Home Blog

Մեկնարկել է Զոհրաբ Մնացականյան-Էլմար Մամեդյարով հանդիպումը

0
Մեկնարկել է Զոհրաբ Մնացականյան-Էլմար Մամեդյարով հանդիպումը

«Մեկնարկել է Հայաստանի ԱԳ նախարարի պաշտոնակատար Զոհրաբ Մնացականյանի հանդիպումն Ադրբեջանի ԱԳ նախարար Էլմար Մամեդյարովի հետ»,- թվիթերի իր միկրոբլոգում գրառ

Read More,

Mass hunger strikes in Azerbaijan against ‘political prosecutions’

0
Mass hunger strikes in Azerbaijan against ‘political prosecutions’

Members of the opposition Musavat party on hunger strike (Khadija Ismayilova / Facebook)

At least 20 people both in prison and on the outside are now on hunger strike in Azerbaijan in protest against political prosecutions in the country, local activists say.

Nine people being held in Azerbaijani prisons joined announced they had joined the strike on 14 January, informing their families in a joint letter sent from prison.

They have been joined outside prison by opposition politicians, activists, and journalists, including investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova.

The hunger strikes began when on 26 December, Mehman Huseynov, an anti-corruption blogger and head of local rights group the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), announced he was no longer eating.

Huseynov announced his decision after new charges of ‘injuring a prison officer’ were brought against him just two months before he was due to be released.

Mehman Huseynov (coe.int)

Huseynov was sentenced to two years in prison in March 2017 for libelling the police after claiming three months earlier that officers had beaten him and demanded he stop his anti-corruption activities.

‘We protest against the darkness of our country’

In the letter sent from prison, the nine prisoners denounced what they said was injustice and repression in Azerbaijan.

‘The process that was being started against political prisoners and dissidents at liberty, that climaxed in bringing new charges against Mehman Huseynov, demonstrate the fact that our country has stepped forward to a point of no return’, says the letter.

In their statement, the prisoners said they had planned to begin their strike sooner but had been slowed by receiving contradictory information from prison staff.

‘We protest against the darkness of our country! We protest against repression and we will not keep silent! We will own our country and will resist that its brightest people are being treated like gangsters in prisons!’, the statement ends.

Shura Amiraslanova, whose son Giyas Ibrahimov was among the letter’s signatories, told OC Media her son had informed her he had joined Huseynov on hunger strike during a visit on 3 January.

Ibrahimov was arrested in May 2016 for writing anti-government slogans on a monument to Heydar Aliyev in Baku. Five months later, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison on drug charges that Amnesty International and others say he was tortured into confessing to.

‘Giyas told me: “Mother, we have to do something. Because we will all face the same injustice that is being done towards Mehman. What’s the difference, anyway, we are dead people here, spending our life in prison because of injustice. Therefore, we are starting a death strike” ’, said Amiraslanova.

In a statement to Azerbaijani news site Qafqazinfo on Tuesday, the Azerbaijani Penitentiary Service outright denied that a prison hunger strike was taking place.

‘No detainee in a detention cell or in prisons [in Azerbaijan] is undergoing a hunger strike. The information about prisoners’ hunger striking does not reflect reality, it is aimed at creating confusion in society and keeping certain people on the agenda’ the statement said.

‘I know no other way of fighting’

Khadija Ismayilova a veteran Investigative journalist and member of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), also announced she was joining the hunger strike from Tuesday.

Ismayilova told OC Media she was joining the strike with three demands: to drop the new charges against political prisoners currently in detention, to release detainees arrested for exercising their freedom of speech and expression, and for the government to adopt a policy of holding no political prisoners.

‘At least 10 journalists in Azerbaijan are political prisoners, and two chief editors have been charged with filthy allegations against them. Their mothers are in danger of being arrested’, she said.

‘Poet Tofig Hasanli was arrested for writing a poem criticising the Aliyevs. Giyas Ibrahimov and Bayram Mammadov were arrested for writing on a statue of Heydar Aliyev. Besides them, Ilkin Rustamzada has been in prison for five years for organising rallies against corruption’, Ismayilova told OC Media.

