Hostage lawsuits rejected
A Moscow court rejected on Thursday the first three lawsuits by victims seeking multi-million dollar damages after last October’s theatre siege nightmare, leaving little hope for other plaintiffs.
Lawyers who lead the landmark legal action accused the court of bending to political pressure from the Moscow mayor’s office, which the lawsuits hold accountable for the victims’ emotional and physical suffering.
“Everything is clear now. The other complaints will also be struck out. It will only be a formal examination,” said attourney Igor Trunov, who is representing all the plaintiffs.
“Without any doubt, the mayor’s office is putting pressure on the judge. You can see this in the trial. The judge is openly supporting the mayor’s representatives,” he told reporters.
Judge Maria Gorbacheva set a new hearing on Feb. 13 to decide on another batch of lawsuits.
Dozens of victims and relatives have filed a total of 61 complaints againinst the Moscow city government, seeking nearly $ 60 million in damages for suffering endured when Chechen rebels stormed a theatre during a musical performance and took some 800 people hostage.
The hostages were denied food, water and toilet facilities and threatened with execution by their captors.
The three-day ordeal ended when Russian special forces pumped an opiate gas into the theatre to subdue the rebels before a raid that left the hostage-takers and 129 hostages dead, nearly all as a result of the powerful narcotic.
The Moscow court began hearing the lawsuits, the first of their kind in Russia, on Jan. 16.
The suits, seeking an enormous sum by Russian standards, could have major implications in a country where rebel attacks have killed or wounded scores of victims in recent years.
The rejected plaintiffs have 10 days to contest Thursday’s ruling at an appeal court, and the lawyer has already vowed to take the battle to the Russian Supreme Court.
Trunov earlier criticised the court for refusing to admit evidence he had submitted.
The lawyer had obtained a videotape, made by the hostage-takers, of events from inside the theatre during the saga last October, but he was not allowed to submit it to the court.
Just 15 plaintiffs were allowed to appear on the witness stand although many others wanted to have their say, he complained.
Tatiana Karpova, whose son Alexander died in the theatre siege, said that the judge had refused to accept as evidence footage from Russian state Rossiya television showing her son’s body lying next to that of the dead Chechen rebels.
“My son died in the assault. He was left for several hours in the theatre without any medical help, she told reporters.