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SOS from Dagestan

One year since a young man was killed in a police station in this North Caucasus republic, the victim’s family is still trying to find out what happened. RU

Badma Biurchiev
2 October 2015

A year ago, in Nogaisk, Dagestan, a police lieutenant killed Eradil Asanov, 22, with a shot to the back of the head inside a police station.

But 12 months on, the killer is still at large, and the investigation has made little progress. Even Russia’s General Prosecutor’s Office, it seems, is powerless before Dagestan’s ‘keepers of the peace’.

SOS

In September 2014, Dagestan’s Investigative Committee reported that they had solved a crime committed in the Nogaisk district, 300km north of Makhachkala. Five months prior, the body of a 17-year-old girl had been found near the village of Batyr-Murza, Nogaisk. As the investigation reported, the girl had been raped and strangled by 38-year old local resident.

As the Investigative Committee press release put it at the time: ‘The investigator has carried out a huge amount of work to solve this case together with other Interior Ministry departments. More than 100 witnesses were questioned, more than 1,200 forensic tests carried out, more than 32 volumes of investigative information produced.’ 

If you’re familiar with the situation, then you know what lies behind the phrase ‘huge amount of work’. More than a thousand local men had to give statements about where they were and what they were doing at the time of the murder. The police put pressure on many of these men.

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Terekli-Mekteb, capital of Nogaisk district.Then, in October, an incident took place that was shocking even by Dagestan standards: the murder of Eradil Asanov inside a Nogaisk police station.

In October, an incident took place that was shocking even by Dagestan standards.

Dagestan’s Investigative Committee described the incident in modest terms a few days later:

‘According to the investigation, on 6 October 2014, a police officer, while questioning a 22-year-old resident of Nogaisk district, exceeded his authority and shot the man, who died on scene as a result of a wound to the head.’

A criminal case against the officer in question was opened largely due to public pressure. On 6 October, the day after Asanov was killed, more than 500 people gathered in Terekli-Mekteb, the district centre . Local residents were angered not only by the murder itself, but also the attempt by law enforcement to position Asanov as responsible for his own death: allegedly, Asanov tried to attack the officer with a knife, and the latter was forced to defend himself with his pistol.

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Terekli-Mekteb police station. Two days later, there was another protest. This time the police had to name the suspected killer, and Deputy Interior Minister Akhmed Bataliyev told the crowd in Terekli-Mekteb that Saipulakadi Dzhamaludinov, a lieutenant colonel, was responsible for shooting Eradil Asanov.

Dzhamaludinov is still free, and the investigation into this incident is being conducted under Article 286 (exceeding authority with the use of force, a firearm and grievous bodily harm) of Russia’s criminal code, and not Article 105 (murder).

‘A whole police station couldn’t stop a single man’

Nogaisk is the largest district in Dagestan, and differs from its neighbours for several reasons. Unlike the south of the republic, mountains and people are in short supply here. The district population is 20,000, and most people are Nogais, a Turkic ethnic group.

Nogaisk people are steppe-dwellers. They don’t see themselves as being from the Caucasus, and other residents of Dagestan are often referred to as ‘them’.

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On 6 October 2014, the day after Asanov was killed, more than 500 people gathered in Terekli-Mekteb. Photo: YoutubeMany civic activists are convinced that Nogaisk’s situation (its inclusion in the administrative structure of the North Caucasus) is one of the reasons behind the district’s economic and social problems, and the idea of creating a separate federal Nogaisk republic within the Russian Federation is popular here.

At the district border, armed police stop vehicles to check people’s documents.

The control isn’t total, and the checks are selective. But these blockades remind you that you’re in Dagestan. And just like the rest of the country, security service personnel have de facto greater powers than other regions of Russia. Constant counter-terrorist operations, which limit the rights of citizens for periods of time, have taught people that the security services are allowed to act beyond the limits of the law.

The situation in Nogaisk, to the north of the country, is slightly different. Twenty thousand people, after all, is roughly the size of a big village or small town. It’s hardly surprising that everyone knows each other here. You can find relatives, fellow villagers, old classmates or plain acquaintances in any administrative institution.

These blockades remind you that you’re in Dagestan.

In theory, these conditions should make it harder for the authorities to act with impunity.

But as the murder of Eradil Asanov shows, public officials and the security services are ready to forego their reputation in order to remain committed to the system.

‘It can’t be that a man is killed – and no one is responsible’

Dzhamaludinov, the suspected killer, came from Makhachkala to help with the investigation into the murder of the girl. But within a few hours, local police were already trying to cover up information about the death inside the station.

Relatives of Asanov believe that, in the immediate aftermath, local officers were trying to conceal evidence of the crime.

‘A whole police station couldn’t stop a single man,’ says Rinat Adilgereyev, Asanov’s brother. ‘I don’t recognise them [as police] after what happened. They know this, they don’t stop my car even if I’m breaking the rules of the road. When I have to meet one of them at a village meeting or somewhere else, I don’t shake hands with them. As soon as they see me, they lower their eyes and look at the floor as if guilty children.’

