Yevgenia Litvinova: Stop the Crackdown in Crimea!

litvinova placard“Stalinist prison sentences. Crimean Tatars: 7, 8, 12, 12, 18, 19 years. Network Case: 6, 9, 10, 13, 14, 16, 18 years. Coming soon to a location near you!” Photo by Yevgenia Litvinova

Yevgenia Litvinova
Facebook
February 18, 2020

#StopCrackdownInCrimea #FreeCrimeanTatars

Strategy 18

Today I will go to Nevsky Prospect and do a solo picket as part of Strategy 18’s indefinite protest campaign in support of the Crimean Tatars.

My placard addresses the huge sentences handed out to people convicted of far-fetched “crimes.”

My family went through all of this once upon a time. My grandfather was arrested in 1934 and shot in 1937, while my grandmother was imprisoned for nearly 20 years in the Gulag. It is a good thing there is a moratorium on the death penalty, and the arrests have not yet become widespread. But otherwise, the same thing is happening.

In November 2019, the following Crimean Tatars—ordinary people, ordinary believers—were sentenced to monstrous terms of imprisonment:

  • Arsen Dzhepparov, 7 years in prison
  • Refat Alimov, 8 years in prison
  • Vadim Siruk, 8 years in prison
  • Emir-Usein Kuku, 12 years in prison
  • Enver Bekirov, 18 years in prison
  • Muslim Aliyev, 19 years in prison

In February 2020, the defendants in the Network Case—ordinary young men, anarchists—were sentenced to the following monstrous terms of imprisonment:

  • Arman Sagynbayev, 6 years in prison
  • Vasily Kuksov, 9 years in prison
  • Mikhail Kulkov, 10 years in prison
  • Maxim Ivankin, 13 years in prison
  • Andrei Chernov, 14 years in prison
  • Ilya Shakursky, 16 years in prison
  • Dmitry Pchelintsev, 18 years in prison

I will remind you of the famous quote: “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.” And so on.

What is happening now with the Crimean Tatars—86 of them have been arrested for being from the “wrong” ethnicity and having the “wrong” faith—tomorrow could happen to anyone.

What is happening now with the lads from the Network Case—they were convicted based on testimony obtained under torture—tomorrow could happen to anyone.

Let’s show solidarity with those who have been marked out as sacrificial victims today.

Let’s try and pull these people out of the dragon’s mouth.

When we are together, we have a chance.

Today’s Strategy 18 protest in support of the Crimean Tatars will take place on the corner of Nevsky Prospect and Malaya Sadovaya at 7 p.m.

Join us!

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Network Case in Context

Scenes from the reading of the verdict in the Network trial in Penza on February 10, 2020. Filmed by Vlad Dokshin, edited by Alexander Lavrenov. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

Vladimir Akimenkov
Facebook
February 10, 2020

Today’s verdict in Penza was terribly inhumane, exorbitantly vicious, and so on, of course. The Putin regime handed out humongous sentences to members of the anti-authoritarian scene, punishing them for exercising their right to be themselves. Anarchists and non-official antifascists were severely and cruelly punished by the dictatorial regime—acting through the FSB and a kangaroo court—for their DIY activities, for making connections outside the official, formalized world, for dissenting, for rejecting all hierarchies. These political prisoners have been sent to the camps for many years, and it will take an enormous effort to keep them alive, if they are sent to the north, to keep them healthy and sane, and to get them released early. I wish them and their relatives and friends all the strength in the world.

Unfortunately, many people have reacted to the verdict in the Network Case as if it were utterly unprecedented, as if the bloodbath in Chechnya, and the torture and savage sentences meted out to defendants in other “terrorist” cases had never happened. It as if, even recently, their own government had not committed numerous crimes against the people of Ukraine and Syria, against prisoners in camps and other “others,” against National Bolshevik party activists and a range of other movements, against young radicals and people who professed the “wrong” religion, and on and on and on.  People, including political activists, have been surprised by the torture of the defendants, the rigged trial, and the harsh sentences in Penza, as if they lived in a happy, prosperous society, not a totally toxic, brazen empire whose security forces are the heirs of a centuries-long tradition of butchery and fanatical cruelty.