She said that recent trends showed that they may not be released after serving their sentences. This tactic, she said, had recently been used against five other prisoners.

‘After other political prisoners joined the hunger strike, I thought there was no excuse not to show solidarity. I know no other way of fighting’, she added.

Khadija Ismayilova has investigated the business dealings of members of President Ilham Aliyev’s family (Aziz Karimov /RFE/RL)

Tofig Yagublu, an opposition politician from the Musavat Party who was detained on charges of organising riots in Ismayilli in 2013, said he had been drinking only water for 12 days.

Yagublu, who was released in a presidential amnesty in 2016, announced he would begin a dry hunger strike as of Tuesday. Five other party members are on hunger strike along with him.

Ogtay Gulaliyev, chair of local rights group the Centre for the Protection of Political Prisoners (CPPP), told OC Media there were currently around 20 people involved in the hunger strike.

‘After Mehman Huseynov started his hunger strike, 10 people who joined the strike to support him were subjected to administrative detention. There are journalists and activists and party members among them. At present, nine people are in prison, and 11 joined the hunger strike at liberty’, said Gulaliyev.

‘We are not successful enough’

Elman Fattah, political commentator and deputy chairman of Musavat party, told OC Media that the recent events showed that there were no legal instruments left in Azerbaijan to challenge politically motivated convictions.

‘Unfortunately, the institution of jurisprudence has been completely destroyed’

According to him, political prisoners were previously released periodically in amnesties due to international pressure, ‘but now the number of repressions has increased’.

‘In the current situation, those imprisoned on political motivations are charged with more serious crimes, their names no longer appear on the amnesty list’, Fattah said.

In their letter from prison announcing the hunger strike, the prisoners said that they no longer had confidence in the West, especially in international organisations, to help them.

According to Journalist Khadija Ismayilova, ‘unfortunately, Azerbaijan is still not a region that the world is concerned about, and our problems are still not important’.

‘I thought if my joining the strike would also somehow help to attract the world’s attention to the problem, to help to solve it, I should do it’, she added.

Ismayilova spent three and a half years in prison convicted of tax evasion. Her imprisonment gained widespread coverage outside Azerbaijan, with the charges against her widely condemned by international rights groups as well as the EU, US State Department, OSCE, and others.

Marc Behrendt, Director for the Europe and Eurasia programmes at American rights group Freedom House, told OC Media that he could not say their efforts to protect political prisoners in Azerbaijan had been successful.

‘We don’t deny that it’s difficult to protect the rights of political prisoners. In general, the government takes responsibility for the rights of its citizens, and if it does not do so, it has a limited capacity to prosecute them.’

‘Taking into account the current situation with political prisoners in Azerbaijan, we can say that we are not successful enough’.

Behrendt added that the international community must continue to put pressure on governments to fulfil their commitments on human rights.

International response

International rights groups including Amnesty International, Human Right House, and Reporters Without Borders have accused the Azerbaijani government of falsely imprisoning Huseynov and have demanded his immediate release.

On 7 January, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, called on the Azerbaijani authorities to drop new charges against Huseynov as they ‘lack credibility’.

In a tweet on 4 January, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a member of the US Senate’s Foreign Relations committee, called charges against Huseynov ‘trumped up’ and also called for him to be released.

The French Foreign Ministry has also called for his release.

‘Political prisoners’ in Azerbaijan

International rights groups like Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, and Amnesty International have frequently condemned Azerbaijan’s human rights record.

In July 2018, the European Parliament voted against ratifying any comprehensive agreement with Azerbaijan as long as the country ‘does not respect fundamental EU values and rights’.

The resolution listed Mehman Huseynov, who first began the hunger strike, alongside Ilgar Mammadov, Afgan Mukhtarli, Ilkin Rustamzada, Seymur Haziyev, Rashad Ramazanov, Elchin Ismayilli, Giyas Ibrahimov, Bayram Mammadov, Asif Yusifli, Fuad Gahramanli, Khadija Ismayilova and Intigam Aliyev as ‘emblematic cases’ of restricting political freedoms.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini (RFE/RL)

In its 2018 report, Human Rights Watch said that during a continuing crackdown on independent voices, Azerbaijani authorities convicted at least 25 journalists and political activists last year, while dozens more were detained or are under criminal investigation, face harassment and travel bans, or have fled.