Rinat is short, lean young man. He spent his childhood with Eradil looking after animals. He’s still a farmer today. The fineries of jurisprudence, the courts: this isn’t his thing. But he is determined to get justice, though he already looks tired from the ‘carousel’—when, for instance, you make a complaint against an individual in a state institution to a higher institution, and it is sent straight back to the original institution.

‘Who haven’t we written to – Kolokoltsev [Minister of Interior Affairs], Bastrykin [Head of the Investigative Committee], Chaika [General Prosecutor]. We’ve been everywhere in the North Caucasus federal district, writing appeals to get the case transferred from the republic’s Investigative Committee higher up.’

‘It’s the same everywhere, everyone watches out for everyone else: we make a complaint about the actions of the investigator, and they send it to him to examine; we complain about how the prosecutor does nothing, and they send our complaint to him,’ Rinat tells me indignantly, before adding: ‘I’m going to Moscow, I’ll go to the Presidential Administration.’

Failing to catch a flicker of support in my eyes, Rinat, as if to convince himself, adds quickly: ‘I’ll start a hunger strike there. It can’t be that a man is killed – and no one is responsible.’

‘They asked me not to make a scandal’

‘All of that’s useless,’ sighs Yumabika Adilgereyeva, mother of Eradil and Rinat. ‘All of those people are connected to one another. When we were holding the demonstrations [in 2014], managers at state institutions forbid their employees from attending.’

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Yumabika Adilgereyeva, mother of Eradil Asanov.‘They even banned school kids, in the vein of “if we spot you at the meeting, we’ll expel you.” Some people from Makhachkala also came to see me, they asked me not to make a scandal. I work at the post office, my salary is five thousand roubles a month. And they think I’m ready to cling to that job?! But people are, of course, afraid of losing their jobs, and only people who aren’t employed by the state, or who are less dependent, came to the demonstration.’

‘How can it be useless?’ Rinat protests. ‘We have to do something, after all. We can’t leave it unpunished. They’re sure we’re going to give up. The policeman’s relatives came here, they offered masliat [traditional practice of making a truce in the North Caucasus].’

‘But what masliat can there be if he [the officer] hasn’t confessed, and will not admit his guilt? When I turned them down, Dzhamaludinov’s sister said we wouldn’t get any justice anyway: Dagestan’s Minister of Interior Affairs [Abdurashid Magomed] is a relative. That’s why he [Dzhamaludinov] has reached the position of lieutenant colonel at 32.’

‘There were two local policemen in that office with him [Asanov],’ Rinat continues. ‘Dalgat Mukhtarov and Abdurakhman Koilubayev. The second is the son-in-law of the head of the district police. Now they’re saying that Dzhamaludinov was left alone in the office with Eradil when everything happened.’

‘That suits them fine: now the only person in trouble is Dzhamaludinov. Their calculation is that, with protection from up top, he’ll come out fine. And at the moment he’s succeeding. He isn’t even under house arrest. He changes his statement according to what the [forensic] experts say.’

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The incident in the police station involving Asanov has seriously damaged the reputation of the police in Dagestan. Photo: Youtube‘Before he said that was a table between him and Eradil. Now when it’s clear that it would have been impossible to stab him in that situation, Dzhamaludinov has begun to assert that he stood up and came over to Eradil. But even if he was close, how did he manage to pull his gun when fighting with a young man attacking him with a knife? And how did he shoot him in the back of the head?’

Questions left unanswered

Rinat has many other questions. In particular, how could his brother get inside the police station with a knife in his pocket if there are metal detectors at the entrance? Why did the local police on duty find out about the murder in the third floor office after a call from the interior ministry?

‘Eradil couldn’t even cut the head off a duck. He always asked someone else to do it for him,’ 

Meanwhile, the reconstruction was conducted without representatives from the defence and was not recorded. Why? There are also questions relating to the forensic reports. The investigators initially found a bullet on the table, despite the fact that the bullet did not exit the body. According to the investigators’ version of events, Asanov somehow sat back down on the chair, though independent experts say that is impossible. After the shot to the back of the head, the body would have crumpled instantly and fell to the ground.

Moreover, why didn’t the police call an ambulance, or even try to give medical aid? And finally, why can’t the defence lawyer, despite several requests, get copies of the scene reports and coroner’s report?

These questions have been left without answers for nearly a year.

Investigative Committee: ‘we’ll wait for the anniversary’

‘The investigation has established that the suspect S.M. Dzhamaludinov has a family, a permanent address and that there are no reasons to believe that he will hide from the initial investigation or trial. There is no evidence that S.M. Dzhamaludinov has threatened the aggrieved, witnesses or other participants of the criminal case in order to change testimony or impede the investigation,’ – so read the Investigative Committee’s reasons for refusing to place the suspect under arrest in October 2014.

Nothing has changed since then. There was a minor outburst of activity in November when Aldigereyev managed to get a meeting with Ivan Sydoruk, Russia’s deputy general prosecutor. Sydoruk listened to the aggrieved carefully, accepted their letter and even requested to see the file but that was it.