You are not supposed to say out loud what I am about to write, but if the young men had attacked government offices, there would probably have been no national and international solidarity campaign on behalf of these political prisoners. Or they would simply have been tortured to death or subjected to extrajudicial executions. If the Networkers had gone to jail for direct actions, a good number of Russian “anarchists” and “antifascists” would have disowned them, stigmatized them, urged others not to help them, and denounced them to western socialists. This was what really happened to the Underground Anarchists a hundred years ago: they were condemned by their “allies,” who wanted to go legal and curried favor with the Red despots.  The same thing has happened in our time: there were anarchists who hated on the young Belarusians sentenced to seven years in prison for setting fire to the KGB office in Bobruisk, the political refugees in the Khimki Forest case, the persecuted activists of the Popular Self-Defense, and Mikhail Zhlobitsky. Or, for example, some of the people in the ABTO (Autonomous Combat Terrorist Organization) case, who were sent down for many years for arson attacks: they were tortured and accused of “terrorism,” and we had to work hard to scrape away the mud tossed at them by the state and “progressive” society. Oddly enough, the attitude of “thinking people” to “incorrect” political prisoners is matched by the Russian government’s refusal to exonerate Fanny Kaplan or the revolutionaries who blew up the Bolshevik Party city committee office on Leontievsky Lane in Moscow on September 25, 1919. (After the bloodshed in Moscow in 1993, however, Yeltsin made the populist move of exonerating the people involved in the Kronstadt Rebellion.)

One of the places we should look for the roots of the savage trial of the Penza prisoners is the disgusting newspeak that people in the RF have been taught—”the president’s orders have not been implemented,” “the government has sent a signal,” “the annexation of Crimea,” “the conflict in Donbass,” “the clash in the Kerch Strait,” “s/he claims s/he was tortured,” “s/he claims the evidence was planted,” “the terrorists of the People’s Will,” “Chechen terrorists,” “the Russophobe Stomakhin,” “the neo-Nazi Astashin,” “the guerrilla band in the Maritime Territory,” “the terrorist attack in Arkhangelsk,” and so on.

Various people, including people from the anarchist scene, have written that the Network Case has shattered them and the people they know. If this is so, it is even worse than the outrageous criminal case itself. Yes, I am a living person, too, and yes, I find it very hard myself. But we cannot let the circumstances bend and break us: this is exactly what they want. This is especially the case if you are a consistent foe of systematic oppression, if you are an anarchist. Really, people, what would you do if the regime launched a truly massive crackdown on dissenters of the kind we have seen in the past, from tsarist Russia to Erdogan’s Turkey, from America at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to the Iran of the ayatollahs? However, a massive crackdown would entail having a mass liberation movement, something that does not exist in today’s Russia. By the way, it would appear that our half-strangled semi-free media have been doing an excellent job of spreading fear among the atomized masses by regaling them with stories of the state’s repressive policies, of its crimes and nefarious undertakings, instead of using the news to instill people with righteous anger.

We can assume that the brutal verdict in the Network Case and other instances of rough justice on the part of the state will have direct consequences for the Kremlin both at home and abroad. Generally speaking, evil is not eternal. Over time, people will be able to overcome their disunity, believe in themselves, and finally destroy the thousand-year-old kingdom of oppression. “The jailed will sprout up as bayonets.”

politzeki1“Russia’s political prisoners: the jailed will sprout up as bayonets.” A banner hung over Nevsky Prospect in Petersburg by the Pyotr Alexeyev Resistance Movement (DSPA) in August 2012. Photo courtesy of Zaks.ru

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

Elena Zaharova
Facebook
February 10, 2020

I don’t understand.

You can throw a brick at me, you can ban me, you can do what you like, but I don’t get you. Why this sudden mass fainting spell? When the authorities started abducting, murdering, and imprisoning the Crimean Tatars in 2014, you didn’t notice. Okay, you couldn’t care less about Crimea and Ukraine. The authorities have long been imprisoning members of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Kazan and Bashkortostan, but there’s the rub—we defend Jehovah’s Witnesses, not Hizbites. And the authorities have been sentencing the Crimean Tatars and the Hizbites to ten years, twenty years, twenty-two years in prison. But you haven’t heard about that. And suddenly today you say, “Oh the horror!!! It’s fascism!!!”