Freedom House’s Nation in Transit 2018 report named Azerbaijan as one of ‘Eurasia’s entrenched autocracies — [where] personalised regimes keep a tight grip on power, suppressing political competition and targeting independent activists and journalists who dare to speak out’.

Georgian Government and Church remain tight-lipped over Ukraine Church independence

0
Georgian Government and Church remain tight-lipped over Ukraine Church independence

Patriarch Ilia II, head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, addressing parishioners at Tbilisi’s Holy Trinity Cathedral (Mari Nikuradze/OC Media)

The Georgian government and Georgian Orthodox Church have declined to oppose or support the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s independence from their Russian counterpart. The Ukrainian Church’s independence was officially recognised by Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople on 6 January, Orthodox Christmas Eve.

Both the government and Georgian Church have faced criticism from some quarters for not supporting their Ukrainian counterparts.

In his Sunday sermon, Metropolitan Grigol (Berbichashvili) of Poti and Khobi Eparchy, called the decision of ‘Georgian political leaders’ to ‘refrain from congratulating’ Ukraine ‘unfortunate’.

‘A new centre is being formed in the Orthodox [Christian] world […] If the Georgian Church becomes a part of the orbit of this “new” centre, consider the Georgian state to be in trouble!’, Grigol warned, referring to the Russian Church.

Metropolitan Grigol is among 47 members of the Holy Synod, the decision-making body of the Georgian Church.

While not directly criticising the Synod’s protracted position on the issue, with Sunday’s sermon he made his position clear.

So did a handful of activists who gathered on Sunday in front of the Patriarchate in Tbilisi, calling on the Synod to recognise the autocephaly  — independence — of the Ukrainian Church.

On Sunday, another member of the Holy Synod, Metropolitan Ioseb of Shemokmedi Eparchy, openly congratulated the Ukrainian Church on being granted the tomos, a document, of autocephaly.

Tomos of discord

Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople recognised as the first among 15 ‘equal’ Orthodox Christian leaders worldwide, made the Patriarchate of Constantinople’s decision official on 6 January.

After holding a Christmas Eve service at Saint George’s Cathedral in Istanbul, Bartholomew handed over a signed ‘tomos of autocephaly’, a decree granting canonical independence to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (Kyiv Patriarchate), to its new head Metropolitan Epiphanius.

Bartholomew called on other Orthodox Christian churches to endorse the decision.

None of the other Autocephalous Orthodox churches has endorsed the 6 January tomos so far, while the Serbian, Polish, and Russian churches have openly denounced the move.

The Ukrainian Church asked for the autocephaly in April last year, an initiative which was actively supported by Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko.

The Ukrainian leader promised that those wishing to continue to adhere to the local church under the Moscow Patriarchate would be free to do so.

Nevertheless, the Moscow Patriarchate vehemently condemned the event, preemptively ending ‘Eucharistic unity’ with the Constantinople Patriarchate in October.

The 6 January event effectively ended the Ukrainian Church’s position under the Moscow Patriarchate’s jurisdiction, which has been the case since 1686.

The Abkhazian Church

Immediately after the 6 January announcement in Istanbul, Georgian Archpriest Shio Mujiri, the incumbent to the patriarch’s throne, told the media that the Georgian Church’s synod would make their position public after they ‘read the text of the tomos’ and convened a Holy Synod meeting.

In their early reactions, the Georgian Church vowed they would decide on the issue only after Moscow and Constantinople’s patriarchates ‘confirm their final official decisions’.

So far, the Georgian Church has not elaborated further.

Nino Burjanadze, former Parliamentary Speaker and leader of the non-parliamentary Democratic Movement — United Georgia Party, warned Georgian ‘politicians and experts’ against supporting the independence of the Ukrainian Church.

‘In that case, I’m sure the Russian Patriarchate will automatically recognise the independence of the Abkhazian Church’, Burjanadze warned during a press conference on 9 January.

