No Comment — June 4, 2010, 1:45 pm

Politics and Justice in Ingushetia

Kudos to New York Times reporter Ellen Barry for bringing us the story of Magomed Yevloyev, a young gadfly intent on exposing corruption in the North Caucasus who was rewarded for his efforts with a fatal gunshot wound to the head, delivered at point-blank range. Barry couples his story with the equally revealing tale of his tenacious father, Yakhya, who put his faith in the criminal justice system—and found it utterly betrayed him. This patient and compelling account vividly depicts what has happened to the administration of justice in a powerful nation ruled by a lawyer who has promised to restore the country’s rule of law tradition, but whose promises consistently fall short.

the case serves as a lesson in how the legal process can be strangled. In Russia, the prosecutor has long served as the guard dog of the powerful. Peter the Great envisioned the office as “the czar’s eye,” and Stalin forged it into a brutal instrument of control. Though post-Soviet reforms pared away that power, prosecutors still come under direct political pressure and rarely turn their scrutiny upward. In this case, federal investigators reporting to Moscow took over and blocked any inquiry that could have pointed to senior officials.

Yakhya urged investigators to pursue the case as a murder, but an examination of the legal records shows that possibility was not explored. Instead, the state opened a case of negligent homicide, a mild charge used in medical malpractice cases, and prosecutors requested a sentence of two years. By comparison, defendants can receive five-year sentences for distributing pirated software. The official explanation of what happened took shape an hour and five minutes after Magomed Yevloyev died on a hospital bed. His death, investigators wrote, resulted from a bizarre accident.

This is an essential glimpse deep into the heart of modern Russia with the sort of defining detail only rarely found in newspaper accounts. Well done indeed.

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