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At the time of his death, the Committee to Protect Journalists quoted one of Abdulmalik 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."

A Makhachkala district court has sentenced two men for the killing in August 2009 of Avar journalist Abdulmalik Akhmedilov. The two accused, Murad Shuaibov and Isa Abdurakhmanov, were jailed for 10 1/2 and eight years respectively.

They had been found guilty and sentenced to those same terms in late March 2015. Four months later, however, Daghestan's Supreme Court overturned the guilty verdict, citing procedural violations, and ordered a retrial, which began in early September.

Akhmedilov, who was 32 when he died, 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). 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 from a sawed-off hunting rifle on August 11, 2009, as he was driving away from his house on the outskirts of Makhachkala. He died almost immediately.

Shuaibov was arrested in late January 2013 and Abdurakhmanov some two months later. Like Akhmedilov, both were born in Sogratl. By December 2013, prosecutors had reportedly established that Shuaibov fired the murder weapon and Abdurakhmanov drove the getaway car.

During the pretrial investigation, Shuaibov was said to have admitted to having killed Akhmedilov out of personal animosity after being informed by Magomed Abigasanov, a distant cousin of then-Republic of Daghestan parliament deputy Shamil Isayev, that Akhmedilov had circulated leaflets falsely branding him an adherent of Salafi Islam. But once the investigation was completed, Shuaibov formally requested that the charge against him be changed to manslaughter. And during the first trial, which lasted 11 months, Shuaibov said he confessed to the murder only under torture, and was not in Makhachkala on the day Akhmedilov was killed. Both Shuaibov and Abdurakhmanov pleaded not guilty.

When sentence on the two men was pronounced in March 2015, Ali Kamalov, chairman of the Union of Journalists of Daghestan, complained that they were simply the perpetrators of the murder, while the person or people who had commissioned it remained at large. In that context, Kamalov recalled that Isayev had demanded on more than one occasion that Kamalov have Akhmedilov fired for publishing an article critical of him.

After the repeat verdict was handed down on May 30, Kamalov again declared that Shuaibov and Abdurakhmanov were merely the hired perpetrators of the killing. He alleged that investigators know the identity of those who commissioned Akhmedilov’s murder but "don't have the courage to take them into custody."

Moscow-based journalist Orkhan Dzhemal had previously undertaken his own investigation of the slayings of both Akhmedilov and Khadzhimurad 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, Dzhemal summarized the circumstantial evidence implicating Isayev, who has since been appointed a deputy prime minister, in both murders.

Specifically, Dzhemal said Shuaibov told investigators that he and Abdurakhmanov (Isayev's former driver) killed Akhmedilov on orders from Abigasanov, the head of Isayev's bodyguards. Dzhemal further explained that there was ill will between the parliament deputy 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.

The repeat trial of Shuaibov and Abdurakhmanov got under way in early September. Unlike the first, it was open to the media. Lawyer Biyakai Magomedov, representing Akhmedilov's family, was quoted as saying the prosecution's case against the accused left no possible doubt of their guilt.

But Abdurakhmanov in his final statement last week again pleaded not guilty and declared that there is no concrete proof of his involvement in the murder, only circumstantial evidence. Shuaibov for his part stressed that his rights had been violated during the pretrial investigation. Lawyers for the two men nonetheless again applied unsuccessfully last month for the charge against them to be changed from murder to manslaughter, on the grounds that the accused had sought only to intimidate their victim, not to kill him. They plan to appeal the new verdict.

Kiwi Cafe is a counterculture-style gathering place that opened in Tbilisi about a year ago. It is popular with foreigners and employs foreign, English-speaking staff as well as Georgians.

A vegan cafe in the historic center of Tbilisi was forced to cancel an English-language video screening over the weekend when a group described by witnesses as far-right extremists threw meat into patrons' vegan dinners and started a brawl.

The staff at Tbilisi's Kiwi Cafe called police on the evening of May 29 after more than a dozen men carrying meat attacked restaurant customers and staff.

The clash spilled onto the street outside and neighbors joined in the brawl -- some reportedly fighting against the restaurant's staff and customers, as well as the meat eaters. Minor injuries were reported.

The attackers fled before police arrived and no arrests were made. Police briefly detained some cafe staff members for interrogation.

Taken out of the context of recent events in Tbilisi, the incident could be dismissed by some as part of a backlash that has emerged on social media recently against anticarnivorous vegan rhetoric in Western counterculture. (That reaction is illustrated by a trending YouTube clip called If Meat Eaters Acted Like Vegans.)

But within the former Soviet republic of Georgia, and considering the angry nature of the violence at Kiwi Cafe, there are darker concerns.

A statement issued on May 30 through Kiwi Cafe's Facebook page described the incident as "an antivegan provocative action" and called the attackers "neo-Nazis" who support "fascist ideas."

The statement said the same group had come to the neighborhood a month earlier and asked a nearby shopkeeper whether foreigners or members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community frequented the cafe.

Kiwi Cafe is a counterculture-style gathering place that opened in Tbilisi about a year ago. It is popular with foreigners and employs foreign, English-speaking staff as well as Georgians.

On May 29, the cafe was screening English-language episodes of an American animated, sci-fi sitcom called Rick And Morty when the confrontation began.

Customers said the group of rowdy Georgian men entered the cafe as the screening was under way, wearing sausages around their necks and carrying slabs of meat on skewers.

According to the Kiwi Cafe statement, "they pulled out some grilled meat, sausages, and fish and started eating them and throwing them at us, and finally they started to smoke.... They were just trying to provoke our friends and disrespect us."

Witnesses said the brawl broke out after the men were told to calm down and leave the cafe, which is designated as a "no smoking" area.

'Georgians For Georgia'

Just three days before the attack at Kiwi Cafe, during Georgia's May 26 celebrations marking independence from the former Soviet Union, a group of Georgian nationalist extremists marched in the streets of Tbilisi chanting and carrying banners with the slogan "Georgians for Georgia."

For Georgians, that slogan is an obvious twist on a catchphrase that has specific, dark connotations in the country: "Georgia for Georgians." The phrase was among the anti-Soviet slogans that emerged from Georgia's chaotic rebirth as an independent post-Soviet republic.

For many Georgians, the slogan brings back memories of policies and declarations by Georgia's first post-Soviet president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, that were aimed at protecting the Georgian state and ethnic Georgians.

It also recalls the atmosphere that led ethnic minorities, supported by Russia, to declare independence in Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The slogan also stirs memories of the tense atmosphere in the newly independent Caucasus country when Georgia's armed ethnic conflicts broke out during the early 1990s.

In 2005, then-President Mikheil Saakashvili declared that "Georgia for Georgians" was a "poisonous nationalistic slogan."

But since 2013, when violent threats against gay activists in Tbilisi forced them to cancel a gay-pride parade in the Georgian capital, the slogan has appeared as spray-painted graffiti near Heroes Square in the city center alongside Nazi swastikas and racist slogans.

Kiwi Cafe said on May 30 that it was continuing to work and was "ready to accept all customers regardless of their nationality, race, appearance, age, gender, sexual orientation, or religious views."

For now, it remains unclear whether the premeditated meat assault against the vegan cafe was merely a prank against an alternative culture hangout that turned violent.

But some Tbilisi residents are concerned that the xenophobic overtones of the violence at Kiwi Cafe, taken together with the march by right-wing nationalists in Tbilisi just three days earlier, could mark the emergence of organized political actions by Georgian ultranationalists.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Georgian Service

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