The Abkhazian Orthodox Church is currently split into two competing groups — one seeking recognition as a jurisdiction under the Russian Orthodox Church, headed by Vissarion Apliaa, and another, pushing for full autocephaly, headed by Dorotheos Dbar.

The Russian Orthodox Church still formally recognises the Georgian Church’s jurisdiction over Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

In late October, the pro-Russian Council of the Abkhazian Orthodox Church preemptively condemned Bartholomew’s decision on Ukraine, calling it another ‘schismatic’ attempt to ‘extend his influence’ over other Orthodox Christian churches in detriment to the canonical rights of the Moscow Patriarchate.

During tours to Middle Eastern and East European Orthodox churches in 2018, the chief of the Russian Church’s external relations, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, visited the Georgian Patriarchate in Tbilisi twice, in April and December.

According to the Georgian Church, during his 10 December visit, Alfeyev ‘expressed concerns over problems in Ukraine’ and shared with them documents ‘expressing’ the position of the Russian Church on this issue.

Hilarion Alfeyev, front, second from right, during his visit to Tbilisi. (patriarchate.ge)

Waiting for the Church

On 7 January, Parliamentary Speaker and the executive secretary of the ruling Georgian Dream party Irakli Kobakhidze told journalists that the government’s position ‘will be voiced’ after ‘communicating’ with their ‘Ukrainian friends and, naturally, with the [Georgian Orthodox] Patriarch’.

After attending an Orthodox Christmas church service on 6/7 January, Georgian Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze also refused to clarify the government’s position.

Bakhtadze told journalists that the question fell within the realm of ‘canonical relations’ and that the Georgian Orthodox Church ‘had already commented’ on the issue.

On 11 January, President Salome Zurabishvili shared the same sentiment.

‘It’s not possible for me, as president of Georgia, to be less responsible than the Patriarchate is today’, Zurabishvili told journalists during her press conference on Friday, the first since her inauguration.

Leaders of the opposition European Georgian party were quick to congratulate Ukrainians on Christmas Eve and lambasted the government for their undecided position.

Gigi Ugulava, one of the party’s leaders, called the silence ‘political myopia and a shame’.

Several other religious communities in Georgia, including the Evangelical–Baptist Church of Georgia and the Georgian Muslims’ Union, also congratulated Ukraine on the occasion.

For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.

Analysis | Institutions need to replace personality in Georgian politics

0
Analysis | Institutions need to replace personality in Georgian politics

CRRC-Georgia examines the trust in political institutions in Georgia, and what that might mean for Georgian democracy.

A fair amount of scholarship indicates that (dis)trust in political institutions provides an indication of how well those institutions work. Hence, trust in political institutions is an important indicator of the functioning of a democratic government.

Following this line of logic, one would expect that trust in institutions reflects the public’s trust in who runs them. Data from CRRC’s Caucasus Barometer from 2011 to 2017 supports this argument.

Overall, the data indicate that trust in political institutions has declined in Georgia since 2011. None of the political institutions asked about on the Caucasus Barometer (the president, local government, executive government, parliament, and political parties) received as high a level of trust on the 2017 Caucasus Barometer as on the 2011 or 2012 versions of the survey.

While trust has declined overall, relative levels of trust have largely been in sync with the changes of power in the country.

After the Georgian Dream party came to power in 2012, there was an increase in trust towards the executive government (from 39% to 48%) and parliament (from 37% to 44%), the two institutions that changed political leadership.

Trust in the president continued to decline from 58% in 2011 to 28% in 2012, and 23% in 2013. All of these surveys were done while Mikheil Saakashvili was still president.

Trust in the president grew in 2015, the first Caucasus Barometer after the 2013 presidential elections, which ended Mikheil Saakashvili’s presidency and brought Giorgi Margvelashvili to office.

Public trust in local government did not follow the same logic as the executive government, parliament, and the presidency. Even though Georgian Dream won the 2014 local elections, trust in local government did not change between 2013 and 2015.

This could be due to the relatively weak public expectations of local government. Indeed, in 2013, only 4% of the public reported they had attended a local government meeting in the last year on a CRRC/TI survey. Besides low expectations, many local government officials had defected from the UNM to GD in the years since the change of power. Hence, it is not clear that the elections truly marked a change of power.

