Trials begin of activist and brother in Nalchik

5 July 2018
The Nalchiksky state farm where the city authorities create an illegal dump. In the background, abandoned stables (Aslan Urumov /OC Media)

The trials began in Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, on Tuesday of two brothers accused of attacking a police officer. Aslan Iritov, the chairman of the Volny Aul NGO both of whose hands have been amputated, and his younger brother Beslan face up to five years in prison if convicted.

The pair are also accused of using foul language against officers, for which they may be fined.

Beslan, who is being represented by a lawyer from the Committee Against Torture, went before judge Aslanbek Zhigunov on Tuesday. Aslan’s trial will begin in a separate court on 11 July.

The brothers have been under house arrest since November 2017 and have been prevented from using the Internet or making phone calls to communicate with journalists.

The Volny Aul organisation and residents of its namesake, Nalchik’s Volny Aul neighbourhood, had demanded that land be allocated from the Nalchiksky state farm for residents who did not have their own housing. According to several residents of Volny Aul who wished to remain anonymous, this created a conflict between Aslan and law enforcement officials.

In 2014–2017, activists from Volny Aul claimed to have uncovered a number of abuses and violations of the Russian Constitution by the city authorities, including illegal land surveying, theft of ₽550 million ($8.7 million) from the neighbourhood’s budget, forgery, and illegal dumping.

From May 2016 to October 2017, members of the group met with representatives of the administration, the head of the republic, and other high-ranking officials.

According to the group, in December 2016, during one of the meetings, the head of the Kabardino-Balkaria Yury Kokov ordered that the conflict be resolved ‘in a lawful way’, but this did not yield any results. They said the authorities simply registered their own NGO, Nalchik for their own rights, and over a short time period distributed more than 350 plots of land to people close to the authorities.

‘Violent’ arrest

Svetlana Aliyeva, a member of Volny Aul, told OC Media activists were ‘outraged’ by the inaction of the city authorities’. She said the group attempted to meet on 28 October to discuss the matter, but someone locked the doors of the local administrative building in which they regularly met. ‘Instead, we decided to meet on 31 October at 9:00 am, in front of the City Hall, to ask the mayor for an explanation’, she said.

Earlier that morning, officers in military fatigues brandishing assault rifles detained the group’s chair, Aslan Iritov, dragging him from his home.

‘At around 07:40, around 10 men broke into our yard’, Aslan’s daughter Lilya told OC Media. ‘Three or four of them were wearing police uniforms. One had a camera, and he was filming everything. They didn’t show us a warrant or any documents. They tried to provoke a fight with my father [Aslan] and my uncle [Beslan], but when they realised they would not succeed, they called the riot squad — around 40 people. They dragged my father and my uncle to the gate and beat them’.

Footage of Aslan being detained (Dmitry Ivanov/VK)

According to Lilya, her father — both of whose hands have been amputated and who has one kidney — was dragged out, hit on his arms, feet, head, and body. She said, Beslan was left with two broken ribs, Aslan’s wife a broken finger, while she received a broken nose.

‘After that, my father and my uncle were taken to the city police department. My uncle had broken ribs and demanded that someone call an ambulance, but it was two hours before that happened’.

Immediately following the ordeal, a peaceful protest took place in front of the mayor's office with around 100 people. The protest was dispersed by riot police with several people detained.

The protest being dispersed (Caucasian Knot/YouTube)

Aslan’s wife Marina told OC Media her husband’s lawyer had told her that the officers involved in his arrest should face at least four charges: illegal forced entry, infliction of grievous bodily harm, attack on a citizen with obvious signs of disability, and kidnapping.

Nalchiksky state farm

Marina said issues arose with the authorities because of her husband’s activism.

‘It all began after my husband noticed [wood] being taken from the state farm’, Marina told OC Media. ‘The city administration had transferred a piece of the land from the Nalchiksky state farm to the Cherek District, without consulting the local residents’.

According to Marina, it was at that time that residents of another suburb of Nalchik — the village of Belaya Rechka — received land for themselves.

‘At that time, Aslan and our activists got the idea to demand the transfer of part of the devastated lands to the residents of the Volny Aul neighbourhood’, said Marina.

Marina insists that most of the residents of Volny Aul supported the initiative, and believed it would help solve housing problems in the neighbourhood. She said that despite Nalchik mayor Arsen Alakayev claiming the Nalchiksky state farm and cannery was bankrupt, this was not the case, and it could also help solve unemployment in Volny Aul.

Aslan’s daughter Lilya said the group demanded the city authorities assign land for those on the waiting list to receive housing. Lilya said they referred to ‘the example of the Belaya Rechka settlement’, when making their case.

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