‘All the necessary investigative actions to establish all the information have been taken on this criminal case,’ replies Dagestan’s Office of the General Prosecutor to my questions. ‘The investigation is under control of the management of the republic’s prosecutor’s office.’

In August this year, the investigation’s time limit was extended yet again. Ali Ibragimov, the investigator in charge of the case, couldn’t say why the investigation has taken so long, nor why Dzhamaludinov cannot be arrested. Referring to the need for secrecy, Ibragimov recommended that I contact the Investigative Committee for further information.

‘Honestly, I haven’t looked into this case for a while,’ Rasul Temirbekov, a senior public relations official in Dagestan’s Investigative Committee, tells me. ‘We can’t give out information just like that, we have to agree our answers to your questions with Moscow… Not everything is so clear-cut in this case, all the same a policeman was wounded. When did you say it’ll be a year since the day of the murder? 6 October? Let’s speak after that date, I think we’ll have some results by then.’

Dzhamaludinov’s left shoulder was definitely injured, it has to be said. But Asanov’s relatives are sure that Dzhamaludinov injured himself to confuse the investigation. ‘When its your career, your freedom at stake, you’ll do anything it takes. And the wound is a centimetre deep—he had enough time to leave “marks of struggle” on his body.’

‘Eradil couldn’t even cut the head off a duck. He always asked someone else to do it for him,’ Yumabika, his mother, says, fingering a hankerchief wet with tears. ‘He didn’t even take a stick with him when he was out with the sheep. Everyone knew him here. He was harmless, he trusted people. He’d believe any practical joke until someone told him he was being mocked. That’s why they chose him, in order to hang that crime on him.

‘He was summoned by a policeman who knew him, who said that they needed some building work doing at the station. Eradil made some money on the side with those kind of jobs. And so he went. And there, it seems, they started to force him to write a confession.

‘But firstly, Eradil would never sign a statement saying he did something which he hadn’t. Secondly, he couldn’t even write, he didn’t go to school. They decided, it seems, to scare him a little—and shot him in the back of the head. Now everybody knows that he had nothing to do with the death of that girl. We always knew that. But why doesn’t the investigation ask it self that question: what motivation could Eradil have had, to go for a policeman with a knife? What was he trying to do?’

A tragedy for all

The murder of Eradil Asanov is a tragedy, and not only for his own family. That shot to the back of the head has exposed the divide between ‘people of the system’ and ‘ordinary people’. Even in a district where, it would seem, everyone knows each other, security service personnel and state employees are compelled to cross over to the other side of the barricades in order to keep in line.

Most of these people don’t earn a lot, but any job in a state institution gives a feeling of stability. Acts of citizenship and principle only lead to problems.

But there are no victors in this confrontation between ‘system’ and ‘people’. According to Rinat, the police have lost any authority they had after the incident in the police station. ‘Recently some young guys got into a fight with some police officers in a café and beat them up. Several policemen wound up in the hospital. None of them wrote any report. They were afraid. The fight didn’t start because of Eradil’s death. But they were reminded of it. What kind of defenders of society can they be if they’re covering up killers? It doesn’t matter: everything secret will come out in the open. We’ve already had cases where hidden facts and evidence have suddenly come to light. Sooner or later someone will open their mouth.’

Judging by Rinat’s tone, the flatness of the steppe has left its own mark on residents of these places. People can wait for their time here. The Aldigereyevs have already had people try to ‘reason’ with them—money, negotiators from the official Muslim organisations. But Asanov’s family remains firm, and continue to demand a fair inquest and trial.

Aksakaly [clan heads] from the clergy came to see us. They said, “You know, there’s no better act in Allah’s eyes than forgiveness.” But how can I forgive? And who am I to forgive such a thing? I’m not Allah. If Dzhamaludinov had confessed, come to us immediately, then maybe we could have forgiven him. But like this…’

Rinat has to fight his emotions for a moment. ‘He killed Eradil on a sacred festival for Muslims, Kurban Bayrami, after all. And anyone could have ended up in Eradil’s place. Many people here have had guns drawn on them to scare them  […] And now they’re talking about religion. No, we have to put an end to this lawlessness…’

‘You know what the head of the district offered me?’ Rustam Adilgereyev, Eradil’s uncle, joins in. ‘We need, he says, to hush this case up. I ask him: what do you mean, hush up? He says: “You need to forgive him, and then, when you meet him, shoot him. That’s how the mountain folk do it: forgive you first, then get their revenge later anyway.” I ask him: ‘Are you in your right mind? Can you hear what you’re offering me?’

Those questions are starting to gnaw at me too. I try to figure out how I’m going to check that information: no public official in their right mind would confirm such statements. But if a policeman murders a citizen in a police station in this district and is still free today, then why couldn’t that kind of conversation take place in ‘high’ office?

‘Where are you going to publish this?’ Rustam asks me, noticing my confusion.

‘I’m writing for a European publication,’ I say, trying not to get into details.

‘This should sound like a SOS signal,’ Eradil’s uncle says, drawing the conversation to a close.

‘I’ll try,’ I promise unwillingly.

I’ll send an SOS, no problem. But who do I send it to?

 

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