At the same time, that trust in local government did not increase, trust towards executive authorities and the parliament declined as the popular glow surrounding Georgian Dream wore away. Trust towards the executive fell from 48% in 2012 to 26% in 2017. While 44% trusted parliament in 2012, trust fell to 22% in 2017.

Meanwhile, trust in President Margvelashvili continued to grow, which might be attributable to his de facto opposition to the ruling party, without defection to the opposition United National Movement Party (UNM).

Trust in political parties has remained low and showed little change from year to year. It declined between 2011 and 2015, yet trust in political parties does not appear to follow the electoral cycle as trust in institutions controlled by specific parties appears to.

Growing public mistrust toward political institutions in Georgia is a sign of weak state institutions in the country. Renewed optimism and trust in institutions appear to follow changes in political leadership, but without strong institution-building processes, optimism turns into disappointment.

While Georgian democracy has made consistent progress for the last three decades, transitioning from personality to policy-driven politics remains a challenge for Georgia’s democratic consolidation.

This article was written by Kristina Vacharadze, Programmes Director at CRRC-Georgia. The opinions expressed in the article do not represent the views of CRRC-Georgia or any related entity.

To explore the data further, visit CRRC’s Online Data Analysis tool.

Georgia’s TBC Bank investigated for money laundering

0
Georgia’s TBC Bank investigated for money laundering

A TBC branch in Tbilisi (Robin Fabbro/ OC Media)

Georgia’s Chief Prosecutor’s Office has announced that they are investigating TBC Bank over possible money laundering and ‘other illicit acts’.

The authorities announced on 9 January that they had launched a probe in May 2018 concerning $17 million worth of loans that were fast-track to LLC Samgori M and LLC Samgori Trade in 2008.

The Prosecutor’s Office said that after TBC issued the loans to the companies, the bank’s Chair, Mamuka Khazaradze, and Deputy Chair, Badri Japaridze, took loans of the same amount from the two companies.

The authorities said TBC then wrote off the debts ‘without any grounds and earlier than stipulated by banking regulations’.

The National Bank of Georgia separately investigated the matter, fining the bank ₾1 million ($380,000) for violating regulations related to conflicts of interest.

TBC said the transactions in question had already been looked into by the National Bank in 2008, and that no regulatory action followed. The bank is challenging the recent sanctions in court.

On 9 January, TBC Bank Group slammed ‘media portals‘, without specifying which ones, for conducting a ‘black PR campaign’ against the bank.

A day before the Prosecutor’s Office and the National Bank confirmed their separate probes, Georgian news site Kvira alleged that TBC Bank Chair Mamuka Khazaradze may face money laundering charges.

Similar unsourced reports surfaced in several Georgian news sites as early as July.

Two banks have ‘eaten up the whole country’

According to Gigi Ugulava, one of the leaders of the opposition European Georgia Party, the latest revelations came after Khazaradze failed to ‘sort out relations with Bidzina Ivanishvili informally’.

‘It is a fact that the business does not breath freely anymore’, Ugulava wrote on his Facebook page.

Several months after his comeback to formal politics, Ivanishvili, the former Prime Minister and current chairperson of the ruling Georgian Dream party, lambasted TBC and Bank of Georgia for having ‘eaten up the whole country’.

Ivanishvili accused former Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, who resigned in June after a fallout with Ivanishvili, of lobbying for the banks instead of addressing ‘over-indebtedness’ and predatory lending.

[Read Tato Khundadze’s opinion on OC Media: Bank reforms touted by Georgia’s Prime Minister–to-be could spell the end of predatory lending]

Bank of Georgia and TBC are Georgia’s largest banks.

JSC TBC Bank is a subsidiary of TBC Bank Group PLC which is listed on the London Stock Exchange.

Another of its subsidiaries, TBC Holding, owns the Anaklia Development Consortium, set to develop the Anaklia Deep Sea Port complex in the western Georgian seaside resort.

The Anaklia Development Consortium, together with the US-based Conti Group LLC, won a bid to develop Anaklia City in 2015 while Kvirikashvili was the Minister for Economy.

