Among the questions put to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the October 1 session of the presidential Human Rights Council was one from human rights activist Andrei Babushkin concerning the recently concluded trial of former Makhachkala Mayor Said Amirov and seven co-defendants on charges of terrorism and contract killings.
The eight men, all of whom pleaded innocent, were found guilty, largely on the evidence of one witness, Magomed Abdulgalimov, of the murder in 2011 of investigator Arsen Gadzhibekov and a rocket attack that inflicted minor damage on a shopping and recreation center. Amirov, 61, was sentenced to life imprisonment. His co-defendants, including his nephew Yusup Dzhaparov, received prison terms ranging from 9½ to 22 years.
Babushkin claimed the Prosecutor-General's Office and the North Caucasus Military District Court systematically deleted from the written records of the pretrial interrogation of Amirov's co-defendants all complaints that evidence was extracted by subjecting the accused to electric shock treatment. As a result, Babushkin explained, "all evidence of Amirov's innocence became evidence of his guilt."
Babushkin asked Putin to instruct the prosecutor-general to bear that circumstance in mind during the review of Amirov's appeal. (All eight men appealed their sentences to Russia's Supreme Court.) Putin undertook to do so, but added cryptically that "the charge, as you know, is a very serious one."
Babushkin's claim that Amirov's co-defendants were subjected to torture is nothing new. Abdulgalimov's lawyer hinted as much in early 2014, and during the trial last year of Amirov and Dzhaparov on a separate charge of terrorism, Abdulgalimov testified that he had been tortured during the pretrial investigation.
In the course of the recently concluded trial, several of Amirov's co-defendants similarly claimed to have been beaten and/or subjected to electric shocks. Repeated attempts by their defense lawyers to persuade the prosecution to probe the multiple claims of torture proved unsuccessful.
Putin's response to Babushkin's request was in line with his mostly positive reactions to the solicitations of other council members. That does not, of course, mean that Putin was necessarily sincere in assuring Babushkin that he will ask the Prosecutor-General's Office to investigate the torture allegations. Even if such a probe is carried out, and the allegations are found to have been substantiated, to admit as much would corroborate Amirov's repeated assertions that the successive charges brought against him were fabricated and politically motivated.
It is, however, conceivable that the Supreme Court will revise Amirov's sentence downwards. As one blogger commented, even a 10-year prison term would in all likelihood prove to be a life sentence, given Amirov's age and precarious health. He is paralyzed below the waist and wheelchair-bound as a result of injuries sustained in 1993 during one of a dozen attempts on his life, and also suffers from diabetes and hepatitis.