HomeLibraryFabrications of “Islamic extremism” criminal cases in Russia: campaign continues

Fabrications of “Islamic extremism” criminal cases in Russia: campaign continues

September 05, 2008 09:38

Civic Assistance Committee

 1.      The Campaign of Criminal Case Fabrications
In the nearly one and a half years that have passed since the last report, the campaign of fabrication of “Islamic extremism” criminal cases passed through an interim period of very relative easing, before once again being stepped up in April 2008.
In 2007 and the start of 2008, the number of new criminal cases fell sharply in comparison with previous periods. Thus, while our data showed that 13 to 15 such criminal cases were opened on an annual basis between 2004 and 2006, only four cases in this category were initiated over the course of 2007 and the first three months of 2008.
At the same time, this very period was used to prepare the legal basis for launching a new wave of repressions, with the simultaneous expansion of the number of Islamic movements that the Russian secret and security services classifies as belonging to “non-traditional Islam.” The followers of these movements ended up in a “risk group” of people who could be prosecuted for their religious beliefs.
In spring of 2008 in Kazan there was finished an investigation into a case mentioned in the last report, which involved 12 people[1] that investigators accused of being members of the Hizb ut-Tahrir movement and of plotting the forcible seizure of power. The absence in 2007 of new criminal cases against those who was suspected in membership of Hizb ut-Tahrir could be probably explained by the fact that law enforcement agencies, as well as the secret and security services, were waiting for the outcome of this case’s review in court. They could then use a guilty verdict as evidence of this organization’s violent nature. However, the investigation got drawn out: currently, the persons under investigation and their attorneys are only familiarizing themselves with the criminal case documents, which make up 65 volumes.
Furthermore, the first official list of literature recognized by the courts as extremist in nature and banned from dissemination on the territory of the Russian Federation was published in July 2007. In the predominant majority of cases, the material’s inclusion is only revealed after the publication of the updated list, which occurs after the corresponding court decisions enter into force and their periods of appeal expire.
Because jurisdiction rules stipulate that the recognition of literature as extremist in nature remains under the jurisdiction of district courts, and because their number across all of Russia’s regions is enormous, one was only rarely able to learn about the relevant judicial proceedings in a timely manner, or to use the opportunity to contest the trial courts’ decisions.
In particular, great public interest was drawn to hearings concerning the recognition of 14 Russian-language translations of the works of Muslim theologian Said Nursi as extremist literature, which were mentioned in the last report. Despite strong protests from the Muslim community, which were based on the Muslim world’s broad recognition of the humanitarian and educational role played by Nursi’s works and on the numerous opinions of secular Islamic experts, his works were recognized as extremist in May 2007. The appeal of this ruling was turned down in September 2007. Having exhausted our national means of defense, attorneys have filed an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights.
The ban of Said Nursi’s works created the legal basis for criminally prosecuting his followers. By December 2007, an investigation was reopened into a previously halted criminal case concerning the activities of the so-called “Nurdzhular” organization in Tatarstan – an organization that, according to a number of experts and the followers of Nursi’s ideas themselves, does not exist. Nevertheless, on April 10, 2008, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation issued a ruling during a closed hearing, which was not attended by any “Nursi followers”, banning “Nurdzhular” for its extremist activities. The ruling entered into force two weeks later while still remaining officially unpublished.
Three out of the four criminal cases initiated in 2007 may be examined as one: according to testimony from both witnesses and the accused, they resulted from the planting of drugs and ammunitions on three missionaries belonging to the non-violent Tablighi Jamaat (“Society of preachers”) movement in the Astrakhan Oblast. It must be noted that back in 2003, the “Tablighi” – who set the goal of propagating Islamic knowledge and not intervening in politics[2] – were well-met in the Volga region. In particular, according to the press service of the Spiritual Board of Volga Muslims, they enjoyed the local mufti’s support.
The circumstances of the fourth case – concerning the “Wahhabism” charges failed against Said Bayburin, the imam of a mosque in the city of Ufa (Bashkortostan) – according to numerous publications, are replete with signs of a fabrication. An analysis of the text of the sentence, conducted by the Sova Center for Information and Analysis,[3] revealed numerous discrepancies between the content of the charges and the proof presented by the prosecution.
Besides the points raised by the SOVA Center, attention is also drawn to the fact that a significant part of the testimony from witnesses for the prosecution mentioned in the sentence concerns the correlation between the views of the accused and the cannons of Islam. In particular, conclusions concerning his supposed “Wahhabite” views were drawn by witnesses – and, as a result, by the court – on the basis of him practicing a number of Muslim rites. Thus, the court settles the question of Bayburin’s guilt in publicly calling for the exercise of extremist activity in dependence on purely theological issues that have no relation to the criminal justice process.
A number of court hearings into previously initiated criminal cases of this category have been held since the last report was prepared.
The most significant of these concerns the previously-mentioned case involving the Islamic Jamaat. Observers of the hearing noted that many of the 17 accused did not know each other prior to their arrest and were never members of any organizations. They was arbitrarily grouped in a Jamaat together with several prime suspects in the case by behest of the investigators. Furthermore, they were also grouped with a serial killer who committed crimes on religious grounds but who was not a part of the four - to six-member group that intended to relocate to a Muslim country and who called themselves Jamaat. As for “Islamic Jamaat’s” plans to commit acts of terrorism, the prosecution didn’t present any convincing evidence of this. Nevertheless, the jury convicted all of the accused and sentenced them to prison terms, including extended ones – for up to 12 years.[4] It should be noted that one-third of the jury, including the foreman, were replaced when the verdict’s deliberations had already begun, with the foreman in fact getting replaced twice.
In all, 15 sentences have been delivered since the last report was prepared – i.e. between April 2007 and today – resulting in the conviction of 41 persons[5]. Thirty-five persons, or 85 percent, were sentences to actual prison terms. This shows a trend toward stiffer sentencing.[6] 
The total number of convictions within the frameworks of this campaign from its beginning till August 2008 stands, according to our data, at 113 persons.
The campaign was stepped up in April 2008 immediately after a declaration by N.P.Patrushev, who then served as director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), which he made at a March 31 meeting of the heads of the Urals Federal District anti-terrorist committee and the State Border Commission. “We are registering attempts being made by the Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan international terrorist organizations to transfer their criminal activity onto the territory of Russia,” Mr. Patrushev said.