Several local media outlets have speculated that Anaklia Development Consortium winning the bid was the primary reason for Kvirikashvili’s falling out with Ivanishvili, something Georgian Dream leaders have not denied.

In pictures | Ghost apartments and hyperbuilding in Batumi

0
In pictures | Ghost apartments and hyperbuilding in Batumi

A banner on the pavement displays an artist’s interpretation of a forthcoming block of flats. (Ian McNaught Davis/ OC Media)

Since 2008, the port city of Batumi on Georgia’s Black Sea coast has attracted visitors with the bright lights of tourism, trade, and gambling. Soaring tourism statistics in the popular casino town has brought with it a construction boom — one that seemingly has no end in sight.

Rampant construction on vacant patches of land punctuates the city of 160,000. The echoes of jackhammering and grinding ricochet off the multi-story high-rise buildings that continue to sprout into Batumi’s skyline.

At the ground floors of these buildings, lie gridlocked streets where traffic must negotiate its ways amidst construction sites that spill over into Batumi’s pavements and roads.

‘The construction boom underway in Batumi mirrors a global trend in real estate speculation that relies on luxury development and entertainment to attract investment’, says Suzanne Harris-Brandts, an architect and PhD Candidate in Urban Studies at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

A digger scrapes earth away on a construction site in a residential district in Batumi. (Ian McNaught Davis/ OC Media)

Smoke from diesel engines fills the air above a building site behind the Black Sea Mall. (Ian McNaught Davis/ OC Media)

Cranes and skyscrapers punctuate a typical Batumi skyline around a stadium under construction, viewed from an abandoned building site. (Ian McNaught Davis/ OC Media)

Building materials are stored on rare vacant spots of land. (Ian McNaught Davis/ OC Media)

The construction industry has been a source of income for many residents of Batumi. Unfortunately, it’s tentative work at best, as many projects are not completed due to developers not fulfilling their construction obligations or pulling out of projects prematurely. (Ian McNaught Davis/ OC Media)

A discarded pair of builders’ gloves lies on the pavement. The remnants of projects of this construction boom litter the city. (Ian McNaught Davis/ OC Media)

Nobody’s home

Between 2008 and 2013, Batumi was targeted for urban development and re-branding under the orders of former president Mikheil Saakashvili’s UNM government, explains Harris-Brandts. The government undertook many new construction projects and incentivised additional development by private-sector actors.’

The storeys of eerily empty flats throughout the city suggest the demand for real estate is far from the plentiful supply.

These vacancies result from both local and global forces, explains Suzanne Harris-Brandts. ‘From developers not fulfilling their construction obligations or pulling out of projects prematurely — perhaps due to market volatility — to so-called ‘ghost apartments’ that are not abandoned or unsold, but have chronically-absent homeowners, typically from overseas.’

‘To some degree, empty buildings also reflect a lack of government regulation and planning foresight’, explains Harris-Brandts, adding that poor architectural design has contributed to the emergence of a new landscape of mass building vacancies in Batumi.

There tend to be three types of building vacancies in Batumi, she elaborates:

‘There are buildings frozen with partially-completed construction; buildings whose exteriors have been completed but whose developers are unable to finish or sell their interior spaces; and buildings that have reached full construction completion and have sold many units, but to absentee homeowners. The latter are the so-called “ghost apartments” ’.

Window frames — imported from neighbouring Turkey, the border of which is 17 kilometres away — lie ready for installation. (Ian McNaught Davis/ OC Media)

Safety guidelines are displayed outside a construction site. Batumi has recorded the most accidents on construction sites in Georgia for 2018 so far. (Ian McNaught Davis/ OC Media)

A worker without safety gear is lifted up a building set to become a medical centre. (Ian McNaught Davis/ OC Media)

A digger lies on the promenade of the Batumi Beachfront. (Ian McNaught Davis/ OC Media)

Children skate on the beachfront skatepark at dusk. The majority of flats in the buildings behind them are vacant. (Ian McNaught Davis/ OC Media)

A vast, unmanned hole at a busy intersection bottlenecks the traffic. (Ian McNaught Davis/ OC Media)

