[JURIST] A Russian military court in the North Caucasus region sentenced Russian Interior Force officers Yevgeny Khudyakov and Sergei Arakcheyev to 17 and 15 years in prison respectively Thursday for killing three construction workers [International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights report] during a January 2003 operation in the war-torn region of Chechnya [BBC backgrounder]. Khudyakov was sentenced in absentia, his whereabouts apparently unknown. Both men were stripped of their commissioned military ranks. The defense said they will appeal, maintaining that the men were not guilty.
Khudyakov and Arakcheyev were acquitted in June 2004 for lack of evidence, but the Russian Supreme Court's Military Board set aside the verdict after a Constitutional Court [official website, in Russian] decision requiring trials of crimes committed in Chechnya to be heard by a military court. In October 2005, the men were found not guilty by a Russian military court [JURIST report], but that decision was later annulled at the request of the Chechen government. Prosecution of soldiers and security officials in Chechnya is rarely successful, though this summer the European Court of Human Rights awarded civil damages [JURIST report] to several Chechen plaintiffs suing Russia for civilian deaths. RIA Novosti has more. AP has additional coverage.