Concocting criminal proceedings
for “Islamic extremism”
The MEMORIAL HRC
The Civic “Assistance Committee”
Over the past eighteen months, a campaign has been pursued in Russia to concoct criminal proceedings for “Islamic extremism” against representatives of various Islamic sects, for which a special term, unconventional Islam, has even been invented.
The bulk of these criminal cases in central Russia, the Volga region and Siberia are based on the ruling by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation to designate 15 Islamic organizations as terrorist, which was adopted on 14 February 2003 with gross violations of procedure. Until this day, the ruling has not been published officially, nor communicated properly to those concerned.
Among the organizations banned under this ruling are non-violent ones, including the Islamic party Hizb ut-Tahrir. People who are in possession of publications which set out the ideology of this organization, or visit its website, may be charged with belonging to the said party, while actions such as discussing Hizb ut-Tahrir literature and distributing it among believers have been designated as grave and particularly grave crimes, namely recruitment for terrorist activities and creation of a criminal group. At present, one of the convicts, Azat Khasanov, has been allowed time to appeal against the above-mentioned Supreme Court ruling. A complaint on Khasanov’s behalf was submitted to the Supreme Court on 30 January 2006 by the lawyer Yuri Kastanov, who was invited by the Memorial human rights centre.
According to our information, by the end of 2005, a total of 46 people had already been convicted in Russia on charges of belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir, some of them receiving long jail sentences. In some cases, ammunition and explosives were planted on suspects by law enforcement staff during detention.
Another widespread practice used to isolate those people who strictly observe Islamic rites and are for any reason deemed undesirable is to accuse them of adherence to “Wahhabism”.
Those Muslims who refuse to give false evidence against their fellow Muslims facing charges, or render humanitarian assistance to them and their families, are subjected to all kind of pressure, and in some cases criminal proceedings are concocted against them.
A serious problem in the context of concocted proceedings for “Islamic extremism” and “international terrorism” is connected with cooperation between Russian and Uzbek special services. The practice of illegal annulment of Russian citizenship granted earlier to immigrants from Uzbekistan, and arrests of ethnic Uzbeks in Russia because of extradition requests based on trumped-up charges brought by the Uzbek side is spreading. People residing in the Russian Federation have on occasions been kidnapped and illegally taken to Uzbekistan.
Campaign to concoct criminal proceedings
for “Islamic extremism”
Starting from the autumn of 2004, law enforcement agencies in many regions of Russia have embarked on a campaign of criminal prosecution of so-called “Islamic extremists”. In this campaign, people often come under suspicion purely because of their appearance: a scarf tied in a characteristic way for women, and an untrimmed beard for men. Religious and political debate in Islamic circles has begun to be seen by the state as “subversive activities”. In a number of cases, the Koran was seized from suspects in the course of searches as material evidence of the crimes they were said to have committed.
Isolated attempts by Russia’s Islamic leaders to stand up for “Muslim dissidents” have led to new campaigns aimed at discrediting the defenders. This is what happened to the Supreme Mufti of the Spiritual Board of the Asiatic part of Russia, sheikh Nafigulla Ashirov, who compiled a report on a number of brochures of an Islamic organization, Hizb ut-Tahrir, in which he expressed opinions diverging from the official line. He has already been questioned twice on the subject by the prosecution service.
An overwhelming majority of the criminal cases which we have studied in central Russia, the Volga region and Siberia are based on the ruling by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation to designate 15 Islamic organizations as terrorist, which was adopted on 14 February 2003. The ruling was adopted at a closed session of the court in the absence of representatives of the parties and movement it was banning. It gives virtually no reasons for including many of the organization on the list – in most cases, they are contained in a few lines in one short paragraph. In the opinion of a leading Moscow lawyer, Yuri Kostanov, who is currently appealing against the ruling on behalf of a client, it is untenable in legal terms.
Among the organizations listed in the ruling is the Islamic Revival Party (Hizb ut-Tahrir), which, according to our experts, is not implicated in terrorist activities.
The idea of restoring a shari’ah state, which is proclaimed by Hizb ut-Tahrir, is undoubtedly at odds with democratic values; however, we believe it cannot serve as justification for criminal prosecution of its supporters.