It’s the same with the Constitution. The authorities long ago trampled it into the dust, killing it off with Federal Law No. 54 [on “authorization” for  demonstrations and public rallies] and giving us the heave-ho. No one noticed. For the last couple of weeks, however, everyone has been calling on people to defend the Constitution—that is, to defend what it is written in a booklet that everyone was too lazy to read before.

Need I mention the wars no one has noticed yet?

Only don’t remind me about the dozens of people who have been picketing outside the presidential administration building in Moscow for two years running. I have nothing but praise for them, but they are the exception.

Vladimir Akimenkov was one of the defendants in the Bolotnaya Square Case and currently raises money for Russian political prisoners and their families. Elena Zaharova is an anti-war and civil rights activist. Translated by the Russian Reader

Eduard Nizamov Gets 23 Years Hard Time for Thought Crimes

nizamovEduard Nizamov. Photo courtesy of Idel.Realii (RFE/RL)

Court Sentences Kazan Resident Eduard Nizamov to 23 Years in Maximum Security for Managing Hizb ut-Tahrir
Regina Gimalova
Idel.Realii (Radio Svoboda)
February 10, 2020

Today, February 10, the Central Military District court in Yekaterinburg announced its verdict in the trial of Kazan resident Eduard Nizamov, accused of managing the Russian wing of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Nizamov was sentenced to 23 years in a maximum-security penal colony.

The Kazan resident was charged with financing terrorism (punishable under Article 205.1.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code), organizing terrorist activity (Article 205.5.1), and attempting to seize power illegally (Article 278.30.1). Nizamov pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. He and his defense attorney, Rifat Yakhin, consider the case a frame-up.

During the trial, the defense revealed the real identity of a secret witness who testified to investigators. The defense argued that their testimony was used to implicate Nizamov.

“This witness, whose identity was hidden under a man’s name, allegedly donated money to finance Hizb ut-Tahrir’s activities. In fact, the witness is a woman whose child goes to the same school and studies in the same class as my client’s child,” Yakhin said.

“The financing of terrorism” in question was the payment of 200,000 rubles to Nizamov. According to Yakhin, the woman acting as a hidden witness gave his client this amount because Nizamov was building her a house. He argues that the authorities “got to” the woman, whose husband was then serving time for involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir. Investigators were unable to find this amount of money in Nizamov’s possession during the investigation.

The prosecutor asked the court to sentence Nizamov to 25 years in a penal colony and fine him 200,0000 rubles, to be paid to the state treasury. The defense asked the court to acquit Nizamov. The court sided with the prosecution, finding Nizamov guilty on all three counts and sentencing him to 23 years in a maximum-security penal colony and ordering him to pay the 200,000 rubles.

Nizamov was detained on October 10, 2018, at his home in Kazan. He was suspected of running the Russian wing of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir organization. In September of last year, the final version of the charges against Nizamov were made public. In addition to managing the organization, he was charged with financing terrorism and planning the violent seizure of power.

Two other residents of Kazan, Ildar Akhmetzyanov and Rais Gimadeyev, were also detained on the same day as Nizamov. They were identified by authorities as “leaders” of the banned organization in Tatarstan.

All of them have pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. The maximum punishment for the crimes they are alleged to have committed is life in prison.

After his arrest, Nizamov complained that officers at the remand prison had tortured him. He also said that his cellmates had been provoking him. According to our source, Nizamov was moved to another cell after his story went public.

In 2005, Nizamov was convicted of involvement in an extremist organization, as punishable under Article 282.2.2 of the Criminal Code, and sentenced to two years’ probation.

Hizb ut-Tahrir was designated a “terrorist organization” in Russia in 2003. According to human rights activists, the decision was groundless, since there was no evidence that members of the movement had ever planned or carried out terrorist attacks. The Memorial Human Rights Center has placed Nizamov on its list of Russian political prisoners.

