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The Black Tiger remains caged

The Black Tiger remains caged
February 17th 2012

The case of ex-Bellator signing Rasul 'Black Tiger' Mirzaev continues to provoke outrage and inflame ethnic tensions in Russia.

Last year Mirzaev, from the Caucasus region, was involved in a nightclub altercation with a young Russian male in a Moscow nightclub. Mirzaev felled the man with one punch and the man subsequently fell into a coma after hitting his head on the pavement.

Seriously inept first-aid efforts from the man’s friends did not help and he died in hospital four days later. Mirzaev was charged with assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, which carried a potentially heavy custodial sentence,

When the charge was downgraded to manslaughter recently his legal representatives were finally able to ask for bail. It was granted, and Mirzaev was set to be freed from prison, where he has been since mid-2010. But immediately there was outcry from sections of the public - in particular the far-right nationalist groups which have used the Mirzaev case as a rallying cry for their members to protest against immigration from the Caucasus regions.

A protest march with the title ‘Killers Must Serve Their Time’ was organised for Moscow this week. But a day after bail was granted to Mirzaev, prosecutors appealed against the decision and were successful in having it reversed. The Russian court’s official reason was that bail had incorrectly been approved after “procedural irregularities” but it is widely believed that fear of public disorder was behind the decision.

Mirzayev’s bail had been set at R100,000 - about £2,000 or $3,300 - and that figure in itself incensed his detractors. A spokesperson for the family of the victim, 19-year-old Ivan Agafonov, said the decision meant that “now anybody can kill someone for just R100,000.”

The case has had a high profile in Russia and the former Soviet states ever since it was first reported. Immigration is a key concern of many ethnic Russians living in Russia, particularly immigration from the Caucasus states such as Dagestan and Chechnya, which were once satellite states of the Soviet Union but are now independent.

People from the Caucasus region are ethnically and somewhat culturally different to native Russians, but many are heading to Russia in search of work and money. They are free to do so, being citizens of the former union, but the welcome they receive when they get there is often decidedly frosty. This is particulary the case for Muslim immigrants such as Mirzaev.

And so activists on both the left and right wings of the political spectrum have taken a close interest in the case. The left argue that Mirzaev is being demonised and that essentially all he is guilty of is protecting a female from the unwanted attentions of a young drunk man (the argument started when Agafonov began hitting on Mirzaev’s girlfriend outside the Moscow nightclub ‘Garage’).

The right wing say the case is an example of why immigration from the Caucasus should be capped or even banned altogether. The image of a Dagestani immigrant killing an young ethnic Russian is an evocative one even for Russians that would not normally identify as particularly right-wing in their politics.

To give some flavour of just how seriously the case has been taken, there have been at least two major police operations in Moscow to contain nationalist protestors, while Mirzaev has received support from national politicians in his native Dagestan. They have reached out to their counterparts in Russia and there have been allegations that Mirzaev’s bail came about only because of political interference.

Mirzayev's lawyer Alexei Grebensky will be appealing the refusal of bail. “We think that today's decision is baseless and will appeal according to established legal procedures,” he said outside the Moscow courts this week.

The ‘Killers Should Serve Their Time’ march is being arranged for this Saturday via social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. Moscow authorities are monitoring the situation closely but it is believed that the reversal of the decision to grant Mirzaev bail will have calmed some tempers and should reduce numbers significantly.

Mirzaev was in the Garage nightclub to celebrate his signing to US promotion Bellator. But his contract was quickly cancelled once he became embroiled in what started out as a murder case, and so he will return to free agency when he eventually leaves prison.

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