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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.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp
From the June 2014 issue
Acres of hemp grown by “patriotic‚” U.S. farmers in 1942 at the behest of the U.S. government:
A study suggested that the health effects of exposure to nuclear radiation at Chernobyl were no worse than ill health resulting from smoking and normal urban air pollution.
Greenpeace apologized after activists accidentally defaced the site of Peru’s 2,000-year-old Nazca Lines when they unfurled cloth letters reading “time for change” near the ancient sand drawings. “We fully understand,” the group wrote in a statement, “that this looks bad.”
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“I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.”