For international human rights watchdogs, and even for Russian President Vladimir Putin, the murder of Daghestani journalist Akhmednabi Akhmednabiyev has become a symbol of the shortcomings of the Prosecutor-General's Office and its regional directorates across Russia.
And two years after the unsolved slaying and with the investigation suspended, a lawyer for the victim's family is questioning Putin's elevation of a key official in light of the lack of progress.
Akhmednabiyev was shot dead outside his home in the Makhachkala suburb of Semender on July 9, 2013. He was 53. Like those of 15 of the 16 other Daghestani journalists to have lost their lives over the past 20 years, his murder remains unsolved, despite a campaign earlier this year by 28 human rights organizations to transfer the investigation from the republican to the federal Investigative Committee.
In an open letter last week to federal Investigative Committee head Aleksandr Bastrykin, lawyer Abdurashid Sheykhov, representing Akhmednabiyev's family, accused the Daghestan directorate of the federal Investigative Committee of failing to continue its search for his killers, despite President Putin's insistence a year ago that all such murders should be solved.
Sheykhov further claimed that Daghestani investigators' failure to identify and apprehend Akhmednabiyev's murderer is part of a broader pattern of systematic underreporting of crimes and deliberate disregard of victims' complaints. He said that trend had become more apparent since the appointment of Eduard Kaburneyev, a Russian, to head the Investigative Committee's Daghestan subsidiary.
Trained as a medical doctor, Akhmednabiyev switched to journalism in the early 1990s, writing for the weekly newspapers Chernovik and Novoye Delo, and for the news portal Caucasus Knot. He was widely respected by fellow journalists. In September 2009, his name figured on a death list circulated in Makhachkala, the anonymous compilers of which threatened retribution for the spate that summer of murders of police officers by members of the North Caucasus insurgency. In 2012, he co-founded the Independent Union of Journalists together with Milrad Fatullayev, chief editor of the online Nastoyaschee Vremya.
Sheykhov noted that Akhmednabiyev had narrowly escaped death in January 2013 when unknown perpetrators opened fire on him from precisely the same spot where he was finally killed. At that juncture, the prosecutor's office opened an investigation into the willful destruction of property and the illegal possession of firearms, but not into attempted murder.
Sheykhov accused the Investigative Committee of foot-dragging even when a possible new line of inquiry presented itself. In March 2015, according to Sheykhov, information came to light that three years earlier an unnamed Daghestani district head asked his driver-cum-bodyguard to kill Akhmednabiyev. Investigators questioned that witness only after he himself was shot and seriously injured shortly afterward, but no criminal charges were brought against the person said to have sought Akhmednabiyev's death.
Sheykhov asked why, in light of Daghestani investigators' failure to make any headway in solving Akhmednabiyev's murder, the federal Investigative Committee does not transfer responsibility for the case to its directorate for the North Caucasus Federal District. He had first asked Bastrykin to do so two years ago.
Instead, in September 2014 the local branch of the Investigative Committee in Makhachkala tasked with the investigation of Akhmednabiyev's death shelved it on the grounds that all possible leads had been exhausted. The human rights watchdog Article 19 promptly raised the case, together with those of several other slain journalists, at a session of the UN's Council on Human Rights and the investigation was reopened.
As noted above, in his open letter to Bastrykin, Sheykhov vented his frustration at the unwillingness of the Daghestan subsidiary of the Investigative Committee to respond to and act on complaints about the professionalism of its personnel. Whether or to what extent that reluctance dovetails with a deliberate policy of underreporting crime is impossible to judge at a distance. Similarly unclear is the role of Kaburneyev, whom Putin named in October 2013 to head the Investigative Committee's Daghestan directorate.
Kaburneyev was seconded to Daghestan from Moscow. At the time of his appointment, Republic of Daghestan head Ramazan Abdulatipov commended his professionalism.
At the same time, Abdulatipov also complained that in some cases, the investigation of high-profile crimes committed in Daghestan "drags on for years." In that context, he explicitly mentioned Akhmednabiyev's murder.
Even though Putin in October 2014 personally prioritized solving the murders of Daghestani journalists, he recently extended Kaburneyev's tenure for a further five years despite the failure to identify and apprehend Akhmednabiyev's killer. A colonel at the time of his transfer to Daghestan in 2013, Kaburneyev now holds the rank of major general.