“Our People Are Not Terrorists”

Defense attorney Edem Semedlyaev and Crimean Tatar political prisoner Raif Fevziev, Rostov-on-Don, Russia, 12 January 2023. Imam Fevziev’s t-shirt reads, “Our people are not terrorists.” Photo courtesy of Imam Fevziev and Crimean Solidarity via Mumine Saliyeva

In one of his interviews from the dungeons of the Rostov pretrial detention center, Dagestani journalist Abdulmumin Hajiyev commented on the everyday lives of inmates: “Lately, I’ve been thinking about taking cooking lessons. For some reason, there has been a skilled cook in every cell I’ve inhabited since Makhachkala. Sirazhutdin (Kumyk), Magomed (Avar), Rutem and Alim (Crimean Tatars) — I always admired the enthusiasm and care with which those guys spent several hours every day cooking something delicious for their cellmates with only a bucket and an immersion hot-water boiler to hand. Hajiyev also mentions Alim Karimov, a defendant in the Crimean Hizb ut-Tahrir case, with whom he has shared a cell for a over year a year. Over this time, Alim has learned Arabic.

Yesterday, a Russian court sentenced Karimov and four other defendants, among whom there are pensioners with disabilities, to thirteen years in prison each. The two years it took to try the case on the merits were memorable in several ways. There was an ambulance present at the hearings, but its crew did not provide qualified medical care to the defendants, who were forbidden to speak Crimean Tatar during the proceedings. Putting old men in the dock for talking about Islam had nothing to do with the letter of the law. Instead, it speaks to Islamophobia cloaking itself in the law’s guise, and to the disgrace of the foot soldiers who executed this drama.

A few days ago, my fellow journalist had the opportunity to hand over to me his new articles, one of which tells the story of Ernes Ametov, a cellmate from Crimea, who was sentenced to eleven years in prison by a military court in late December because he would not do a deal with a lie.

Today, Russia’s Southern District Military Court again handed down a verdict to a Crimean Tatar religious figure. Imam Raif Fevziev was sentenced to seventeen years in a high-security penal colony (with the first three years to be served in an ordinary prison) for having a seventy-minute conversation about religion. His trial took place at the same time as the trial of Crimean defendants in another criminal case. Friends and colleagues of Fevziev’s — the religious figures Ismet Ibragimov, Vadim Bektemirov, Aider Dzhapparov, and Lenur Khalilov — had earlier been sentenced to brutal terms of imprisonment by the very same court. These are textbook political persecutions: the NKVD used the same methods, in the past, to eradicate and destroy religious and public figures who had influence among the people.

It is quite difficult to cope with such a merciless chronicle of crackdowns. But when you see and feel what kind of regime you have come face to face with, and how the political prisoners, their families, and a whole people wisely and peacefully oppose it, you have no choice but to recharge your batteries, be more resilient, and go on working, while believing ever more fiercely that change will come.

I read in a book that a system based on segregation and tyranny is a large-scale manmade disaster. The people involved in perpetuating it may well understand that the breakdown of such a “juggernaut” is inevitable, and that they themselves, collectively, are causing the breakdown. But each of them assumes that it’s not their own personal fault, but everyone else’s. Each of them, on the contrary, believes that they are trying to save it — through cruelty, by cracking down on those dubbed “enemies” and “undesirables.” Ultimately, however, they fail to save it.

Source: Mumine Saliyeva, Facebook, 12 January 2023. Translated by Hecksinductionhour

Priest Versus Imam

Ioann Kurmoyarov in court. Photo by and courtesy of SOTA

Today in St. Petersburg, the trial in the case of the defrocked Orthodox priest Ioann Kurmoyarov on charges of disseminating “fake news” about the army continued. Kurmoyarov had claimed that those who invaded Ukraine would go to hell.

A theological discussion unfolded in court. Imam Fayzulla Karimov, who barely speaks Russian but was revealed to be the “expert linguist” who had assessed Kurmoyarov’s theological videos, testified as a witness for the prosecution.

It transpired that a specialist of his profile was required by the investigation to evaluate Kurmoyarov’s statement that “those who consider themselves Christians and support this war should change their religion and convert to Islam,” thus, allegedly, “inciting interfaith discord.”

From the questions posed to the “expert witness,” it transpired that he, as a native of Tajikistan, had not formally studied Russian, but had graduated from the Faculty of Philology in Dushanbe in 2004 and the Islamic University in 2014.

Kurmoyarov had been bringing the imam round to the idea that Islam, unlike Christianity, has a concept of holy war in the literal sense of the word, but the judge struck down his questions.

Here is an example of the dialogue between the judge and imam, demonstrating the latter’s level of knowledge of the Russian language (although he travels to Russia for short visits, he lives permanently in Tajikistan):

Judge: Are you acquainted with Kurmoyarov?
Imam: I am acquainted.
Judge (forcefully): Are you acquainted with Kurmoyarov?
Imam: I am not acquainted.

[…]

Source: SOTA (Telegram), 9 January 2023. Translated by the Russian Reader

Yashar Shikhametov: 11 Years in Maximum Security for “Kitchen Conversations”

Yashar Shikhametov

⚡️ Another sentence: 11 years in a maximum security penal colony for a 52-year-old cook from Crimea

Today, the Southern District Military Court [of Russia] announced the verdict in the trial of Yashar Shikhametov, a Crimean Tatar, a cook from Sevastopol, and a political prisoner. He was charged with membership of the Islamist political party Hizb ut-Tahrir, which has been banned in Russia since 2003. In Ukraine and most countries of the world, however, the organization operates without any restrictions in terms of national legislation.

According to the case file, the accused had no weapons, explosives, or ammunition, did not plan to commit a terrorist act and did not call on others to carry out terrorist acts. There is no evidence that he was planning to overthrow the constitutional order of the Russian Federation and seize power. The case materials contain audio recordings on which religion and politics are discussed. In fact, this was the only evidence presented by investigators, along with the testimony of secret witnesses, which cannot be corroborated.

