Meeting late last month with Russian presidential administration first deputy head Sergei Kiriyenko, members of Russia's Presidential Council for Human Rights suggested that President Vladimir Putin announce an "administrative amnesty" to mark the centenary of the October Revolution of 1917. Among possible candidates for a pardon under such an amnesty, they proposed former Makhachkala Mayor Said Amirov, who is serving a life sentence on charges of terrorism and commissioning contract killings.
Putin has not yet commented on the amnesty proposal, but even if he agrees to it, observers in Daghestan doubt whether Amirov will be one of the beneficiaries.
At the time of his arrest in June 2013, Amirov, now 63, was one of the most powerful and feared men in Daghestan. During the 15 years he was Makhachkala mayor, he gained a reputation for ruthlessness in sidelining political rivals and survived four attempts on his life, one of which left him partially paralyzed and wheelchair-bound.
Amirov is currently serving two prison terms. The first, of 10 years, was handed down in June 2014 on a charge of "terrorism": He was said to have planned to kill a political rival, Sagid Murtazaliyev, by using a ground-to-air missile to shoot down the aircraft in which Murtazaliyev was traveling.
Then in August 2015, the North Caucasus Military District Court found Amirov guilty, on the basis of testimony that his lawyers repeatedly challenged, of planning a further terrorist act and of commissioning a contract killing, and sentenced him to life imprisonment.
The Presidential Council for Human Rights raised Amirov's case with Putin several months later, expressing concern that the testimony on the basis of which he and seven co-defendants were found guilty had been obtained by torturing key witnesses for the prosecution, the news portal Regnum reported. Putin duly ordered the Prosecutor General's Office to investigate, but no such probe was launched, and in March 2016 Russia's Supreme Court upheld the verdict against Amirov.
It is not clear what arguments the Presidential Human Rights Council adduced during the meeting with Kiriyenko in proposing a pardon for Amirov. Factors in his favor might include the doubts raised by defense lawyers over the reliability of the prosecution's witnesses and Amirov's age and precarious health (he also suffers from diabetes and hepatitis). Also of concern is the fact that one of his co-defendants, Zubair Mutayev, died suddenly last month at the labor camp in Bashkortostan where he was serving his 11-year sentence. The cause of death remains unclear.
On the other hand, for Putin to pardon Amirov would be to raise doubts about the competence of the federal law enforcement agencies responsible for apprehending him and bringing him to trial, and that is something he may well be reluctant to do. As Magomed Magomedov, deputy chief editor of the independent Daghestani newspaper Chernovik, points out, those agencies "do not enjoy having to admit their mistakes or sit back and watch lawyers and human rights activists undermine the efforts they made to have Amirov sentenced."
As for Amirov's health, Republic of Daghestan deputy parliament speaker Kamil Davdiyev made the point that since it was not taken into account as a mitigating factor when sentence was initially passed, it is unlikely to prove decisive now, especially given the serious nature of the crimes of which he was found guilty.
Moreover, an amnesty would almost certainly be geared to persons serving short prison terms for administrative or minor offenses, rather than for those found guilty of large-scale embezzlement, terrorism, or murder. On balance, therefore, Amirov's chances of clemency appear minimal.