In recent years, this ideology has begun to spread among the Muslims of our country; this process takes the form of dissemination and joint study of the relevant religious literature, discussion of the political situation in various regions of the world from an Islamic viewpoint, etc. None of these people took part in acts of a terrorist nature, nor their preparation, nor helped perpetrate them in any way.
Nonetheless, since the summer and autumn of 2004, criminal proceedings on charges of belonging to a terrorist organization have been instituted on the basis of the abovementioned Supreme Court ruling against people suspected of belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir in a number of regions of Russia.
The term “possession of banned literature” has appeared in those criminal proceedings, even though this notion does not exist in Russian law. And yet possession of publications in which the ideology of Hizb ut-Tahrir is set out often serves as grounds for accusing people of belonging to the said party, and for the courts to find defendants guilty under Article 282-2 of the Penal Code of the Russian Federation (participation in an extremist association and organizing its activities).
In a number of cases, discussion of allegedly “banned” literature and its dissemination among believers has been designated as commission of grave and even particularly grave crimes, namely recruitment for terrorist activities and creation of a criminal group (Articles 205-1 and 210 of the RF Penal Code respectively), for which the maximum sentences are 8 and 15 years in jail respectively.
To our knowledge, as of today, 46 people have already been convicted of belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir, and 29 of them have received actual custodial sentences, some of them lengthy (up to 8 and a half years in high-security institutions).
A number of cases in this category are currently at the stage of preliminary investigation or being heard by courts in several regions of Russia (Moscow, Tatarstan, Samara Region and Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area). The most recent case, which led to the arrest of the Uzbek citizen S. S. Sidikov, who kept literature and leaflets of a banned organization at his home, was opened in October 2005.
For the reasons explained above, the criminal cases discussed here can hardly be regarded as anything other than prosecution on ideological grounds.
Thus, Eduard Khusainov from Nizhnevartovsk was convicted because he had written an open letter to the chairman of the Supreme Court and the Office of the RF Prosecutor-General, in which he explained his disagreement with the ban on the party and asked to be provided with the text of the RF Supreme Court ruling to enable him to lodge an appeal against it, and then took this letter for review to the office of the representative of the president in the Urals Federal District, to a member of the town’s legislature and to the editorial office of the local television station. The prosecution service designated his actions as recruitment for terrorist activities and participation in a banned organization. At the first hearing of the case in court, all the witnesses testified that he had not been canvassing them but only trying to exonerate the ideology of Hizb ut-Tahrir in the eyes of the public. However, after the case was reviewed following an appeal from the prosecution, Khusainov was found guilty of “recruitment for terrorist activities”.
In no less that 40 per cent of cases involving Hizb ut-Tahrir, torture was used.
Persecution of Muslims who refuse to give false evidence against those facing charges in the cases in question, or render humanitarian assistance to their convicted fellow Muslims or their families forms a separate group. Law enforcement agencies in Tatarstan have been particularly active in this department.
The case involving an explosion at a local gas pipeline in Bugulma, in which unsubstantiated charges of terrorism were brought against F. A. Shaykhutdinov and two former Guantanamo inmates, T. R. Ishmuratov and R. Sh. Gumarov, was widely publicized. In September 2005 they were acquitted by the jury, but the prosecution appealed against the acquittal, maintaining that the defence lawyers’ presentations allegedly “restricted the prosecutor’s right to present evidence and influenced the content of the questions put the jurors and the answers to those questions”. In January 2006, the RF Supreme Court overturned the acquittal and sent the case for retrial.
Shortly after Ishmuratov’s arrest, we received his statement about torture which he and other suspects had been subjected to during the preliminary investigation with the aim of obtaining confessions, but in response to our enquiry to the Office of the Prosecutor-General we were told that “the facts were not corroborated”. We have received the same response to all our enquiries regarding inadmissible investigative methods without exception. In some cases, when the victims of torture are set free, as Ishmuratov, Gumarov and Shaykhutdinov were, they give a detailed account of all the brutality and abuse, including abuse of their religious feelings, which they suffered in custody. Ishmuratov and Shaykhutdinov have told us that law enforcement staff were to all intents and purposes openly telling them that the real reason for their arrest was the fact that they had been sending food parcels to the Muslims held at the pre-trial detention centre in Bugulma on “extremism” charges.
