2012: Sapiyat Magomedova

“Compared to how things were before, the situation in Dagestan is a little better today. The Olympics went smoothly, which pleased us. Still, the security services carry out their operations and a silence has descended on society.”

Sapiyat Magomedova is a lawyer who works for human rights in Dagestan. Dagestan is a constituent republic in the northern Caucasus and the most violent part of Russia. It is often the police and security services who violate human rights, and thereby also the consitution of the Russian Federation as well as international law.

- There is an ongoing struggle against corruption and against clans in society today, and this has given people hope of things getting better. Those who are arrested now are people who have been in power for a long time, those who have bankrolled the bandits, people at the top of society. Before, they would arrest a regular police officer or an administrator, but now a member of parliament has been sent to jail. And last night they arrested the chief of police. He was financing a group of outlaws and participating in various attacks. So things are better now, even though we will have to see what happens.

Where do you get your strength from?

- Strength? Well, you rejoice in every little victory. When you have reached a correct decision, then you see how people are happy and you are encouraged to continue. And perhaps I don’t reach the result the client had hoped for, but they understand that it wasn’t because of me. It was not that I didn’t do enough, but that the system is the way it is – it’s the law, it’s power – then they are grateful anyway. ‘Thank you, you did everything you could to help us, you can’t beat the system.’ I get more and more clients and my workload is heavier. They know that I as a lawyer will not betray them. You can’t win every case, you must be able to lose as well.

What has the prize meant for you?

- Naturally, the prize was an acknowledgement for me as an individual, as a lawyer and as a human rights defender. It is a prestigious prize and it shows that my work is not in vain. The prize has meant a lot to me, my relations to the authorities have improved. The state’s legal institutions didn’t want anything to do with me before, but now they try to help. It has also been beneficial to me personally, acting as a sort of defence, protection that provides a bit of security. The prize turned me into a Dagestan citizen who had received international attention, and it has meant that even Dagestan and Russia must give me a certain amount of attention. Even if they don’t want to.

Are you scared?

- I like to say that fear is a sound emotion, you just have to know if you are prepared to go on working, if you are ready to climb that barrier. I have received many threats, and still do. I have reported the threats and they have lead to criminal cases.

Are there times when you want to give up?

- Yes, when my father died recently I thought I didn’t have the energy to go on working. I have worked for seven years without a vacation, and always under a lot of pressure. I wanted a short break to figure out how to go on living, how to go on working. But I didn’t get that opportunity because the authorities arrested my brother and now I must fight for him. They are trying to get to me through my family. I am tired of the lawlessness, there is no law in this country.

But if you ask me which profession I would want if I would start over again, I would answer lawyer. Without a doubt. This profession gives me moral satisfaction. I really feel good when I can help people. It makes me glad, I smile sometimes and people ask me ‘What are you smiling about?’ Well, I succeeded at something. We won. I can tell you about a man, I worked with his case for five years, imagine that. But in the end we won and he will never forget it. Every large holiday he comes and visits me. He is forever grateful.

The Living History Forum wishes to note that these interviews are based on the personal testimonies of the prize winners. It is not an objective, factual account by the authorities.


Sapiyat Magomedova was awarded the Per Anger Prize in 2012, and was nominated by Civil Rights Defenders.

The citation of the jury for the Per Anger Prize

For her brave and risky work as a lawyer and fearless human rights defender in a violent and hostile environment, Sapiyat Magomedova, Dagestan, is awarded the Per Anger Prize for 2012.


For more information about Dagestan, a constituent republic of the Russian Federation:

United Nations

Human Rights Watch
 

The Living History Forum works with schools to engage students in issues of human rights.

Here are examples of how to work with the prize winners in a classroom setting