Shikhametov was was arrested on 17 February 2021, and then spent over a year and a half in a pre-trial detention center, where he suffered from many ailments. In July of the same year, his case was submitted to the military court of Rostov-on-Don. The trial of the case on the merits took place over the course of twenty-four hearings.

On August 14, 2022, Prosecutor Sergei Aidinov asked the court to sentence Shikhametov to eleven years of imprisonment in a maximum security penal colony, with the first four years of the sentence to be served in a closed prison.

The verdict issued by the Russian court today gave the prosecutor exactly what he had asked.

At yesterday’s court hearing, the political prisoner complained of feeling unwell. When the court suggested that he take part in the closing arguments, Shikhametov insisted on the need for a recess.

The court turned down the defense’s request to declare a recess.

Judge Alexei Magomadov deemed Shekhametov’s inability to take part in the closing arguments as a voluntary refusal to testify, despite the fact that the defendant had written a twenty-one-page-long closing statement for the hearing. He also turned down [defense] lawyer Alexei Larin’s request to postpone the hearing.

“Did we have a choice in 2014? I will tell you that it’s all true. Ethnically, we are Crimean Tatars; we are Muslim in terms of religion and culture, and we are citizens of Ukraine. Is this proof of my guilt? We do not hide, we do not hide it, but we declare it directly and everywhere. Is that a crime? But the FSB investigator cooks up this whole [case] with remarks made around the kitchen table, and by tormenting people and intimidating them with searches,” Shikhametov wrote in the [closing statement], which he was unable to deliver in court.

Source: Mumine Saliyeva, Facebook, 9 September. Photo courtesy of Crimean Solidarity. Thanks to Natalia Sivohina for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader


Shikhametov is from Orlinoye on the outskirts of occupied Sevastopol.  He earlier appeared as a defence witness in the political trial of Enver Seitosmanov, which may have been the reason that the Russian FSB turned their attention to him.  They added him, six years after the earlier arrests in 2015, to Russia’s first conveyor belt ‘trial’ of Crimean Muslims on charges of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir. The latter is a peaceful, transnational Muslim organization which is legal in Ukraine, and which is not known to have committed any acts of terrorism anywhere in the world.  Russia’s prosecutions, under ‘terrorism’ legislation, are based solely on an extremely secretive Russian Supreme Court ruling from February 2003, which declared the organization ‘terrorist’ without providing any grounds or explanation. Russia is increasingly using these charges as a weapon against Crimean Tatar civic activists and journalists, with men who have committed no recognizable crime being sentenced to up to 20 years’ imprisonment. The charges are a favourite with the FSB and their decision to arrest any particular person is a near 100% guarantee that their victim will be imprisoned and receive a huge sentence.

Shikhametov was charged under Article 205.5 § 2 of Russia’s criminal code with ‘involvement’ in a Hizb ut-Tahrir group.  This was seemingly the same fictitious ‘group’ which the FSB claimed that Ruslan Zeytullaev had ‘organized’ (a more serious charge) and that Ferat Saifullaev, Yury Primov and Rustem Vaitov were supposed to have been members of. Russia was still ‘testing the ground’ (and international reaction) in that case and all of the men initially received much lower sentences than required by legislation. The prosecution (or, more likely, the FSB) challenged the sentence against Zeytullaev until they got a 15-year sentence but did not appeal against the other three sentences (more details here). One difference now is that the prosecution almost invariably adds the charge (under Article 278) of trying to overthrow the Russian state. This charge is even more nonsensical, as not one of the men has ever been found to have any weapons, but does enable them to increase the sentence.

Both the earlier ‘trials’ and that against Shikhametov were, as the latter said, based on ‘conversations in the kitchen’ on religious and political subjects. These were sent to FSB-loyal ‘experts’ (from the Kazan Inter-Regional Centre for Analysis and Assessments) who provide the opinion demanded of them.

Russia’s FSB have, however, discovered that such prosecutions do not go to plan, primarily because of committed lawyers who insist on demonstrating the flawed nature of both the charges and the alleged ‘evidence’.  Although the convictions remain essentially predetermined, the men’s lawyers, as well as the important Crimean Solidarity human rights initiative, provide important publicity about the shocking methods used to fabricate huge sentences.

Armed and masked enforcement officers burst into Shikhametov’s home on 17 February 2021 and carried out ‘a search’, before taking the father of three away and imprisoning him. As in all such cases, lawyers were illegally prevented from being present. The officers claimed to have found three ‘prohibited religious books’. The books, which did not have any fingerprints on them, were in a cupboard holding coats and shoes which was a place, as Shikhametov himself told the court, that no practising Muslim would hold religious literature.

During one of the hearings, Shikhametov stated that he considered the real criminals to be those who planted ‘prohibited books’ in his home. Typically, the only outcome of this was that Shikhametov himself was removed from the courtroom. Shikhametov has been open in calling those involved in this prosecution and others “accomplices and criminals” and this was not the only time he was removed from the courtroom.

In July 2021, the FSB carried out an armed search and interrogation of Ferat Saifullayev (who had been released after serving his sentence).They threatened “to come back and find prohibited literature” if he did not give false testimony against Yashar Shikhametov.  During this interrogation, he was neither informed of his rights, nor told what his status (suspect, witness, etc.) was. Saifullayev signed the document thrust in front of him, but later stated publicly that he had only done so because of the pressure and threats against him. He insisted that this supposed ‘testimony’ should be excluded as having been obtained with infringements of the law and issued a formal complaint to the FSB in Sevastopol, naming senior ‘investigator’ Yury Andreyev. 

Prosecutor Sergei Aidinov was never able to explain how Shikhametov, working as a café chef was supposed to have ‘carried out ideological work’ or what such ‘work’ was.