A woman walks down the once-busy Javakhishvili Street, now rendered closed by several stagnant construction sites. (Ian McNaught Davis/ OC Media)

A building lies unfinished in the centre of Batumi. (Ian McNaught Davis/ OC Media)

Grass grows in the waterlogged ground-level storey of an unfinished block of flats. (Ian McNaught Davis/ OC Media)

Workers carry materials on a site designated to become the Adjara Multi-Profile Medical Centre. (Ian McNaught Davis/ OC Media)

A man walks past one of many posters displaying forthcoming buildings throughout Batumi. (Ian McNaught Davis/ OC Media)

Life under construction

Harris-Brandts describes how the arrival of new construction sites may be linked to optimism and the promise of an alternative future for residents of Batumi. ‘On a less positive front, new-construction building vacancies can detract from the social lives of cities by diluting resident interactions and erasing existing communities.’

‘Still, the residents of Batumi have been innovative and resilient in adapting to chronically-vacant buildings; second-hand goods or fresh produce are sometimes informally sold out of unfinished ground floors and vacant Old City shop-fronts have at times been used as short-term fashion showrooms or exhibition spaces.’

Unregulated construction and poorly enforced safety restrictions can be hazardous to those working on construction sites. Batumi recorded the most accidents on construction sites in Georgia in 2018. The Georgian Trade Unions Confederation has reported that the majority of the 14 deaths and 16 severe injuries sustained during the year were in Batumi.

The official tourism portal of Adjara reported a 23% increase in the number of tourists coming to the region in 2018. The construction boom — spearheaded by tourism — shows no signs of busting.

A makeshift barrier surrounds a building site in central Batumi. (Ian McNaught Davis/ OC Media)

During the winter months, beach bars are disassembled or destroyed and then rebuilt in time for the tourist season. (Ian McNaught Davis/ OC Media)

Traffic in Batumi is at the mercy of roadworks. (Ian McNaught Davis/ OC Media)

Heavy rains have filled building sites with water, disrupting further construction. (Ian McNaught Davis/ OC Media)

Cranes have become an integral part in the ever-evolving skyline of Batumi. (Ian McNaught Davis/ OC Media)

A carwash business in Javakhishvili Street has closed, as incomplete roadworks have diverted traffic away. (Ian McNaught Davis/ OC Media)

A fire extinguisher lies within reach of a construction site. Batumi’s construction safety history is dubious. Most of the deaths and accidents on building sites in Georgia happen here. (Ian McNaught Davis/ OC Media)

An advertisement for Eclipse Casino plays on a screen alongside two skyscrapers still under construction. Gambling is a drawcard for many tourists to Batumi, especially those from neighbouring Turkey, where gambling is illegal. (Ian McNaught Davis/ OC Media)

A small office for the Orbi Group — Georgia’s largest construction and development holding company — lies on the famous pebble beach of Batumi for beachgoers to drop by and browse properties. (Ian McNaught Davis/ OC Media)

Although Batumi’s Alphabet Tower has become an iconic building and a notable spot for sightseers, it remains incomplete. (Ian McNaught Davis/ OC Media)

The sun sets on Batumi’s seaside skyline, perennially under construction. (Ian McNaught Davis/ OC Media)

 

This article was prepared with support from the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) Regional Office in the South Caucasus. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of FES.

Man ‘tortured into confessing to murder’ in Daghestan’s Khasavyurt

0
Man ‘tortured into confessing to murder’ in Daghestan’s Khasavyurt

Khasavyurt (Wikipedia)

A man in the Russian Republic of Daghestan has been tortured into confessing to murder, his lawyer says. Sapiyat Magomedova told OC Media she believes police in the city of Khasavyurt intended to pin other unsolved crimes on her client, Kamil Khayrudinov, as part of a drive to improve crime statistics.

Khayrudinov’s wife, Zabiyat Bulatkhanova, told OC Media that she and her husband travelled to Moscow from the Daghestani city of Khasavyurt in August to work and pay off their debts.

According to Bulatkhanova, while on their way to work on 7 December, Khayrudinov was kidnapped by unknown people in front of her eyes. She said she went to the local police station but was unofficially informed that Khayrudinov had been taken to Daghestan by police officers from Khasavyurt.

