Those who greeted the acquittal by a Makhachkala district court in May of respected anesthesiologist Marat Gunashev of membership of the Islamic insurgency as evidence that Russia's judges do occasionally return a fair verdict have been disillusioned.
The case against Gunashev, whom colleagues had described as a peaceful and law-abiding citizen with no interest in religion, was based largely on the testimony of his brother-in-law's jilted paramour. On September 15, Daghestan's Supreme Court nonetheless overturned the verdict and ordered a retrial by the same court.
Gunashev was arrested in November 2012 in the operating theater of the Makhachkala hospital where he worked. His brother-in-law Shamil Gasanov, a surgeon at the same hospital, was shot dead by security forces the same day, allegedly to prevent him opening fire on them. But when his headless body was returned to his family for burial, it bore marks of torture.
The two men were suspected of having performed surgery at Gasanov's apartment on February 6, 2010, to remove a bullet from the upper arm of Ibragim Gadzhidadayev, leader of the Gimri group of fighters. Gadzhidadayev reportedly received that injury during an attack the previous day in which Makhachkala police chief Akhmed Magomedov, his driver, and two bodyguards were killed, and for which both Gunashev and Gasanov had cast-iron alibis.
Gadzhidadayev -- who had a reputation for ruthlessness, extreme cruelty, and extorting funds from prominent officials and businessmen to fund insurgency activities -- was subsequently reported killed during a special operation in Semender on the outskirts of Makhachkala in March 2013, but his body was never found.
Gunashev was initially charged with concealing a crime, and confessed under psychological pressure within days of his arrest to having done so. But that charge was soon dropped, and replaced by that of membership of the North Caucasus insurgency on the basis of his having allegedly treated the wounded Gadzhidadayev, which Gunashev consistently denied having done. Colleagues of the two men reacted to that charge with consternation and disbelief, characterizing both men as "secular to the marrow of their bones."
The criminal case against Gunashev was based on the testimony of three witnesses. The first, identified by the prosecution by the pseudonym "Stella," had been Gasanov's paramour for several years. After he left her to marry Gunashev's sister, the spurned mistress bombarded the two men with threats to disclose their purported crime to the police, and admitted in court to having done so.
The second witness, identified as "Zakhar Prilepin," shared a cell with Gunashev while the latter was held in pretrial detention and testified that Gunashev admitted to him that he had abetted the insurgency. The third witness, identified by the alias "Filip Filippov," withdrew his testimony in court.
The presiding judge concluded that the testimony of "Stella" and "Prilepin" was not adequate to substantiate the charge against Gunashev (to which he pleaded not guilty) of belonging to the insurgency. But Daghestan's Supreme Court ruled that the judge had no grounds not to believe Prilepin's testimony, and construed Gunashev's alleged treatment of the wounded Gadzhidadayev as substantiating the charge.
At the time of Gunashev's acquittal, Moscow-based lawyer Zaur Arapiyev explained that under Russian labor law, a physician has an obligation to provide medical help to anyone who needs it, regardless of the circumstances, but he/she is likewise required to inform the police if the injury (such as a gunshot wound) may have been incurred during or as a result of a crime.