All of this was ignored by presiding judge Alexei Magamadov, together with Kirill Krivtsov and V.Y. Tsybulik who actively took the side of the prosecution. Such bias was seen here, as in all other political trials of Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians, in the use of ‘secret witnesses’. The only real ‘evidence’ in this ‘trial’ came from people whose identity was not known, and whose supposed testimony could not be verified. In all these trials, the judges invariably disallow questions aimed at demonstrating that the person is lying and that he does not in fact even know the defendant.  

Please write to Yashar Shikhametov! 

He will almost certainly remain imprisoned in Rostov until his appeal hearing. Letters tell him that he is not forgotten and send an important message to Moscow that their persecution of Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainian political prisoners is under scrutiny.

Letters need to be in Russian, and on ‘safe’ subjects. If that is a problem, use the sample letter below (copying it by hand), perhaps adding a picture or photo. Do add a return address so that the men can answer.

The addresses below can be written in either Russian or in English transcription. The particular addressee’s name and year of birth need to be given.

Sample letter

Привет,

Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение. Простите, что мало пишу – мне трудно писать по-русски, но мы все о Вас помним.

[Hi.  I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released.  I’m sorry that this letter is short – it’s hard for me to write in Russian., but you are not forgotten.] 

Address

344022, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1

Шихаметову, Яшару Рустемовичу, г.р. 1970

[In English:  344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Shikhametov, Yashar Rustemovich, b. 1970 ]

Source: Halya Coynash, “Crimean Tatar sentenced by ‘accomplices and criminals’ to 11 years in Russian captivity,” 9 September 2022, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

Graduation Day

The two-week accelerated tactical and weapons training courses for the latest group of volunteers at the Russian Special Forces University @ruspetsnaz in Gudermes have ended.

The soldiers, who are from various regions of Russia, are full of determination and ready to join the battle for truth and justice on the territory of Donbass and Ukraine.

One more flight headed for the site of the special military operation from Hero of Russia Akhmad-Khadzhi Kadyrov Grozny International Airport.

Our dear BROTHERS — Chairman of the Parliament of the [Chechen Republic] Magomed Daudov @MDaudov_95, Deputy Prime Minister of the CR Abuzaid Vismuradov, Secretary of the Security Council of the CR Apty Alaudinov @sovbez95, Deputy Interior Minister and Police Chief of the Interior Ministry of the CR Aslan Irakhanov, and Head of the Grozny Transit Police of the Russian Interior Ministry Ali Tagirov — had parting words for the volunteers

They noted that fascism and Banderism had to be eradicated from the land of Donbass, [and] that [the volunteers] had been given the honorable mission of being part of the force that would bring about the triumph of justice and victory over evil.

We wish our soldiers a successful hunt for Banderites, Nazis and Shaitans! May their joint efforts, courage and heroism bring victory to Russia and freedom to Donbass! AKHMAD IS POWER!!!

Source: Kadyrov_95 (Telegram), 8 August 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


The terminal building at Grozny Airport. The inscription over the entrance reads, “My weapon is truth, and all armies are powerless before this weapon. A[khmad] Kadyrov.” Source: Wikipedia

[…]

According to investigations by Novaya Gazeta and human rights organization Human Rights Watch, as a person in the inner circle of Kadyrov, Daudov often carries out his “special instructions”.

In 2014, according to a Novaya Gazeta investigation, Daudov participated in the torture and beating of detained president of Assembly of the Caucasian people, R[uslan] Kutayev.

In 2015, Novaya Gazeta reported that Chechen authorities were concerned about “true news” about the republic, claiming that bloggers writing about Chechnya in a manner viewed as “incorrect” by the authorities were illegally pressured and forced to apologise. Daudov was mentioned in this context.

On 16 and 17 January 2016, Daudov made posts on his Instagram account that contained insults and veiled threats against members of the Russian opposition, including journalists and right activists (Alexei Venediktov, I.A. Kalyapin, K.E. Merzlikin, A.A. Navalny, L.A. Ponomaryov, M.B. Khodorkovsky, V.I. Shenderovich and I.V. Yashin. Editor-in-chief of Echo of Moscow A.A. Venediktov said: “Magomed Daudov’s statements [addressed to the opposition are] a serious threat and inadequate reaction to inconvenient issues of murder of Boris Nemtsov and a question to investigation and Chechen authorities”.

In a 12 October 2016 Instagram post, Daudov again made veiled insults against I.A. Kalyapin, chairman of interregional public organization Committee Against Torture. Gregory Shvedov, editor-in-chief of online newspaper Caucasian Knot submitted an application to the Investigative Committee of Russia, trying to bring Daudov’s publication under corpus delicti under article 144, part 3 of the Criminal Code of Russia. The Investigative Committee of Russia investigated but chose not to open a criminal case against Daudov.

Press articles covered Daudov’s conflict with the acting Chairman of the Supreme Court of Chechnya T.A. Murdalov.

According to some journalists, on 6 October 2016, Daudov came to the Supreme Court of Chechnya accompanied by security, entered the office of acting Chairman T. A. Murdalov and began to beat him, demanding that he write the resignation letter for health reasons. Murdalov refused.

According to media and human rights activists, Daudov participated in the prosecution of homosexuals in Chechnya and “played the key role in cleaning of the republic from gays, which was approved by republican management Journalists provided evidence that Daudov personally went to secret prisons in Argun and Grozny and managed the transfer of detained gays to relatives.

[…]

Source: “Magomed Daudov,” Wikipedia

“To Become White in the Eyes of Whites”: Astrakhan Kazakhs and the War in Ukraine

Monument to the Kazakh composer Kurmangazy Sagyrbayuly in Astrakhan. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

According to official statistics, ethnic Kazakhs [so-called Astrakhan Kazakhs] make up 16% of population of the Astrakhan Region. At the same time, 80% of the region’s residents who have been killed in the war in Ukraine and whose deaths have been publicly acknowledged by relatives or the authorities, are members of this particular ethnic group. Idel.Realii talked to several Astrakhan residents to understand why this is the case and what reaction it causes in the local community.