Bulatkhanova said that the police chief of Khasavyurt did not allow either her or their lawyer to see Khayrudinov.

At a bail hearing on 10 December, Bulatkhanova found out that her husband was suspected of killing Kurban Kurbanov, a resident of Khasavyurt, in July 2017. She said it was visible that Khayrudinov had been severely beaten.

On 12 December, Magomedova said she managed to speak with Khayrudinov after reporting the head of the police department to the head of the inter-district investigation department of Khasavyurt.

During a meeting with her client, Magomedova confirmed that Khayrudinov had been beaten.

‘There are bruises on his face, in the kidney area, characteristic traces of the use of electric current on all fingers, open festering wounds on the legs, a broken nose, a contusion or fracture of the radial bone of the right arm’, said the lawyer.

She said Khayrudinov had told her policemen had tortured him into signing a confession, but then continued to beat him as he had not named the names and circumstances of the crime that were in the criminal case files.

‘He said that one night, he was taken out of the temporary detention centre to an office, where he was beaten and forced to sign papers and threatened with reprisals, including against his family.’

His lawyer said a doctor that examined Khayrudinov confirmed that his kidneys were damaged, his arm was broken, and that he had a concussion, but did not hospitalise him.

Magomedova then appealed to the Khasavyurt Prosecutor’s Office, Daghestan’s Investigative Committee, the Director of the Federal Security Service in Daghestan, the Minister of Internal Affairs of Daghestan, and the head of the Daghestani Interior Ministry’s internal security department to bring the Khasavyurt police officers to justice.

According to her, the authorities have not reacted to the claims of torture except to take a statement from Khayrudinov and a blood test to compare with blood samples from the murder.

A spokesperson for Daghestan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs denied that any torture took place in Khayrudinov’s case. The spokesperson told OC Media that Khayrudinov was guilty of the murder.

Not an isolated case

According to Magomedova, this was not an isolated case and there have been a large number of complaints of torture and trying to pin crimes on innocent people by police in Daghestan, but that the these were rarely investigated.

She said that in her experience, most of these occurred in the Khasavyurt and Sovietsky district police departments.

‘In July of this year, an almost unprecedented incident occurred — a court in Makhachkala convicted an operative of the police department in the Sovietsky District of Makhachkala, Habibul Aliyev, who was accused of torture and falsifying crime detection protocols. It was possible to start a criminal case because of the media, who promptly responded to the complaints of detainees and published their stories’.

Magomedova relayed an incident in October in which Khasavyurt police officers illegally held a former police officer from Kazbek District, Sultan Gotimirov, in their offices and attempted tpo elicit a confession from him for committing robbery.

Magomedova says that after Gotymirov managed to escape, the claims against him evaporated. She said there was still no response to his complaints from the prosecutor’s office or the investigative committee.

Gotymirov told OC Media that after he escaped from the police station, ‘I found out through my own channels that at that time I wasn’t even charged with a crime’.

A ‘tolerant attitude’ towards torture

Abubakar Yangulbayev, a lawyer with the Committee against Torture, told OC Media that since they began working in Daghestan in 2017, of 11 complaints, only two were prosecuted, neither of which involved torture in custody.

‘From my personal experience, I can say that torture in Daghestan happens so often that residents of the region have developed a tolerant attitude towards bullying by law enforcement officers’, said Yangulbayev.

Yangulbayev said that various types of torture were used in Daghestan, including suspending victims from the ceiling, beating, threats to torture relatives, abduction and detention in unknown place (illegal prisons, basements), torture with electric current, mutilation, and also murder.

Yangulbayev said law enforcement used torture to force people to confess to crimes or implicate others as well as for ‘career growth’.

‘Some claimants reported that those who tortured them extorted money from them’, he added.

According to Yangulbayev, the authorities have done nothing to eradicate torture in the republic, and while the police and other investigative authorities accept allegations of torture, they almost never initiate criminal cases in response.

He said there was a widespread perception in Daghestan that if a person was beaten by the police, he deserved it.

‘All this creates an overly favourable climate for the practice of torture and other unlawful measures of inquiry in the territory of Daghestan’.