No fewer than 15 journalists have been murdered in Daghestan since 2000, 12 of them in the past decade alone. This week, for the first time, a court found two men guilty of one of those killings, that of Abdulmalik Akhmedilov in August 2009.
But Murad Shuaybov and Isa Abdurakhmanov, both of whom pleaded not guilty, plan to appeal those sentences, and the politician widely suspected of having commissioned the killing has never been questioned about his imputed involvement.
Akhmedilov, 32, was editor of the local Avar-language newspaper Sogratl (named for the eponymous village where he was born) and deputy chief editor of the republican Avar-language paper Hakikat (Truth). His boss, Union of Journalists of Daghestan Chairman Ali Kamalov, has described him as “talented, very calm, balanced, kind, a good team-player.” At the time of his death, the Committee to Protect Journalists quoted one of Akhmedilov’s colleagues as saying he had acquired a reputation for critical reporting on how the federal security forces sought to suppress political and religious dissent under the guise of cracking down on “extremism.”
Akhmedilov was shot twice in the stomach from a sawn-off hunting rifle on August 11, 2009, as he emerged from his house on the outskirts of Makhachkala to get into his car. He died almost immediately.
Shuaybov was arrested in late January 2013 and Abdurakhmanov some two months later. Like Akhmedilov, both were born in Sogratl. By December 2013, prosecutors had concluded that Shuaybov fired the murder weapon and Abdurakhmanov drove the getaway car.
The Daghestan Directorate of the Federal Investigative Committee reportedly quoted Shuaybov as having admitted during pretrial questioning to killing Akhmedilov out of personal animosity because the latter had wrongly branded him an adherent of Wahhabism (which is banned in Daghestan under a law passed in 1999).
Even before the arrest of the two suspects, Kamalov had implicated lawmaker Shamil Isayev (also a native of Sogratl). In December 2011, Kamalov told a joint session in December 2011 of the Republic of Daghestan parliament and Public Chamber that Akhmedilov had informed him more than once of his strained relations with Isayev. Kamalov declared that “the investigation [into Akhmedilov’s death] hit a dead end. But everyone knows who killed him, who fired the shots, and why. Shamil Isayev is mixed up in this.”
Isayev responded by bringing a libel suit against Kamalov in a Makhachkala court that ended with a ruling in February 2013 that Kamalov pay 60,000 rubles ($1,031 at today’s exchange rate) in damages to Isayev.
Meanwhile, Moscow-based journalist Orkhan Dzhemal undertook his own investigation of the murders of both Akhmedilov and Khadjimurad Kamalov, founder and chief editor of the independent Daghestani Russian-language weekly Chernovik and the son of Ali Kamalov’s first cousin. In three articles published in April 2013, June 2013, and May 2014, he summarized the circumstantial evidence implicating Isayev in both murders.
Specifically, Dzhemal said Shuaybov told investigators that he and Abdurakhmanov (Isayev’s former driver) killed Akhmedilov on orders from Magomed Abigasanov, the head of Isayev's bodyguards. Dzhemal further explained that there was ill-feeling between the parliamentarian and Akhmedilov, who criticized in print the unseemly and drunken behavior of a group of construction workers engaged in building a house in Sogratl for Isayev’s brother Rizvan.
Dzhemal also reproduced what appears to be a scanned copy of an official document dated October 2010 from a senior Investigative Committee staffer to the unnamed head of the Daghestan administration of the Federal Security Service (FSB) to launch a formal probe of the possible involvement of Isayev and his brother Omargadji in Akhmedilov's murder.
Just as he had done in response to Ali Kamalov’s allegations, Isayev sued Dzhemal for libel. A Moscow court ruled in September 2014 that Dzhemal should pay Isayev 200,000 rubles in damages for the allegation that Isayev was implicated in Kamalov’s killing. At the same time, the judge rejected a formal request by Djemal’s lawyer Biyakay Magomedov to suspend further hearings pending a verdict on Shuaybov and Abdurakhmanov, who went on trial in April 2014 for Akhmedilov’s murder.
That trial dragged on for 11 months, during which time Shuaybov formally complained of procedural irregularities and called without success for the recusal of presiding judge. Shuaybov said he confessed to the murder only under torture and was not in Makhachkala on the day Akhmedilov was killed.
Shuaybov was sentenced to 10 1/2 years in jail and Abdurakhmanov to eight years. Ali Kamalov criticized those sentences as “too lenient” and said those who commissioned the killing should be punished, too.
Whether the verdict will pave the way for arrests in the case of the other 14 Daghestani journalists who met a violent death or remain an aberration is impossible to predict. Russian President Vladimir Putin called on investigators last October to solve those killings. Three months later, Republic of Daghestan head Ramazan Abdulatipov affirmed during his annual address to parliament that “11 out of the 12 murders have already been solved,” to the mystification of the victims’ colleagues.
-- Liz Fuller