The situation is similar in regions without the status of “republics” — the Astrakhan Region is sending mainly ethnic Kazakhs, not ethnic Russians, to war. According to our figures, the regional and municipal authorities of the Lower Volga have acknowledged, as of today, the deaths of twenty-six natives of the region in the war in Ukraine. Based on the names of the victims and their places of birth, it is possible to say with a high degree of probability that twenty-one of them are ethnic Kazakhs.

Kazakhs are the second largest ethnic group in the Lower Volga after Russians. The 2010 census revealed that around 150 thousand Kazakhs live in the Astrakhan Region. Thus, the ethnic Kazakh population makes up 16% of the region’s residents who indicated their ethnicity. But Kazakhs are in the majority among the acknowledged war dead. Twenty-one out of twenty-six is 80% — that is, the disparity is fivefold.

Fragmentary reports coming from Astrakhan’s rural areas in the early days of the war suggest that the number of the region’s residents killed in Ukraine may be significantly higher than the official data admits. The ethnic imbalance is also noticeable in unconfirmed cases. Reports of war dead appeared mainly in the chats of residents of the Volodarsky District, the only part of the Astrakhan Region where Kazakhs make up the absolute majority of the population.

Idel.Realii talked to several residents of the Astrakhan Region to understand the possible causes of this imbalance and what people in the region think about it. The names of the interviewees have been changed for their safety.

“THE ONLY WAY TO FEED A FAMILY”

“This is not a new story: Kazakhs have always been represented in the uniformed services more than other Astrakhan residents,” says Aisulu from the Volodarsky District. “If you walk around the regional center, you will notice that almost half of the police officers are Kazakh in appearance — which is also much more than the proportion of Kazakhs in the entire population. You see the same picture among contract soldiers in the military.”

She believes that this is due to the fact that Astrakhan Kazakhs have traditionally been settled in small villages in rural areas.

“Many of them are located far from the city. They do not have permanent transport links with the outside world. They are separated from the main roads via one or more ferry crossings,” she says. “There is a high unemployment rate in such areas, and if you have bigger ambitions than working in agriculture, the main ways are rotation work or service in law enforcement and the military. The second option, of course, is regarded as more stable (not to mention respectable), so young guys from villages go en masse into the army and the police. This is often the only way for them to feed their families.”

According Aisulu, Kazakhs also choose to serve in law enforcement and the military more often than ethnic Russians because they have fewer job prospects in large cities: due to xenophobia, many employers prefer to hire a person of Slavic appearance, automatically considering them more competent and presentable. According to Aisulu, this further narrows career choices, motivating Astrakhan Kazakhs to go into voluntary [contract] military service, where ethnicity does not play such a huge role.

“WE DO NOT AND CANNOT HAVE INTERESTS IN UKRAINE”

“In the context of the current war, there may be another factor — ideology. Yes, there are an unusually large number of Kazakhs among Astrakhan military personnel, but they are clearly not the absolute majority. Why do we hear almost only about their deaths? We can assume that the command deliberately sends soldiers of non-Russian appearance to the front line to emphasize the formal justification for the attack on Ukraine: ‘the multi-ethnic people of the Russian Federation’ are fighting ‘fascism,'” says Adilbek, a native of the Narimanov District.

In his opinion, this is ironic.

“This is, allegedly, a campaign by a multi-ethnic people, in which there are Kazakhs, among others, and Putin says, ‘I am Lak, Jewish, Mordvin, Ossetian,’ but this campaign is aimed at expanding the ethnic Russian world and promoting Russian ethnic interests. It has nothing to do with the interests of Laks, Ossetians, or Kazakhs. We do not and cannot have interests in Ukraine at all, we have nothing to do with it. I see a sad irony in this. Russian fascists are waging an aggressive war, leading minorities into battle and taking cover behind fictional anti-fascism. Consequently, our guys are dying for people who actually despise them and are just using them.”

“WE DON’T WANT OUR CHILDREN TO DIE”

Rufina, a relative of an Astrakhan Kazakh who has died in the war in Ukraine, and a native of the Astrakhan Region’s Kamyzyak District, says that many residents of her village have gone to fight. Two other relatives of her parents are currently in Ukraine.

“My mother, grandmother, and other women who remain in the village are rather apolitical people with no coherent system of views. They are, in fact, now opposed to the war, but in their own way: ‘We don;’t want our children to die god knows where and god knows for whom.’ This does not prevent them from chewing out Ukraine and making fun of Zelensky, but they also chew out Putin. The only thing they really want is for all of it to stop and for their children to come home. The men are a little different: my uncle wears a T-shirt emblazoned with a Z, and some people in the village dress up children in these symbols. But I don’t consider this a direct endorsement of the war. In my opinion, their motivation, rather, is just to support their brothers, since they are [in Ukraine],” explains Rufina.

She actively opposes the war and puts up anti-war leaflets in the courtyards of residential areas in Astrakhan, but admits that this stance is not very popular even among her peers — people of high school age.

“Propaganda, unfortunately, does a bang-up job in these parts: many people believe in the ‘special operation’ and despise all Ukrainians. Our Russian-language teacher told us in class about ‘Ukrainian Nazis’ and went to a rally celebrating the ‘reunification’ of Crimea and Russia. I don’t see much opposition from schoolchildren,” says Rufina.

“On the other hand, I met some like-minded women who helped me with leaflets. We made small handwritten posters featuring slogans like ‘Silence is consent,’ ‘No death, no war,’ and ‘Bring flowers, not destruction,’ and pasted them on poles and bulletin boards. They were quickly torn down, however — whether by janitors or ordinary people who didn’t agree with [our message], I don’t know,” says Rufina.