We also have statements by residents of Bashkortostan about incidents in which explosives and ammunition were planted on those who stood up for the defendants during a trial at the Supreme Court of the Republic of Bashkortostan and helped the defendants’ families. We have recorded verbal evidence, and obtained written evidence of threats received from law enforcement agencies by those people who signed letters of protest against the persecution of Muslims. This has happened in quite a few regions of the Russian Federation, above all in Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Udmurtia, and Samara Region.
A classic example of fabrication is the case of Mansur Shangareyev (Astrakhan Region), convicted and sentenced to three years in jail for “illegal possession” of drugs and a grenade, which were planted during a search. Before the verdict was read out, new charges were pressed against Shangareyev under Article 282 Part 2a (incitement of hatred or hostility on ethnic or religious grounds with a threat of violence). In this new case, he is alleged, among other things, to have “spoken about Islam’s superiority”, to have refused to perform the rites of remembrance, thus displaying “unconventional religious ideas”, to have invited Indians and immigrants from the Caucasus who “wore long untrimmed beards” to a mosque, thus attempting to “inculcate radical Islamic ideas” and so on.
In the city of Naberezhnyye Chelny, after the arrest of a serial killer, criminal proceedings were concocted with regard to a fictitious “Wahhabi” organization of which he was allegedly a member, and another 23 people were arrested in connection with these proceedings. They are alleged to have set up an illegal armed group, the aim of which was to carry out a series of terrorist acts at major industrial facilities in Tatarstan during the celebration of the 1000th anniversary of Kazan. We have statements from the accused and their families about widespread use of torture through which confessions were extracted to corroborate the fantastical allegations made by the investigators.
In October 2005, Marsel Isayev, whose refugee status was being determined at the time, was unlawfully deported from Kazan to Uzbekistan. The decision to deport him was taken after he refused to comply with the demand of special services that he should give false evidence in a Hizb ut-Tahrir trial. Intimidation of witnesses and threats against citizens of other CIS states that they would be deported from Russia have started to be used widely in the process of concocting criminal proceedings; we are aware of a whole series of similar cases.
Another aspect of the campaign of concocting criminal proceedings of this kind is connected with cooperation between the special services of Russia and Uzbekistan, which has intensified greatly in the wake of the Andijan events.
In this context, the spreading practice whereby immigrants from Uzbekistan wanted by Uzbek special services on trumped-up charges of Islamic extremism are kidnapped and illegally taken out of the Russian Federation poses a significant danger. Thus, in June 2005 Alisher Usmanov was kidnapped in Kazan and illegally taken to Uzbekistan after his release from a pre-trial detention centre. His Russian citizenship was annulled beforehand in accordance with a court ruling made in breach of the law. The Uzbek National security Service maintains that Usmanov was brought there as part of their joint programme to combat international terrorism with the Russian FSB [Federal Security Service]; however, in contravention of the law, this action was not authorized by the Office of the Prosecutor-General of the Russian Federation. On 16 November 2005 a court in Namangan sentenced Usmanov to eight years in prison. Human rights organizations have reliable information about other similar cases which occurred over the past few years.
An unlawful ruling “to declare the person to have failed to obtain Russian citizenship” was passed by a Khanty-Mansi district court on the basis of documents forged in Uzbekistan, and upheld by the Khanty-Mansi Area Court, with regard to Kh. Ya .Khajimatov, who was detained on 18.06.2005 in the city of Ivanovo together with another 13 ethnic Uzbek to be extradited on the basis of trumped-up charges brought by the Uzbek authorities, which accused them of involvement in the Andijan events of 12-14 May 2005. Fearing that he would be handed over to Uzbekistan, Khajimatov fled to Ukraine, where he is currently an asylum seeker.
The twelve Uzbek citizens and one citizen of Kyrgyzstan arrested with him have been held in custody at Ivanovo’s pre-trial detention centre No. 1 since June 2005 and are awaiting a court ruling on their appeals against the Federal Migration Service’s refusal to recognize them as refugees in the Russian Federation; previous experience shows, however, that they have no hope of being granted asylum in Russia. Fearing possible extradition to Uzbekistan, they have applied to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for international protection.