Thanks to Elena Zaharova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Strategy 18: Solidarity with the Crimean Tatars

75446606_2661252097260912_2388569229000441856_o“Strategy 18 is three years old. Crimean Tatars, we are on your side.” Photograph courtesy of Yevgenia Litvinova

Yevgenia Litvinova
Facebook
November 18, 2019

Our indefinite campaign in support of the Crimean Tatars is three years old today.

Strategy 18 holds monthly solo pickets on the eighteenth day of every month in solidarity with the Crimean Tatars and provides daily updates on human rights violations in Crimea on its Facebook page and VK page.

Today we will again be going to Nevsky and standing with placards. My placard is shown on the photo, above.

The topic of this week’s picket is particularly sad: the Stalinist prison terms handed down to six Crimean Tartars on November 12:

  • Muslim Aliyev, 19 years
  • Inver Bekirov, 18 years
  • Emir-Usein Kuku, 12 years
  • Vadim Siruk, 12 years
  • Refat Alimov, 8 years
  • Arsen Jepparov, 7 years

We look forward to seeing everyone who sympathizes with the Crimean Tatars today, November 18, at 7:00 p.m., on the corner of Nevsky Prospect and Malaya Sadovaya Street. Join us!

_________________________________________________

Russia: Emir-Usein Kuku and five co-defendants from occupied Crimea slapped with long sentences
Amnesty International
12 November 2019

The Russian authorities have shown remarkable cruelty in sentencing Crimean human rights defender Emir-Usein Kuku and his five co-defendants to lengthy prison terms on trumped-up charges after lengthy unfair trial, said Amnesty International, reacting to today’s decision of the Southern District Military Court.

“This decision brings to a close what can only be described as a sham trial. Since they were arrested three years ago, Emir-Usein Kuku and his five co-defendants have faced a catalogue of grave injustices. They were shipped from their homes in Crimea to the Russian mainland, accused of ‘terrorist’ crimes, and tried in front of a military court,” said Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Director.

“Emir-Usein Kuku is behind bars simply for speaking out for the rights of the Crimean Tatar community. It is devastating that he has fallen victim to the overt repression of the occupying power. The Russian authorities must immediately quash the unjust convictions and release Emir-Usein and the other five men sentenced today.”

Background
On 12 November, the Southern District Military Court found Emir-Usein Kuku and five his co-defendants, Muslim Aliyev, Vadim Siruk, Enver Bekirov, Refat Alimov and Arsen Dzhepparov, guilty of “organizing of the activities of a terrorist organization” and “attempted forcible seizure of power” (Part 2 Article 205.5 and Article 30, Article 278 of Russian Criminal Code). Muslim Aliyev was sentenced up to 19 years in a penal colony, Enver Bekirov – to 18 years, Vadim Siruk and Emir-Usein Kuku – to 12 years each, Refat Alimov – to 8 years and Arsen Dzhepparov – to 7 years.

Emir-Usein Kuku is a human rights defender and prominent member of the local Crimean Tatar community in Crimea. After the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, he joined the Crimean Human Rights Contact Group, exposing evidence of coercion and threats to the members of the community. In February 2016, he was arrested and charged on the accusation that he was a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist movement that is banned as “terrorist” in Russia but not in Ukraine.

Five Crimean Tatars Sentenced to as Long as 17 Years in Prison in Rostov-on-Don

800px-Flag_of_the_Crimean_Tatar_people.svgThe Crimean Tatar national flag. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Five Crimean Tatars Sentenced to as Many as 17 Years in Prison in Rostov-on-Don
Anton Naumlyuk
Radio Svoboda
June 18, 2019

The North Caucasus Military Court in Rostov-on-Don has rendered a verdict in the Simferopol Hizb ut-Tahrir trial.

Five Crimean Tatars were detained after searches of their homes in October 2016. They were charged with involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization that has been banned in Russia. One of the five defendants, Teimur Abdullayev, was also charged with organizing cells for the organization in Simferopol.

During closing arguments, the prosecution has asked the court to sentence the defendants to between 11 and 17 years in prison. However, except for Abdullayev, who was sentenced to 17 years in a maximum-security prison camp, the other four defendants were given longer sentences than the prosecutor had requested. Uzeir Abdullayev was sentenced to 13 years in prison. Emil Jemandenov and Ayder Saledinov were sentenced to 12 years in prison, while Rustem Ismailov was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

The convicted men had pleaded innocent to the charges. Their defense team plans to appeal the verdict.

“We are not terrorists. We have not committed any crimes,” Uzeir Abdullayev said in his closing statement. “I would also like to say that the criminal case [against us] was a frame-up, a fabrication. The secret witness alone was proof of that—and he was proof of our innocence. […] I thus want to show that human rights are violated in Russia and you violate your own Constitution.”

Nearly 70 individuals have been arrested in Crimea, occupied by Russia since 2014, as part of the criminal investigation into Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization that is not illegal in Ukraine and most European countries. Most of the suspects and defendants in the case, include the Crimean Muslims convicted today, have been declared political prisoners by the International Memorial Society, an alliance of human rights organizations headquartered in Moscow.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Beat the Crimean Tatars, Save Russia!

simferopolThe defendants in the Simferopol Hizb ut-Tahrir trial in Rostov-on-Don. Photo courtesy of Crimean Solidarity and Krym.Realii

Numerous Searches Underway in Crimean Tatar Homes in Connection with “Terrorism” Case, Several Men Detained
OVD Info
June 10, 2019

Police have been carrying out numerous searches in the homes of Crimean Tatars in several Crimea towns and villages. One man has been charged with organizing a terrorist organization or involvement in one. This news was reported on the Facebook page of Crimean Solidarity activist Luftiye Zudiyeva and the movement’s official Facebook page.

It is known that four people have been detained. Eldar Kantimirov was taken from the village of Zarechnoye in an unknown direction. According to activists, he was charged with organizing a terrorist organization or involvement in one (Russian Criminal Code Article 205.2). The particulars of the case, like Kantimirov’s whereabouts and his official status in the case, are still unknown. They may have to do with the religious organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, which has been declared a terrorist organization in Russia.

Riza Omerov, who lives in Belogorsk, was taken to FSB headquarters. His sister is married to Rustem Ismailov, a defendant in the Simferopol Hizb ut-Tahrir trial. Omerov has three children. His wife, who is seven months pregnant, has now gone into premature labor.

Ayder Jepparov was detained in the village of Zuya in the Belogorsk District. He was also taken to FSB headquarters.

Eskender Suleymanov was detained in Stroganovka, a village in the Simferopol District. He is the brother of Ruslan Suleymanov, a defendant in the Hizb ut-Tahrir trial. The activist was taken to FSB headquarters in Simferopol.

The homes of Ruslan Mesutov, in the village of Maly Mayak, and Lenur Halilov, chair of the religious community in the village of Izobilnoye, both located in the Alushta District, were also searched.

UPDATE. Ruslan Mesutov has been detained. Like Eldar Kantimirov, he has been accused of involvement in a terrorist organization (Russian Criminal Code Article 205.5 Part 2).

Lenur Halilov has been accused of organizing terrorist activities (Russian Criminal Code 205.5 Part 1).

Ayder Jepparov, Riza Omerov, and Eskender Suleymanov remain in police custody. It is still not known whether they have been charged as part of the criminal case.

A search has also been underway in the home of Enver Omerov, Riza Omerov’s father. FSB officers stopped his car and detained him during the night. OVD Info has been unable to ascertain whether the security forces have released him.

FSB investigator Sergei Makhnev, who has been involved in the case of the second Simferopol Hizb ut-Tahrir group, led the search. Makhnev has already stated Suleymanov’s case would be incorporated into this case.

UPDATE 2. Crimean Solidarity has reported that Riza Omerov, Enver Omerov, Ayder Jepparov, and Eskender Suleymanov were remanded in custody until August 5.

Russia has declared Hizb ut-Tahrir a terrorist organization. Its members have been charged and sentenced to long terms in prison only for gathering at people’s homes, reading religious books, and recruiting new members.

According to numerous experts, Hizb ut-Tahrir was wrongly declared a terrorist organization since its members in Russia have never advocated violence or been involved in terrorist attacks.