“THE SENSELESSNESS IS STUNNING”

Kanat, who lives in Astrakhan, believes that the region’s residents are gradually losing interest in the events in Ukraine.

“War, like any other topic, cannot grip people’s attention for a long time. During the first month, I heard condemnation and discontent from the people around me and noticed that they were depressed. Now everyone is immersed in their daily problems again,” says Kanat. “There are more of these problems, but for some reason people no longer link them to what the army has been doing at the behest of the authorities. At the same time, it is clear that there is no freedom of speech, there is no criticism of the government and its actions, and we are thinking about how to live with what we have at the moment.”

“A colleague of mine says that when a war is on you must not condemn your country’s army. You can figure things out afterwards, but for now you can only support them. I don’t understand this. If this were a war to defend our own territory, to defend our rights and freedoms, then yes, we could say that, for the moment, we could close our eyes to certain crimes committed by the army or by individuals, and we would get to the bottom of them later. But now the exact opposite — a war of aggression — is happening,” claims Kanat.

According to him, he finds it “strange to see the posthumous medals for Kazakhs.”

“Maybe Kazakhs are not the only soldiers from Astrakhan Region who are getting killed, but I don’t really remember the others, to be honest. The senselessness is stunning. If you believe the rhetoric of the authorities, ethnics Russians are not loved in Ukraine, but ethnic Kazakhs from the Volodarsky District are dying for their interests. But I think that protests in Kazakhstan are more important to them than the rights of Russian-speaking residents of Odesa,” Kanat argues.

“TO BECOME WHITE IN THE EYES OF WHITES”

“Why are Kazakhs and other non-ethnic Russian Russian Federation nationals fighting? I would like to say that it is impossible to explain, but in fact I understand it,” says Rasul, a Kazakhstani national who moved to Russia to study at university. “First of all, these are people from poor regions, for whom the army is a way to move up in life, to become white in the eyes of whites, to become ethnic Russian in the eyes of ethnic Russians, to join something big and supposedly majestic. Secondly, Russian propaganda has this amazing property — it takes all imperial narratives that have existed in this country and fascistizes them to the limit. If you love the Russian Empire, here’s Christ for you. If you love the USSR, here’s the red banner. If you love Russia, here’s the tricolor. Are you a Tuvan who speaks Russian poorly? Here’s the opinion that [Russian defense minister Sergei] Shoigu is the reincarnation of Subutai. Are you a Kadyrovite? Here’s jihad for you. It all affects you, staying somewhere in your head, and when you are sent off to war, you easily find a moral justification for what you are doing.”

Rasul notes that he, perhaps, “would like to denounce ethnic Kazakhs involved in the war, to ‘discharge’ them from the Kazakh people, to say that they are all traitors.”

“From the viewpoint of sharia, they actually are traitors: all muftis, except the pro-Putin ones, have condemned this war. At the Last Judgment, these soldiers will be asked, ‘What did you die for? For Putin and his yacht? Well, then go to hell with them.’ But, to be honest, I feel more sorry for them on the purely human level than for the ethnic Russian guys, because after three years of living in Russia I understood how this propaganda works, how this society as a whole is organized, what the dynamics of interethnic relations are. I myself have many questions for our government, many problems with ethnic Kazakh and Kazakhstani identity, but over these two months I have repeatedly discussed Ukraine with my friends from Kazakhstan — with ethnic Kazakhs, ethnic Russians, ethnic Uyghurs, ethnic Dungans, ethnic Germans, and ethnic Poles — and we have always agreed that if Russia invaded us, we would go to war and shoot at the occupiers. We may speak Russian perfectly and have an excellent grasp of Russian literature, but this is our land, and we don’t need any ‘Russian world’ in it,” the Kazakhstani concludes.

Source: Idel.Realii (Radio Svoboda), 18 May 2022. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Russia’s Crusade Against Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims Continues

Caucasian Knot reports that a court in Sochi has extended the remand in custody of Jehovah’s Witness Danil Suvorov until June 13. Suvorov’s defense counsel Sergei Yanovsky said that he had appealed the decision.

Danil Suvorov has been charged with involvement in an extremist organization (punishable under Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code), as well as recruiting for an extremist organization (punishable under Part 1.1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code). According to criminal investigators, Suvorov attempted to recruit people to join the Jehovah’s Witnesses, “using his authority as a spiritual leader.”

The accused man’s mother, Gulnara Suvorova, was able to communicate with her son in the courtroom for the first time in over nine months.

“My son has been languishing in prison for nine months running for nothing. Or rather, for the fact that he read the Bible aloud to a person who had asked him about it. But, of course, it was just an easy excuse for law enforcement officers to catch a ‘criminal’ and earn a promotion for such a serious charge as extremism,” she told Caucasian Knot.

Suvorov’s defense moved to have the case dismissed, because, according to an expert witness, there was no extremism in the believer’s actions.

Suvorov was detained on 18 August 2021, the same day that his home and the homes of other Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Krasnodar Territory were searched. Electronic devices, personal diaries, postcards, and literature were seized from believers.

In 2017, the Russian Supreme Court ruled that the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia was an extremist organization. It dissolved the Center and banned it from operating in Russia. Later, all Jehovah’s Witnesses branches in Russia were added to the list of banned organizations. Subsequently, a flood of criminal prosecutions against members of the confession began.

Source: OVD Info, 14 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


The Mahal Mosque in Nizhny Tagil. Photo: IslamTsentr

On 12 May 2022, it transpired that in April, the Tagilstroyevsky District Court of Nizhny Tagil fined Fanis Galeyev (spelled “Galiyev” in some sources), the imam at the Mahal Mosque, under Article 20.29 of the Russian Federal Administrative Code (“distribution of extremist materials”).