Another supposed “Islamic extremist”, Bayramali Yusupov, was detained in Tyumen Region in August 2005 following a request from Uzbekistan. On 9 December, the regional Migration Office ruled to refuse to look into the detainee’s request to be granted a refugee status. The refusal was based on a memorandum from the regional FSB directorate for Tyumen Region, which contained unproven allegations against Yusupov as well as false assertions that capital punishment had been abolished in Uzbekistan, and that “the practice of political persecution” was “no longer used” in that country. The document said that granting asylum to Yusupov would be detrimental to Russia’s foreign policy interests.
In the last six months, the number of new criminal cases involving charges of extremism and terrorism brought against Muslims has decreased somewhat. It is possible, however, that the persecution will become wider in scale after amendments are introduced to the Penal Code and the Russian Federation Code of Administrative Offences, and the law “On countering extremist activities” is made harsher. Bills have already been submitted to the State Duma to impose harsher penalties under the relevant articles. Given that the definition of “extremist activities” in Russian law is extremely vague, there are good reasons to fear that what will be criminalized is not so much the displays of fascism and xenophobia, which are rapidly gaining ground in Russia, but rather public expression of dissent (as exemplified by criminal proceedings against S. Dmitiyevski and the organizers of the Caution: Religion! exhibition), including the religious variety.
At the same time, another campaign is being organized, this time to discredit the human rights campaigners and religious activists who stand up for those accused on ideological grounds. Thus, a press release from the Civic Assistance committee about one such verdict was described by a regional directorate of the Interior Ministry as “a leaflet in support of members of a religious extremist party”. Furthermore, the authorities are exerting pressure on the mufti of the Spiritual Board of Muslims of the Asiatic part of Russia, N. Ashirov, in connection with his appraisal of Hizb ut-Tahrir texts, in which he expressed views diverging from the official line.
At the same time, as human rights activists have disseminated information on the most odious examples of ideological persecution, judges in a number of regions have displayed the tendency to restrict, without any legal justification, access to the courtrooms for the families of defendants and for local human rights activists. These restrictions were lifted when representatives of well-known Russian human rights organizations were around, yet court hearings were postponed under various pretexts until later dates, by which the observers would be certain to have left the region.
In January this year, a roundtable meeting at the RF State Duma discussed amendments to existing legislation which envisaged compiling lists of “banned literature”. If amendments of this kind are passed and the lists are indeed compiled, then possession and “unauthorized study” of the literature included on these lists could well serve as grounds for instituting criminal proceedings, which would be a gross violation of the right to seek, receive and disseminate information and ideas of all kinds, which is enshrined in a number of international documents.
We have extensive evidence to suggest that under the pretext of fighting “Islamic extremism” and “international terrorism”, a large-scale campaign of persecution of Muslim followers of so-called “unconventional” Islamic sects has been launched in Russia.
It is worth noting that the term “extremism” is not sufficiently well defined in legal terms. The Federal Law “On countering extremist activities” defines this notion much more broadly than those crimes of an extremist nature that are mentioned in the RF Penal Code.
The definition of extremism in the said law in effect covers both criminal activities that entail criminal liability under the Penal Code, and also other activities, the criminal nature of which is more than debatable. For example, the said law lists as one of manifestations of extremism any propaganda of uniqueness and pre-eminence of certain people based on their religious affiliation - even though it is obvious that many believers regard their religion as more “right” and “moral” than atheism or other faiths.
Excessively broad definitions of “terrorism” and “extremism” in Russian law have ensured the extensive powers of special services - but not real public security.
The actions of state bodies are appropriate to the nature and scale of existing threats, and, more often than not, do not target real violent groups. Meanwhile unjustified violence not only fails to resolve the problem of public security but, on the contrary, provokes tension and a rise in radicalism, including its violent forms.
It has to be said that the portrayal of Muslims as enemy, which is authorized or even initiating by the state, encourages xenophobia and is aimed at creating a split in society in Russia.
Another serious problem is posed by widespread use of torture and other unlawful actions of special services personnel, as well as by the prosecution service’s unwillingness to respond when alerted to these actions.
The top priority steps to resolve the problems described above would be as follows: