,817 to only 798.
According to the same statistics, prosecuted officials are more often acquitted than convicted. Demanding more severe punishment, relatives of Centre E’s victims held a number of one-person rallies in Moscow and Ingushetia in February.
[Read Mediazona’s report on the Ingush Centre E on OC Media: Inside Ingushetia’s anti-extremism centre: torture, extortion, murder]