An inspection conducted by the prosecutor’s office found twenty-books books included in the Federal List of Extremist Materials in the imam’s possession.

According to Galeyev, he had collected the books only to study and later destroy them.

“There is a fine line. Today these are not extremist books, but tomorrow they will be extremist. This can be determined by a spiritual person, not a secular one. These books that have been discovered cannot simply be thrown away. They must either be buried or burned.”

The imam is a member of the Nizhny Tagil Council for Combating Extremism.

There is no information about the books in question, but we should note that we consider many cases of banning Islamic literature to be unlawful.

Sources:

“Case Card No. 5-512/2022,” website of the Tagilstroievsky District Court of Nizhny Tagil, Sverdlovsk Region, May 2022 [the embedded link was inaccessible from my IP]

“Nizhny Tagil imam fighting extremism is convicted of distributing extremist literature,” 66.ru, 12 May 2022

“Nizhny Tagil imam punished for extremist literature,” Vse novosti, 12 May 2022

Source: SOVA Center, 13 May 2022. Thanks to OVD Info for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Watch What You Say. And What You Don’t Say (The Case of Hamid Igamberdyev)

Although I am certain that the Memorial Human Rights Center knows what Hamid Igamberdyev looks like, there is no photograph in his “case file” on their website. Igamberdyev might be one of the men captured in the photo, originally published in Kommersant, that I posted along with my translation of OVD Info‘s report on the original verdict in the case, in February 2019. ||| TRR

Man convicted in Moscow Hizb ut-Tahrir case receives additional sentence for talking to fellow inmates in jail
Memorial Human Rights Center
October 4, 2021

On September 28, 2021, a panel of judges with the 2nd Western District Military Court issued a verdict in the case of the 36-year-old stateless person Hamid Igamberdyev, finding him guilty of “condoning terrorism” (punishable under Article 205.2.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code).

Igamberdyev was detained in Moscow in December 2016. In February 2019, he was found guilty under Article 205.5.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code of involvement in the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization banned in Russia, and sentenced to 16 years in prison. In 2020, a new criminal investigation was opened into Igamberdyev on suspicion of “condoning terrorism,” based on an interpretation of his conversations with cellmates in Moscow Pre-Trial Detention Center No. 2 (Butyrka) in 2017.

The court sentenced Igamberdyev to three years in prison. Taking into account his earlier sentence, he will serve a total of seventeen and a half years in a high-security penal colony.

On the day the verdict was announced, the defendant delivered a twenty-minute closing statement, the written text of which the court entered into the case file.

Below are some key points of this speech, revealing important elements of the practice of fabricating charges (so-called hyping) against people previously convicted under the Criminal Code’s anti-extremist provisions.

Memorial Human Rights Center has published reports on the previous hearings in the trial (part 1, part 2).

In his closing statement, Igamberdyev noted that the testimony of witnesses during the investigation and in court was confused and contradictory concerning both the events themselves and the circumstances of how their testimony was taken during the preliminary investigation.

Thus, witness L., contrary to the interrogation record, testified in court that he had spoken only about life and everyday matters with the defendant. Religion was not discussed, since “we have different faiths.” He had not read through the entire interrogation record, signing it on the advice of a lawyer, and could not remember how he had testified. Igamberdyev also noted that L.’s testimony during the preliminary investigation was not corroborated by video footage, recorded around the clock in the pre-trial detention center.

Witness K. also gave testimony in court that seriously differed from the official interrogation record. In particular, he spoke only about a single nighttime conversation with the defendant in which the topic of Hizb ut-Tahrir was discussed, but there is no evidence of such a conversation either in the case file or the video footage. Regarding his testimony during the preliminary investigation, K. made contradictory claims in court, saying a) that he had written his statement himself, b) that he had dictated it, and c) that he does not remember under what circumstances he gave the statement.

Witness B. stated in court that he had not given any evidence at all during the preliminary investigation, and that he had neither read nor signed the statement allegedly written by him personally. Despite his own negative attitude towards Hizb ut-Tahrir, B. testified that the defendant had never condoned terrorism in conversations with him.

Igamberdiyev argued that finding him guilty on the basis of such contradictory and confused eyewitness testimony violated the principle of presumption of innocence.

Igamberdyev also noted that the name “Hizb ut-Tahrir Al-Islami” is mentioned in the interrogation records, while the shorter wording “Hizb ut-Tahrir” is used in the organization’s printed materials and by the defendant himself. Igamberdyev argued that, despite what was written in the interrogation records, the witnesses could not have heard him use the first, longer, name, which appears only in official state documents.

Regarding the expert testimony, the defendant noted that the invited experts had admitted that there had been no attempts to recruit or call for terrorism in his statements, but there had been “condoning of terrorism,” consisting in his alleged denial of the terrorist nature of Hizb ut-Tahrir, of which he still considers himself a member. Igamberdiyev drew the court’s attention to his statements in the submitted video footage, such as “there is no terrorism in our actions,” and “my attitude towards terrorist organizations is negative.” In his opinion, the expert witnesses had incorrectly and subjectively assessed his words of support for the methods of the organization, which is banned in Russia.

Igamberdyev said that he “never condoned terrorism,” and in his conversations with cellmates he had only tried to explain his position while answering their questions.

He also noted the inconsistency of the state prosecutor’s claim of “recidivism,” since at the time when he allegedly committed the actions for which he was charged he was in jail as a suspect in the Hizb ut-Tahrir case.

Concluding his speech, Igamberdiyev asked the court to find him not guilty of publicly condoning terrorism.

After the verdict was read, the presiding judge asked a question.

“Defendant, do you understand the verdict?”

“I still didn’t understand why I was convicted,” Igamberdyev replied.

“You were convicted of committing a crime under Part 1 of Article 205.5 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation,” the presiding judge explained.

