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Analysis: Prosecutor Pressures Lawyer Of Nalchik Raid Victims


Lawyer Larisa Dorogova

Lawyer Larisa Dorogova

Larisa Dorogova, who represents the families of some of those killed during the multiple raids in October 2005 by young Islamic militants on police and security facilities in Nalchik, capital of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR), has appealed to KBR President Arsen Kanokov to intervene to put an end to the harassment she and her son have been subjected to in recent months by the KBR Prosecutor's Office, regnum.ru reported on May 14.

That agency opened a criminal case against Dorogova earlier this year for allegedly using foul language and threatening to kill a prison warder who refused her access to one of her clients.

On May 9, Dorogova's 20-year-old son Khadjimurat was snatched on the street by four men in civilian clothes. The men forced him into a car, and drove around the city for seven hours before finally releasing him, threatening him and questioning him nonstop about his mother's professional activities, Dorogova told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service on May 14.

Even before the October 13, 2005, Nalchik raid, Dorogova had periodically defended young men allegedly hounded, detained, and beaten by police simply because they were practicing Muslims. In the wake of that raid, experts suggested that systematic harassment by police at the instigation of then-KBR Interior Minister Khachim Shogenov impelled many young believers to join the ranks of the North Caucasus resistance.

Immediately after the attack, Dorogova agreed to represent some of the accused, but in November 2005 she was barred from doing so. She continued, nonetheless, to represent the families of some of the young men killed in the fighting who appealed to then-Russian President Vladimir Putin, to the Russian Constitutional Court, and to Kanokov to hand over their sons' bodies for burial. That request was refused on the grounds that Russian legislation stipulates that the bodies of "terrorists" be interred in unmarked graves.

Dorogova protested that that provision did not apply insofar as the young men in question -- at least some of them innocent passersby -- had not been formally tried and found guilty of terrorism. Witnesses claim to have seen one of the young men purportedly killed during the fighting, Boris Dzagalov, alive on October 14, according to kavkaz-uzel.ru on February 16, 2006. In a photograph taken of him in the Nalchik morgue, his right eye and most of the upper right side of his face have been obliterated (see http://www.islamcom.ru/material.php?id=227).

The families of the deceased then appealed to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights, which in mid-2007 informed Dorogova that the bodies were cremated one year earlier, in June 2006. Meeting personally with the bereaved relatives in September 2006, Kanokov declared that if he had the authority to release the bodies, he would have done so. In November 2007, the Nalchik City Court ruled that the official who ordered the cremation acted unlawfully, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported on November 14.

Continuing Legal Battle

A total of 59 young men were arrested and charged with terrorism, banditry, armed insurrection, and murder in connection with their alleged participation in the October 2005 attacks. The preliminary hearings in that case began in October 2007 behind closed doors in a specially built courthouse in Nalchik; since then, one of the 59 defendants has died, apparently of natural causes.

At the outset, five of the defendants submitted written statements claiming that testimony they gave while under investigation was extracted as a result of, or under the threat of, torture, and that they signed that incriminating testimony in the absence of a lawyer. They therefore formally demanded that their testimony be excluded from the prosecution's case. Dorogova agreed to represent three of those five who planned to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

In January 2008, the KBR Supreme Court ordered an investigation into the torture allegations, but on March 20, the Investigative Committee of the Prosecutor's Office rejected the defendants' demand. In January 2008, however, the Prosecutor's Office also ruled in response to an appeal by the widows of some of the alleged militants killed in October 2005 that police were acting unlawfully in repeatedly summoning them for questioning and mandatory fingerprinting, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported on January 31.

Dorogova lodged a formal protest with KBR Prosecutor Oleg Zharikov after prison officials refused her access on January 31 to one of her clients, Zaur Tokhov. Tokhov told the court when the hearings resumed on February 5 that prison officials had attempted to strangle him.

The Prosecutor's Office subsequently overturned two refusals by the Nalchik City Court to take legal action against Dorogova in connection with the alleged contretemps that followed the refusal to allow her to meet in detention with Tokhov, and on April 16, the KBR Bar Association opened disciplinary proceedings against Dorogova with the aim of stripping her of the right to practice, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported.

The relatives of the slain men responded with an appeal on Dorogova's behalf to Kanokov, according to regnum.ru on April 21. They attributed the move to strip Dorogova of the right to practice law to her stated readiness to raise their case with the European Court of Human Rights, and warned Kanokov that sidelining her would result in a reversion to the "atmosphere of lawlessness and terror" that triggered the October 2005 violence.

Meanwhile, on March 26, Dorogova found a live cartridge in her mailbox together with a letter, allegedly from members of the Islamic resistance, threatening to kill her. The combined Kabarda, Balkar, and Karachai jamaat has denied having issued any such threat and praised Dorogova as a "devout Muslim" who is doing all in her power to "defend Muslims being held captive by unbelievers." Dorogova herself told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service that she suspects the power ministries ("siloviki") are behind the ongoing attempts to intimidate her.

In her appeal to Kanokov, Dorogova recalled his pledge following his appointment as president in September 2005 to crack down on endemic corruption within the law enforcement agencies and to protect human rights. She said she considers it pointless to appeal to the republican Prosecutor's Office, claiming that it was on orders from that agency that she was refused access to Tokhov in January, and that the move to strip her of the right to practice originated with First Deputy Prosecutor Alik Zhekeyev. She argued that she has not in any way broken the law in her professional activities, and concluded with the request that Kanokov take "urgent and effective action" to protect herself and her son, regnum.ru reported on May 14.

On May 14, the KBR Supreme Court embarked on the process of selecting jury members for the upcoming trial, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported, but only 145 of the 400 potential jurors showed up, of whom 67 immediately asked to be excused from jury service, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported. A further 35 did so on May 15, and as of May 19, when other defense lawyers finished questioning them, only 31 potential jury members were still available.
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