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Jailed Daghestani Doctor's Wife Appeals To Putin, Denounces 'Meat Grinder'

Russian Interior Ministry troops in front of a destroyed home in the village of Novo-Fite in Daghestan. (file photo)
Russian Interior Ministry troops in front of a destroyed home in the village of Novo-Fite in Daghestan. (file photo)
Amina Gunasheva says she wrote to the Russian president out of desperation.

The young woman has not seen her husband, a well-respected anesthesiologist from Daghestan, since law-enforcement officers burst into his hospital in the regional capital, Makhachkala, last November.

Interrupting surgery on a patient, the masked officers dragged Marat Gunashev out of the operation room and bundled him into a vehicle in his medical scrubs and slippers.

He is now jailed without trial in another North Caucasus republic, accused of colluding with Islamic militants in the 2010 assassination of Makhachkala's police chief.

Amina Gunasheva, the wife of anesthesiologist Marat Gunashev, whom she hasn't seen since his jailing
Amina Gunasheva, the wife of anesthesiologist Marat Gunashev, whom she hasn't seen since his jailing
Gunasheva, who dismisses the accusations as absurd, has been unable to obtain any more information about her husband after being cold-shouldered by police, prosecutors, and the Federal Security Service (FSB).

Vladimir Putin, she says, is her last hope.

"Of course, I hope that his letter will have some effect," Gunasheva says. "What else can I do in my situation?"

The family's ordeal does not end here.

Many Discrepancies

Gunashev's brother-in-law, surgeon Shamil Gasanov, was detained on the same day in the same hospital, also on charges of helping murder the city's police head.

Gasanov, however, did not survive the arrest. His body was returned to his relatives decapitated and bearing signs of torture, with multiple bruises and both his knees shattered by bullets.

Police say the surgeon was killed after attacking law-enforcement officers with a hidden gun during a search of his apartment -- a claim at odds with witness accounts suggesting he had been blindfolded and handcuffed.

The case has caused dismay in Makhachkala, where the doctors were widely admired.

Relatives, friends, and colleagues insist on their innocence, saying both come from secular, middle-class families with no known ties to the Islamic insurgency.

"He is a respected person, he holds three different jobs," Gunasheva says of her husband. "He not only heads intensive-care units, he is also frequently flown out to treat patients. He often treats law-enforcement officers wounded in counterterrorism operations. He brings them to his unit and puts them back on their feet. So for us, this is all completely crazy."

Gunasheva also accuses police of planting drugs in her 8-year-old daughter's bedroom, next to her schoolbooks, during a search of her apartment.

An attempt by Gunashev's colleagues to hold a protest rally was quashed after the local health minister reportedly threatened to fire any hospital staff who spoke out in support of either Gunashev or Gasanov.

'In Detention, And That's All'

The family's plight reflects the mounting violence and lawlessness in Daghestan since the Islamic insurgency spilled out of Chechnya following two separatist wars with Moscow.
Anesthesiologist Marat Gunashev with his daughter
Anesthesiologist Marat Gunashev with his daughter

Human rights groups say civilians continue to suffer severe abuse at the hands of both separatist rebels and security agencies, which have a track record of extrajudicial killings and abductions.

In a report published last year, Amnesty International warned that the complex and "opaque" structure of law-enforcement agencies in the North Caucasus allowed authorities to victimize the population with almost complete impunity.

Like the men who seized Gunashev and Gasanov, law-enforcement officials are often masked and devoid of any insignia identifying their agency, making it impossible for victims to seek redress.

Even when the perpetrators are identified and evidence of torture is available, the crimes are rarely investigated.

In Gunashev's case, it remains unclear whether he will face trial. Unclear, too, is whether a proper investigation is even under way.

"They detained him over fabricated accusations," Magomed Zaur, a lawyer representing Gunashev, says. "Not only was he immediately arrested and falsely accused, he was also taken to another republic, where he is being detained far away from his home. There are no attempts to determine whether Gunashev is guilty or not. He is in detention, that's all."

'No One Is Safe'

For Gunasheva and her relatives, the real motive for the doctors' singling-out also remains a mystery.

For now, their suspicions fall on a former girlfriend of Gasanov who they say never forgave him for marrying Gunashev's sister.

They say the woman had harassed the newlyweds and threatened to use her contacts in law-enforcement agencies to exact revenge.

Gunasheva is convinced this woman is the single, anonymous witness whose testimony appears to be at the heart of the case against the two doctors.

She says her husband's jailing and Gasanov's horrific death are a painful reminder of how vulnerable civilians remain to abuse perpetrated in the name of the war against Islamic insurgents in the North Caucasus.

"If they took him away and tainted his name, then no one is safe in this republic," Gunasheva says. "People who know me -- relatives and friends -- actually cry when they come to visit me. I no longer have the strength to cry over the injustice, the helplessness, the fact that anyone can end up in this meat grinder."

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