As long as charges of involvement in certain manifestations of terrorism (or extremism) are based not on specific evidence, as established in court, but on declaratory judgments, conclusions or statements not based on reliable and clear sources of information, such verbal exchanges will be an inevitability in the Russian legal space.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Ildar Ibragimov: 16 Years in Prison for Nothing

Defendant from Kazan Sentenced to 16 Years in Maximum Security Prison in Hizb ut-Tahrir Case 
OVD Info
March 6, 2021

Ildar Ibragimov in court. Photo: Parents Solidarity 

Parents Solidarity reports that a court in Yekaterinburg has sentenced Ildar Ibragimov, a defendant in the Hizb ut-Tahrir case, to 16 years in a maximum security penal colony.

The ruling on March 5 was rendered by the Central District Military Court. Ibragimov was accused of organizing the activities of a terrorist organization [sic], punishable under Article 205.5.1 of the Criminal Code.

Ibragimov lived in Kazan, where he was detained on December 18, 2019. After the preliminary investigation, the man was taken to Yekaterinburg for trial. No weapons or explosives were found in his possession during a search of his home. According to Parents Solidarity, the case materials also do not indicate any violent actions on Ibragimov’s part or calls for violent actions.

The Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir has been declared a terrorist organization by the Russian Supreme Court. However, a number of experts of human rights organizations argue that there is no reason for this, since members of Hizb ut-Tahrir have not been seen to be involved in the commission or preparation of terrorist attacks. Members of the party are accused of terrorism solely on the basis of party activities, i.e., meetings and reading literature.

According to the Memorial Human Rights, as of February 18, 2021, at least 322 people have been under prosecution for alleged involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir. 208 of them have already been convicted. More than 140 of those convicted were sentenced to imprisonment for a period of 10 years.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Masha Gessen recently admitted, in the New Yorker, that the (fabricated) charges against Karelian historian and human rights activists Yuri Dmitriev were so “heinous” that she had never written about the case. Last year, a rising wave of support for the young men charged in the Network Case was reduced to nought when the Riga-based online newspaper Meduza published an utterly rickety “investigative report” dubiously suggesting that some of the defendants had been involved in a murder.

But at least fairly substantial numbers of people, both in Russia and outside of it, still agitate on behalf of Dmitriev and the Network boys, no matter the harsh verdict of Masha Gessen and wildly fickle Russian public opinion.

If, on the other hand, you’re a Crimean Tatar (in Russian-occupied Crimea) or a plain old Tatar or Bashkir or a member of any of Russia’s several dozen Muslim minorities, all the powers that be have to do to make you “heinous” is say the words “Muslim” and “terrorism,” and you’re toast. There will be no massive domestic or international solidarity campaigns to support you, nor will people take to the streets in their tens of thousands demanding your release. Much worse, none of these democratically minded folks will even hear about what happened to you.

So the news that Ildar Ibragimov, a resident of Kazan, was sentenced on Friday by a court in Yekaterinburg to 16 years in a maximum security prison for “organizing the activities of a terrorist organization” will not ignite a storm of indignation in Ibragimov’s own country.

The recent furore over Alexei Navalny’s alleged “racist nationalism” was misplaced. If anything, Navalny gave that tack up as a political dead end several years ago. But millions of his countrymen live and breathe “racist nationalism” every single day, if only by omission, and no one is losing sleep over it. Blatant Islamophobia can never be a crime in a country where so many people believe that “political correctness” is the world’s biggest problem. || TRR

Shohista Karimova: Convicted of Someone Else’s Crime

Shohista Karimova. Photo courtesy of RFE/RL

Shohista Karimova: Convicted of Someone Else’s Crime
Natalia Sivohina
Zanovo
December 6, 2020

Tomorrow, December 7, a court hearing will be held in the Moscow suburb of Vlasikha on the appeal of the verdict against of Shohista Karimova. The name of this middle-aged woman from Uzbekistan, who worked as a food prep worker in the Moscow Region, surfaced in the media in connection with the criminal case into the 3 April 2017 terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway—and, most likely, it was immediately forgotten. Journalist Natalia Sivohina recalls Karimova’s story.

On 3 April 2017, an explosion occurred in the Petersburg subway on a train traveling between the stations Sennaya Ploshchad and Tekhnologichesky Institut, killing 16 passengers and injuring about a hundred.

The security forces voiced several conflicting explanations of the tragedy, but soon reported that the perpetrators had been found.

In the dock were eleven people, migrant workers from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. According to investigators, they were members of an Islamist organization.

On 5 April 2017, relatives of one of the future defendants in the case of the Petersburg Eleven, Muhamadusup Ermatov, reported him missing. As he later told human rights activists and journalists, he had been kidnapped. The kidnappers (presumably FSB officers) put a plastic bag over Ermatov’s head, beat him up, intimidated him verbally, tasered him, and demanded that he give the testimony they wanted to hear.

Other defendants in the subway bombing case also claimed they had been subjected to the same “investigative methods.” The evidence obtained under torture was the basis of the sentences the defendants received on charges of terrorism. Karimova, the only woman among the defendants, was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Karimova worked as a food prep worker in a café near Moscow. According to the case file, she “provided the [terrorist group] with means of communication.” As she said later, she lent a phone to her coworker and, later, co-defendant Abror Azimov. That was the extent of her alleged involvement in the bombing.

When FSB officers came to her house, the Uzbek national meekly complied with all their demands: she held the detonator in her hands, leaving her fingerprints on it, and let them take DNA swabs of her mouth and scalp.

Karimova trusted the authorities and hoped to the last that the truth would out. In the end, however, she was found guilty of possessing a bomb on Tovarishchesky Lane in Petersburg, a city to which she had never been before she was arrested.

Karimova had come to Russia to help her daughter. She worked for 25 thousand rubles a month [approx. 400 euros a month in 2017] and sent money home to her family. The verdict sent her into shock: her terrible screaming during the reading of the verdict was included in journalistic accounts of that day. But few journalists wrote anything about Karimova’s own story.

