VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia -- The sentencing of two soldiers convicted of beating officers at a Russian base in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia has sparked protests by relatives and supporters.
On September 4, the regional military court sentenced Zelim Albegov to 3 1/2 years in prison and Arsen Slanov to 18 months in a colony settlement -- a penitentiary in which convicts live close to a factory or farm where they work -- after finding them guilty of beating two Russian officers at the base in May 2017.
Relatives and friends of the defendants began shouting, crying, and cursing the court after the verdicts and sentences were pronounced. Some 100 people rallied in front of courthouse, protesting the court's ruling.
Albegov's father, who was among the protesters, stated that he was "ready to blow myself up so that Russia will pay attention to us -- not only my child, but all the youth of Ossetia!"
The protesters then started collecting signatures under a petition addressed to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, asking him to take the case under his personal control.
Albegov and Slanov, who were serving in the Russian Army on a contractual basis, maintained their innocence, claiming that they did not beat the two officers. They contended that on the contrary, the officers beat them.
Prosecutors at the trial had asked the court to hand them suspended sentences that would keep them out of prison.
Both North Ossetia, which is in Russia, and South Ossetia, which is in Georgia, are home to ethnic Ossetians. South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another breakaway Georgian region, shed the control of the central government in Tbilisi in wars in the early 1990s.
Russia stepped up its military presence in South Ossetia and Abkhazia after recognizing them as independent states following a five-day war with Georgia in August 2008.
But the vast majority of the international community rejects the regions' independence claims and shares Tbilisi’s view that they are Russian-occupied territory firmly within Georgia’s borders.