Muslims on Faked Charges

Yelena RYABININA and Svetlana GANNUSHKINA, The Civic Assistance Committee (2005)

In many Russian regions there is currently a concerted drive against “unofficial” Islam that for many is reminiscent of events in Uzbekistan in the late-1990s. While Muslims are being tried for extremism and terrorism on trumped-up charges, human rights groups are receiving streams of complaints on gross illegalities at every stage of the process. 

The Civic Assistance Committee and the human rights group Memorial have been monitoring the avalanche of complaints. More than 80 people are on trial in 20 locations in Russia, indicted under 26 separate criminal cases. 

The courts are acting on an unpublished Supreme Court ruling, passed in camera on 14 February 2003, that found 15 Muslim organisations to be “terrorist”. Hizb- ut-Tahrir was among them, described in a few lines as “Intent upon replacing non-Islamic governments with a Worldwide Islamic Caliphate, starting in regions with predominantly Muslim populations, including in Russia and the CIS. Their main activity is militant Islamist propaganda, intolerance of other faiths and an attempt to divide society (through propaganda supported by money). Banned by several states in the Middle East and the CIS (Uzbekistan).”

Eduard Husinov’s case stands out for its crassness. He was given a two-year’ suspended sentence in Nizhnevartovsk in Siberia. An ex-member of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, he had asked for a copy of the ruling so that he could rebut it and told journalists of his intention. For this, he was charged with inciting the town to terrorism under Article 205 of the Russian Criminal Code but acquitted when witnesses denied they had been incited. He was then convicted of “belonging to a banned organisation”, even though he was no longer a member. On 27 May 2005, the Supreme Court re-examined his acquittal for “incitement”. The case will be retried but the result might still be imprisonment for someone who was acting within the law. But this is comparatively mild. 

Many Muslims claim they were tortured to make them confess to terrorism; one says he was raped while on remand; many allege investigators threatened to rape them or their wives; others, that they planted explosives, weapons and ammunition on them to use as evidence against them. Muslim members of the public were barred from the trials in the Bashkortostan Supreme Court. Hizb-ut-Tahrir members have received exceptionally long sentences. 

Yusup Kasymkhunov was condemned to eight years’ strict regime and his young Russian wife to four years and five months, though she says she was not a member. She gave birth in prison and the authorities put her baby in an orphanage. Nine Hizb-ut-Tahrir members got sentences from four to eight years in Ufa, Bashkortostan, three of them for possessing explosives that were planted on them. 

The same names keep cropping up in these cases. Captain A.N. Margatsky, for instance, head of division four of the Moscow Region organised crime squad, carried out the search that uncovered ammunition on B. Sulimanov in the Ruza district and wrote up the police report. Sulimanov refused to sign it. Margatsky also figures in the July 2003 narcotics charge against the human rights campaigner, B.M. Khamroyev, who is currently on probation. The court did not consider it necessary to call Margatsky for cross-examination. 

The head of division six of the organised crime squad in Tatarstan, A.N. Verkhovykh, beat up a female witness from Uzbekistan to try to make her testify against suspected Hizb-ut-Tahrir members in Almetyevsk. The woman told the court about the beating during the trial. Civic Assistance and Memorial have testimony that Verkhovykh tortured T.R. Ishmuratov in detention to extort a confession to blowing up a gas line in Bugulma, Tatarstan. Uzbek and Russian law enforcement bodies are acting together extensively across Russian Federal territory. 

On 18 June 2005, 14 Uzbeks were arrested in Ivanovo, charged with taking part in the “uprising” in the Uzbek city of Andijan in May. Many were long-term residents in Russia and could not have taken part. However, Russia clearly intends to extradite them, despite the many illegalities of their prolonged detention. Memorial got them a lawyer and 13 have asked for asylum in Russia. The fourteenth, Hatam Hajimatov, is a Russian citizen and so cannot be extradited for the moment, although the authorities are arranging to annul his citizenship. 

Another, Mamurjon Tashtemirov, is a Kyrgyz citizen. His embassy notified the Russian foreign ministry about his case, but to no effect. The reason is simple: the Russian police get a tidy sum for every “wanted” person they detain and hand over to the Uzbeks. One detainee overheard Uzbek security men discussing this among themselves during his interrogation. Alisher Usmanov, convicted of possessing ammunition, was acquitted of belonging to Hizb -ut-Tahrir and on 20 June 2005 was due to leave prison. When his wife came to collect him, she was told that ‘friends’ had arrived at 5.00 am and begged to take him with them. He has not been seen since and is probably in an Uzbek prison. 

Muslim leaders have been persecuted for not aligning with the president’s line. When the mufti of Orenburg region, Ismagil-Shakrat Shangareev, tried to stop the authorities persecuting his co-religionists, they planted explosives on his brother Mansur. 

Translated by Marjorie Farquharson 

Reinventing Russia: Muslims under Pressure”, Index on Censorship,  4 April 2005