Russian ‘spies’ go on trial for Chechen killings in Turkey

In a case reminiscent of a John le Carré thriller, a prosecutor in Istanbul is accusing Russia of sending hit men to Turkey to kill Chechen activists.

A court in Istanbul this week started proceedings against Temur Makhauri, a Georgian national who allegedly killed a Chechen Islamist rebel in Istanbul in 2009. On the opening day of the trial on March 3, Mr Makhauri, who operated under the codename “Zona” according to the prosecution, plead not guilty to the killing of Ali Osaev, a local leader of the Caucasus Emirate, a group defined as a terrorist organisation by both Russia and the United States.

In the same trial, the court is trying two other suspected agents of the Russian spy agency Federal Security Service (FSB) in absentia. Prosecutor Gokhan Sayin is accusing them of the execution-style killing of three other Chechens in 2011 before slipping out of Turkey with forged passports.

Chechen associations in Turkey say the trial is a landmark case that could help to unveil what they say is a network of Russian agents hunting Chechen activists and other activists abroad.

“It is the first time that the Turkish judiciary has accused Russia’s intelligence service of carrying out those crimes,” Murat Ozer, chairman of Imkander, a group helping Chechen refugees in Turkey, who attended the opening of the trial, told The Daily Beast. He said Turkey was suspecting Russia of “waging war” against Chechens abroad.

Russia has been accused for years of hunting down what it sees as its enemies, but undisputed convictions of killers remain rare. In 2004, a court in Qatar handed down life sentences to two Russian intelligence operatives for assassinating Zelimkan Yandarviyev, a Chechen rebel leader. Russia insisted the two men were innocent. In 2009, Dubai police said a Russian politician ordered the killing of Sulim Yamadayev, another Chechen rebel.

British authorities also blamed Russian agents for the death of the former FSB member Alexander Litvinenko by radioactive poisoning with Polonium-210 in London in 2006, but Moscow refused to extradite the suspected killer.Ozer, the head of Imkander, said the Istanbul trial could provide a rare insight into Moscow’s campaign to kill dissidents. He added he felt encouraged by the court’s handling of the case. The presiding judge, Ilhami Yilmaz, rejected a bid by “Zona’s” lawyer to separate the two murder cases of 2009 and 2011, suggesting the court thought there was evidence to show that the crimes had been committed “by the same organization.”

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About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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