MOSCOW, December 8 (RIA Novosti) – A Dagestani doctor was charged on Saturday with being an accessory to the 2010 murder of a local police chief, in a case that saw another doctor killed by police and which has already been dubbed a “doctors’ plot” in Russian social networks.
“All accusations against my client are baseless and an appeal will be filed with the republic’s Supreme Court within 10 days,” Zaur Magomedov, defense lawyer for doctor Marat Gunashev, told RIA Novosti by phone from Makhachkala, the republic’s capital on Saturday.
The two doctors, Marat Gunashev and Shamil Gasanov, were detained on terrorism allegations in Russia’s restive North Caucasus republic of Dagestan on November 29. Their supporters claim the case was fabricated by a law enforcement agency that they view as untrustworthy and corrupt.
Gunashev was detained in the operating room and Gasanov was shot dead shortly after being taken into police custody.
The story was quickly dubbed a “doctors’ plot” by bloggers, in a reference to the eponymous Stalinist show trials of 1953 which saw false charges brought against several high-profile medical professionals.
Police claim that Gasanov pulled a concealed weapon on them as they were searching his apartment. Defense lawyer Magomedov cast doubt on the police’s version of events, pointing out that Gasanov was handcuffed at the time.
Gasanov’s body was returned to his relatives beheaded and showing signs of torture, the PublicPost online news agency reported on December 4, citing Gasanov’s family.
The medics are accused of being involved in the murder of Makhachkala police chief Akhmed Magomedov, who was gunned down, along with two bodyguards and a driver, in February 2010.
The Investigative Committee said in March that the “Gimry Terrorist Gang” was behind the attack, naming three suspects, but not doctors Gunashev and Gasanov.
According to the official documents, the case is based on the testimony of a secret police informant known as “Stella,” who said that Gasanov had allowed an unidentified man to observe the route taken by the police chief, from a window in his apartment. The two doctors were also accused of providing medical treatment to members of the Gimry gang.
Gunashev maintained he was innocent of all charges.
Neither court officials nor the Investigative Committee have commented on the case, despite repeated requests made by RIA Novosti since November 30.
The doctors’ colleagues, interviewed by RIA Novosti, praised them as being hard working professionals who had never expressed any interest in radical Islam. Islamists in the region have been engaged in a long-running, bloody war of attrition with local law enforcement agencies.
Defense lawyer Magomedov suggested that the case could have been initiated for personal reasons by Gasanov’s ex-girlfriend, adding that she is known to have threatened him after he dropped her for Gunashev’s sister. He did not reveal the woman’s identity, but said that, as it stands, the investigation is based on the testimony of a single witness, whose name is classified.
Gunashev’s wife Amina said the family has received support calls from across the republic, but no public protests took place so far because “the people here are pretty cowed.”
The case has been seized on by hundreds of Russian social network users, while influential US magazine Foreign Policy compared it in a Friday article with the now infamous case of Sergei Magnitsky, an auditor who was allegedly tortured to death in prison for reportedly exposing massive fraud by Russian law enforcement officers.
In recent years Dagestan has become the main hotbed of Islamist insurgency in the North Caucasus. In 2011, local law enforcement agencies lost 111 servicemen fighting the insurgency in the republic, according to the Caucasus Knot website, which tracks violence in the region.
Human rights group Memorial wrote in a 2010 report that the security services’ chief tactics have been the abduction, torture, and killing of suspects.