On April 8, six people had already been arrested in the city of Ufa (Bashkortostan) on suspicions of belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir. Four more criminal cases involving similar charges were initiated in Bashkortostan and Tatarstan between April and June. Eight people were charged in those cases. We have statements made by the accused and even by the witnesses in all five cases who claim that they were subjected to pressure, including the use of torture, in order to obtain testimony of interest to the investigation.
In addition, in one of these cases – against a madrasah teacher in the city of Kazan (Tatarstan) named Rustem Safin – the investigative authorities attempted not only to remove the attorney chosen by the suspect from defending the case, but also to charge the attorney with belonging to a banned organization since he “maintained relations” with the accused.[7]  
In May, Aslambek Ezhayev, the director of a Muslim publishing house called Umma was charged with incitement of religious enmity (Ezhayev simultaneously is a head of the publishing department of the Moscow Islamic University, which operates under the auspices of the Russian Muftis Council). He was incriminated with disseminating “The Islamic Personality,” a book that has been recognized as extremist, even though – as reported – he sold the last lot of these books prior to the publication of the updated list of extremist literature that included “The Islamic Personality.”
And finally, three people were arrested in Chelyabinsk in July 2008 on suspicions of belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir. Two of them had previously been issued conditional sentences for belonging to this organization. According to one witness, grenades and instructions on preparing explosive devices were planted on them. Based on this and for the first time in Russia, a members of Hizb ut-Tahrir are being incriminated with planning a terrorist act. This case, along with the above-mentioned Kazan case concerning the preparation of seizure of power, may also set a precedent: should the court issue a conviction, then no matter of its well-ground, the ruling may be used as “proof” of the terrorist character of the Hizb ut-Tahrir organization once it enters into force.
Thus, over the four months of this year alone, at least seven new criminal cases bearing the signs of fabrication have been launched.
2.      The Extradition of Refugees to the Countries of Their Origin
The trend of extraditing refugees to their countries of origin for criminal prosecution on fabricated charges, which was described in the last report, only intensified in the time that has passed since its preparation. All of the methods described in the report were used to achieve this goal:
- the falsification of charges after the wanted person’s arrest in Russia;
- the annulment of Russian citizenship adopted by immigrants for the purpose of removing obstacles to their extradition;
- the illegal substitution of the formal but long enough extradition procedure with a much-faster and simpler mechanism of administrative expulsion. At the same time, there has been a clear trend in favor of unprecedented haste in the setting of the court hearings on the appeals against administrative expulsion. Thus, if it is customary for at least a month to pass between the administrative expulsion appeal and the date of it’s court hearing, in the cases described above, the hearings were held within one to eight business days.
- the abduction of persons on the territory of Russia, including by agents from foreign secret and security services, and these persons’ illegal displacement to their homelands, with the direct involvement of the secret and security services of the Russian Federation.
- the breach of European Court decision concerning the suspension of appellants’ expulsion: thus, in December 2007, Russia for the second[8] time violated a Strasbourg order to refrain from expulsion a person to Uzbekistan. In this case, dealing to Abdugani Kamaliyev, it behaved in same manner as it had done in the Muminov’s case, explaining that there was not enough time to inform the corresponding Russian officials. However, this time, more than a day had passed between the order, which was addressed to the Representative of the Russian Federation at the European Court, and the departure of Kamaliyev’s flight.
As for updates on the specific cases described in the report:
- in the case of the “Ivanovo Uzbeks,” the European Court issued a ruling in April 2008 in favor of the appellants. However, to this day, Russian Federal authorities have done nothing to permit them to leave the territory of the Russian Federation and to use the asylum that was granted them by Sweden;
- in September 2007, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation confirmed a ruling to extradite Bayramali Yusupov. As a result, he found a way to illegally leave the Russian Federation and was resettled in Denmark, which granted him asylum.
The Appendix describes reliably known cases of illegal expulsions from Russia of individuals who were sought by the secret and security services of Russia’s allied members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
In addition, citing an intergovernmental agreement with Uzbekistan signed on November 30, 2000, Russian Federal authorities in recent months refuse to grant the exit permission from Russia for Uzbek citizens who have been recognized by UNHCR to be in need of international protection, and who have received asylum in third countries.
3. The Role of Agreements Concluded within the Frameworks of the SCO.
The agreements concluded within the frameworks of the SCO include a set of principles and mechanisms that create the legal basis for repressing the followers of so-called “non-traditional Islam” in Russia, and for forcibly handing over political and religious refugees for criminal prosecution in this organization’s member states.
The Shanghai Six member states have committed themselves to develop joint approaches and to use agreed methods in fighting terrorism, separatism and extremism. They are also bound themselves to reciprocally recognize acts of terrorism, separatism and extremism, independent of whether their own national legislations include the corresponding acts in the same category of crimes, or whether they use the same terms to describe them.
They have also agreed not to grant asylum to persons who are accused or suspected of committing terrorist, separatist or extremist acts, and to extradite such persons in case of a corresponding request from another SCO member-state. They must further assist in conducting international searches for such persons – even for ones who had only allegedly committed the acts indicated in the Shanghai Convention.
The Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS) agreement establishes that its representatives and staff enjoy privileges and immunity provided by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relation of 1961.[9]
The Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the SCO[10] grants experts who are on mission organization-linked assignments immunity from personal arrest or detention, and relieves them of criminal, civil or administrative responsibility for anything they might have written, said or committed while performing their work, including after their foreign mission’s completion.
Taking the above into account, it becomes apparent that the general approaches and methods used to fight terrorism and extremism include experience of such countries as Uzbekistan in repressing political and religious dissidents; the refusal to grant asylum and the extradition of refugees come as a direct result of these agreements, while immunity allows foreign secret and security service agents to act unimpeded while conducting illegal operations on the territories of SCO member-states.
The victims of this practice, besides those accused of “Islamic extremism,” are also citizens of China – followers of the Falun Gong (Falun Dafa – which means “revolving wheel” in translation) system of physical and spiritual improvement, which the Chinese authorities have been persecuting for nearly 10 years, subjugating them to cruel torture, and even refugees from North Korea – a country that has no relation to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (see Appendix).
Elena Ryabinina,
Head of the Program of Assistance
to Political Exiles from Central Asia
of the Civic Assistance Committee    

