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Russia: Investigate Beating of Human Rights Lawyer

Attack by Police Undermines Kremlin Promises for Activists’ Safety

(Moscow) - Russian authorities should investigate the beating of a human rights lawyer by police in Dagestan and bring the perpetrators to justice, Human Rights Watch said today.

The lawyer, 31-year-old Sapiyat Magomedova, represents victims of human rights abuses, including taking their cases to the European Court of Human Rights. Her colleagues at Omarov and Partners, the law firm she works for in Khasavyurt, Dagestan's second largest city, told Human Rights Watch that police officers beat Magomedova unconscious on the premises of the Khasavyurt police department on June 17, 2010.

"The Kremlin promised to ensure that human rights defenders in the North Caucasus could work safely, but here is another vicious attack on an activist," said Tanya Lokshina, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Moscow office. "If the Russian leadership meant what it said, they need to hold the perpetrators of this horrid attack accountable."   

Magomedova went to the Khasavyurt police department on June 17 around 4 p.m. asking for access to a client who had been detained earlier that day and was being held there.  An investigator working on the case refused to let Magomedova see her client. When she tried to insist, the investigator called several police from a riot unit (OMON) into the room and ordered them to "kick her out."

Following this instruction, four of the officers started punching and kicking Magomedova until she was unconconcious.

Magomedova, still unconscious, was carried to the gates of the police department.  Employees at Omarov and Partners said that Magomedova had a gold chain on her which was taken while in police custody and that her cell phone was broken. Magomedova was admitted to the Khasavyurt hospital, where a staff forensic doctor refused to provide a record of the injuries sustained by Magomedova, fearing for his own security.

Magomedova represents victims in very sensitive cases, including allegations that individuals suspected of involvement with the insurgency in Dagestan have been tortured by the police.

"Magomedova is a courageous lawyer," Lokshina said. "Very few lawyers in Dagestan dare to take on the cases she does because of the threat to their own safety."  

Magomedova told Human Rights Watch that she had previously received numerous threats in connection with her work. In an interview with Human Rights Watch in 2009, Magomedova also said that a spurious and unfounded criminal case had been instigated against her for allegedly offending an investigator from the prosecutor's office. She believes that the case is a form of retaliation against her for standing up to law enforcement agencies and fighting impunity.

In January, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin urged authorities in the North Caucasus to "do everything to support the normal work and daily activities of rights-defending organizations" in the region. Still, the perpetrators in the brazen killings of six activists last year, including Natalia Estemirova, leading Chechnya researcher for the Memorial Human Rights Center, have not been brought to justice and there have been new attacks on activists working in the region.

Human Rights Watch called on Russia's international partners to urge the Russian government to ensure a prompt, effective, and transparent investigation at the highest levels into the beating of Magomedova and to stop impunity for attacks on human rights defenders.

"What is especially devastating about the attack is that Magomedova was beaten by police on the actual premises of the police department," Lokshina said "The police apparently had zero concern about being held accountable, and their aim seemed to be to frighten Magomedova into abandoning her client."

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