A Makhachkala district court has sentenced two men for the killing in August 2009 of Avar journalist Abdulmalik Akhmedilov. The two accused, Murad Shuaibov and Isa Abdurakhmanov, were jailed for 10 1/2 and eight years respectively.
They had been found guilty and sentenced to those same terms in late March 2015. Four months later, however, Daghestan's Supreme Court overturned the guilty verdict, citing procedural violations, and ordered a retrial, which began in early September.
Akhmedilov, who was 32 when he died, was editor of the local Avar-language newspaper Sogratl (named for the eponymous village where he was born) and deputy chief editor of the republican Avar-language paper Hakikat (Truth). At the time of his death, the Committee to Protect Journalists quoted one of Akhmedilov's colleagues as saying he had acquired a reputation for critical reporting on how the federal security forces sought to suppress political and religious dissent under the guise of cracking down on "extremism."
Akhmedilov was shot twice from a sawed-off hunting rifle on August 11, 2009, as he was driving away from his house on the outskirts of Makhachkala. He died almost immediately.
Shuaibov was arrested in late January 2013 and Abdurakhmanov some two months later. Like Akhmedilov, both were born in Sogratl. By December 2013, prosecutors had reportedly established that Shuaibov fired the murder weapon and Abdurakhmanov drove the getaway car.
During the pretrial investigation, Shuaibov was said to have admitted to having killed Akhmedilov out of personal animosity after being informed by Magomed Abigasanov, a distant cousin of then-Republic of Daghestan parliament deputy Shamil Isayev, that Akhmedilov had circulated leaflets falsely branding him an adherent of Salafi Islam. But once the investigation was completed, Shuaibov formally requested that the charge against him be changed to manslaughter. And during the first trial, which lasted 11 months, Shuaibov said he confessed to the murder only under torture, and was not in Makhachkala on the day Akhmedilov was killed. Both Shuaibov and Abdurakhmanov pleaded not guilty.
When sentence on the two men was pronounced in March 2015, Ali Kamalov, chairman of the Union of Journalists of Daghestan, complained that they were simply the perpetrators of the murder, while the person or people who had commissioned it remained at large. In that context, Kamalov recalled that Isayev had demanded on more than one occasion that Kamalov have Akhmedilov fired for publishing an article critical of him.
After the repeat verdict was handed down on May 30, Kamalov again declared that Shuaibov and Abdurakhmanov were merely the hired perpetrators of the killing. He alleged that investigators know the identity of those who commissioned Akhmedilov’s murder but "don't have the courage to take them into custody."
Moscow-based journalist Orkhan Dzhemal had previously undertaken his own investigation of the slayings of both Akhmedilov and Khadzhimurad Kamalov, founder and chief editor of the independent Daghestani Russian-language weekly Chernovik and the son of Ali Kamalov's first cousin. In three articles published in April 2013, June 2013, and May 2014, Dzhemal summarized the circumstantial evidence implicating Isayev, who has since been appointed a deputy prime minister, in both murders.
Specifically, Dzhemal said Shuaibov told investigators that he and Abdurakhmanov (Isayev's former driver) killed Akhmedilov on orders from Abigasanov, the head of Isayev's bodyguards. Dzhemal further explained that there was ill will between the parliament deputy and Akhmedilov, who criticized in print the unseemly and drunken behavior of a group of construction workers engaged in building a house in Sogratl for Isayev's brother Rizvan.
The repeat trial of Shuaibov and Abdurakhmanov got under way in early September. Unlike the first, it was open to the media. Lawyer Biyakai Magomedov, representing Akhmedilov's family, was quoted as saying the prosecution's case against the accused left no possible doubt of their guilt.
But Abdurakhmanov in his final statement last week again pleaded not guilty and declared that there is no concrete proof of his involvement in the murder, only circumstantial evidence. Shuaibov for his part stressed that his rights had been violated during the pretrial investigation. Lawyers for the two men nonetheless again applied unsuccessfully last month for the charge against them to be changed from murder to manslaughter, on the grounds that the accused had sought only to intimidate their victim, not to kill him. They plan to appeal the new verdict.