Screenshot of a letter, quoted below, sent by Shohista Karimova from prison, dated 18 May 2020

“When a guard at Pre-Trial Detention Center No. 2 asked why I didn’t go out for a walk, my cellmate replied that I was afraid. I was so afraid that a man in the uniform might hurt me—I was scared and cried constantly. My brain was just turned off. After a year, I started to recover from the stress and the extreme emotional state. And I was very afraid for my loved ones: they could have been framed as well,” Karimova wrote in a letter to a friend, adding, “I now believe that any innocent person can be charged [with a crime they did not commit].”

What the Defense Says
I spoke with Karimova’s lawyer, Viktor Drozdov.

How did you end up taking Shohista’s case? How did it all begin?

I received a call from a person who had previously been in prison and knew the law enforcement system firsthand, and then from other human rights defenders. They asked me to work pro bono on the case, whose defendants were initially represented by court-appointed lawyers. We met and talked, and I agreed to serve as Shohista’s defense counsel.

The tragedy in April 2017 and the media coverage that followed it had attracted my attention. I followed the case quite closely, comparing various reports. It raised a lot of questions, and I decided to find answers to them. I found them.

You have appealed the apparently wrongful verdict. Why do you think it is important to go all the way in this trial?

The defense lawyer’s job is to debunk the prosecution (during trial) and the illegality of the sentence (as now, on appeal), and always be ready to defend their client in subsequent phases in the process. What does “going all the way” mean? The real end came long ago: the justice system was completely “bankrupted” by this trial. It has neither been willing nor able to respond to any of the defense’s arguments.

Does Shohista believe in the possibility of getting justice? What does she think about the upcoming appeal?

Until recently, she had great faith in Putin. She wrote him letters to which she received no response. I don’t ask her that question now. Shohista is painfully aware of the circumstances that caused her to end up in prison completely unexpectedly and absurdly. She knows perfectly well and shares my position on her defense, which is that by defending her, I am defending the Russian justice system, first of all, and her future  depends on it.

Shohista is a hostage to the political interests of people who are now quite powerful.

I have started naming these people on my little Telegram channel. They all were involved or somehow complicit in the #Metro17 case.

After the verdict, Shokhista wrote a letter to Judge Andrei Morozov, congratulating him on finally pacifying Russian society by “finding the terrorists” and wishing him health and happiness.

How many lawyers are currently defending Karimova?

Two: the lawyer Sergei Shostak, who joined the defense at my request, also pro bono, and fully shares my position, and me.

Despite the obvious inconsistencies in the trial of the Petersburg Eleven and the defendants’ complaints of torture, the case did not fall apart in court, and the defendants received huge sentences. Why do you think this happened?

The answer, perhaps, can be found in the verdict itself and in the way the trial was run. The text of the verdict does not cite any of the arguments the defense made, nor does it analyze the events of 3 April 2017 themselves. The court point-blank refused (sic!) to examine the [bombed] subway car as material evidence or the improvised explosive devices, entered into evidence by the prosecution, nor did it uphold any significant defense motion on the merits of the charge. And it allowed the illegal presence of unidentified and unmarked masked persons armed with firearms in the courtroom.

The court was neither independent nor fair. I personally feel very sorry for the judges. They did something vile.

Can ordinary people help defendants in political cases?

“Ordinary people” cannot do anything. But I believe in the capabilities of my fellow citizens—caring, thoughtful, and ready to tell the truth. The internet, petitions, collective appeals, and publicity can help—especially publicity.

* * *

The obvious inconsistencies in the case and testimony by the defendants that they had been subjected to hours of torture during the investigation did not prevent the trial court from finding them guilty and sentencing them to long terms in prison.

So far, there has been no massive grassroots campaign demanding a normal investigation of the case of the Petersburg Eleven. The medieval division into “friends” and “foes” has been firmly established in Russian society. Actually, this is nothing new: this is what usually happens amidst the wreckage of social institutions that have become obsolete.

First, people are evaluated by skin color, then people from the “wrong” ethnic groups are imprisoned: all this happened relatively recently by the standards of history. The country that conquered fascism interrogates hundred-year-old veterans who sacrificed their health and strength in that long-ago war with fascism. The so-called prosecution throws random people behind bars—disempowered construction workers, maintenance men, and kitchen workers from the former fraternal republics. So-called public opinion equates the concepts of “immigrant” and “terrorist.” The so-called state turns into a madman fleeing from its own shadow.

Zanovo Media will keep you updated about the plight of Shohista Karimova and the other defendants in the trial of the Petersburg Eleven.

_____________________

Earlier today, Natalia Sivohina posted the following on her Facebook page by way of prefacing her article: “Recently, I posted a link to the website Zanovo, and today I published my first article there. The article is about Shohista Karimova, who worked as kitchen prep in the Moscow Region and was a defendant in the case of the terrorist attack in Petersburg. This ordinary, very nice woman visited our city for the first time after her arrest. No one knows the current whereabouts of the people actually involved in the crime committed in April 2017. But it is now quite clear to me that the defendants in the case of the Petersburg Eleven are random people who incriminated themselves under torture. Alas, this is the case in today’s Russia, which likes to rant about the ‘fight against fascism.’ Knowing about this case makes me uneasy. I felt quite scared when I wrote this article and talked to Shohista’s lawyer. But, you know, there are things that you can’t keep quiet about, because they concern everyone. Please, if you haven’t heard anything about  Karimova, read this article about her. The hearing of the appeal against her verdict is scheduled for tomorrow. I really want to hope for the best.”

Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on the presumed terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway, the case against its alleged “financers and planners,” its roots in the Islamophobia that has infected Russia under Putin, and the shocking lack of local and international solidarity with the eleven Central Asian migrant workers scapegoated and convicted in the case: