Gunashev has been held in detention for the past four months after being apprehended on November 28 in the operating theater of the Makhachkala hospital where he worked. His brother-in-law Shamil Gasanov, 35, a surgeon at the same hospital, was killed the same day. Police say they were constrained to shoot after Gasanov tried to open fire on security personnel during a search of his apartment. But when Gasanov's headless body was handed over to his family for burial, it showed signs of torture.
The two men are suspected of having facilitated the murder in February 2010 of Makhachkala police chief Akhmed Magomedov. In the case of Gunashev, that involvement allegedly took the form of performing a surgical procedure at the home of an unidentified acquaintance on a suspected insurgent. Both Gunashev and Gasanov had cast-iron alibis for the day of Magomedov's killing.
According to Gunashev's lawyer Zaur Magomedov (no relation to the murdered police chief), the case against Gunashev and Gasanov was based exclusively on the testimony of an unnamed woman who 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.
Public Chamber member Aslanbek Paskachev, to whom Gunashev's family has appealed for help, said that on the basis of his inquiries he gained an impression of Gunashev as a highly qualified and respected specialist who had never belonged to any group of public organization and had no criminal ties. Paskachev said the charge of attempted murder of a police officer raises "serious doubts."
Gunashev's father Kamil, a medical professor, categorically denies that he sympathized with the Islamic insurgency.
Colleagues at the hospital where Gunashev and Gasanov worked similarly described them as "secular to the marrow of their bones."
According to Gunashev's lawyer, even though not a shred of evidence exists to substantiate the charges against his client, Gunashev nonetheless agreed under physical and psychological pressure within days of his arrest to admit to Article 316 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code -- concealing a crime. But the indictment against him listed Article 317 (attempted murder of a member of the law-enforcement organs).
Since then, Gunashev has been transported from investigation facilities in Makhachkala to Vladikavkaz, and the case has been transferred from one investigator to another.
The RKNK appeal was not the first on Gunashev's behalf. A total of 2,223 Daghestani doctors have signed an open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin protesting his arrest and continued detention. Whether Daghestan's new health minister, Tanka Ibragimov, described by acting Republic of Daghestan President Ramazan Abdulatipov as a respected physician capable of restoring popular trust in a health service riddled by corruption, is among them is unclear.
Abdulatipov was named republic head in late January, two months after Gunashev's arrest. He has publicly deplored arbitrary detentions and killings by the police and security forces. But unless and until he moves to bring clarity to what has become known as the "Gunashev-gate" scandal, his commitment to putting an end to such abuses will be open to question.