127006 , Moscow , Dolgorukovskaya str., 33, building 6





Tel.: (499) 973-54-74; (495)-251-53-19    

Web-site: http://refugee.ru/


[1] The report indicates that nine people were accused in the case. In May 2007, the investigative authorities arrested three more people who had previously figured as witnesses.
[2] Radical Islamists criticize Tablighi Jamaat for being apolitical.
[4] The serial killer – Khafiz Razzakov – was convicted and handed a life sentence. We are not including him among the fabricated cases, although in our opinion, the court failed to prove his involvement in the preparation of acts of terrorism.
[5] Not including Razzakov (see note 4).
[6] For comparison: the courts issued prison sentences for 65 percent of those stood trial in 2005, and for 81 percent in 2006.
[8] The first such case occurred in October 2006 and is described in the report.
[9]The Conception for Cooperation between Shanghai Cooperation Organization Member-States in the Fight Against Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism, city of Astana, July 5, 2005, http://www.kremlin.ru/interdocs/2005/07/05/1307_type72067_90911.shtml?type=72067;
Declaration by the Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, city of Astana, July 5, 2005, http://www.sectsco.org/html/00501.html;
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization Agreement on the Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure, city of Saint Petersburg, June 7, 2002, http://infopravo.by.ru/fed2002/ch06/akt20136.shtm