_________________________________________________

Rostov: Prosecutors Ask Court to Sentence Simferopol Hizb ut-Tahrir Trial Defendants to 17 Years in Prison
Krym.Realii
June 10, 2019

Our correspondent reports the prosecution in the first Simferopol Hizb Ut-Tahrir trial has asked the North Caucasus Military District Court in Rostov-on-Don to sentence the defendants to long terms in prison camps.

The prosecutor asked that Teimur Abdullayev be sentenced to 17 years, Rustem Ismailov, to 13 years, Uzeir Abdullayev and Ayder Saledinov, to 12 years, and Emil Jemadenov, to 12 years.

On October 12, 2016, five homes in Crimea were searched by police and security services. Consequently, the five men currently on trial in Rostov-on-Don were detained and charged with involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization that was banned in Russia and Crimea, which Russia occupied in 2014.

On December 6, 2018, it transpired the five men had been transferred to a remand prison in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.

On February 19, 2019, a secret witness was interrogated during a hearing of the Simferopol Hizb ut-Tahrir case by the North Caucasus Military Court in Rostov-on-Don.

Hizb ut-Tahrir, an international Islamic political organization, says its mission is to unite all Muslim countries in an Islamic caliphate, but it rejects terrorism as a means of attaining their goal. They claim they have been unjustly persecuted in Russia and Crimea, which was occupied by Russia in 2014.

The Russian Supreme Court banned Hizb ut-Tahrir in 2003, placing it on a list of organizations deemed “terrorist.”

Defenders of the Crimeans convicted and arrested in the Hizb ut-Tahrir case argue they have been persecuted on religious grounds. Lawyers note that, while it has mainly been Crimean Tatars who have been persecuted by Russian law enforcement as part of the case, Ukrainian, Russians, Tajiks, Azeris, and non-Tatar Crimeans who practice Islam have also been persecuted.

International law forbids an occupying power from enforcing its own laws in occupied territory.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Alexander Verkhovsky: Russia’s Campaign Against “Religious Extremism”

yaltinskoe_delo_hizb_ut_tahrir_1.jpgRussia has used its official ban on the Muslim movement Hizb ut-Tahrir to go after Crimean Tatars in occupied Crimea, such as these six men, charged in the so-called Yalta Case. The fact that the defendants are neither terrorists nor members of Hizb ut-Tahrir has not stopped Russian authorities from prosecuting them for these imaginary crimes. Courtesy of Crimean Tatar Resource Center

Russia’s Campaign Against “Religious Extremism” Has Been Expanding: It Should Be Reined In
Alexander Verkhovsky
Nezavisimaya Gazeta
March 5, 2019

The dramatic events of recent weeks surrounding the Jehovah’s Witnesses, including the harsh prison sentence handed down to Dennis Christensen, and the torture of detained believers in Surgut, make us wonder how unique what has been happening to them has been.

First, we should recall the bare facts. The Russian authorities have banned numerous texts published by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, including their translation of the Bible into Russian. All their local branches have been banned and their property confiscated. More than forty criminal cases are underway, cases in which 120 people, aged 23 to 84, have been charged. Twenty-five of those charged have been remanded in custody. All of them have been charged with going on with the work of a banned “extremist” organization (punishable under Article 282.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code), although this amounted only to holding prayer meetings and group discussions

The Russian Supreme Court decided to ban the Jehovah’s Witnesses completely on April 20, 2017. Criminal cases based on the ban were launched a year later, that is, over a hundred suspects were charged in a matter of ten months, and yet not a single case has gone to court yet.

In fact, Christensen was convicted on the basis of an earlier ban of a local Jehovah’s Witness branch. There were eight such bans of local branches. Unlike his co-religionists, convicted earlier under the same ban, Christensen was sentenced to actual prison time. After the so-called Yarovaya package was adopted by the Russian parliament, he had to be sentenced to no less than six years in prison, and this was what happened. It should make us extremely concerned about what will happen to current and future suspects, especially the ones now jailed in remand prisons.

But what has happened to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia is not unique. In exactly the same way, the peaceable followers of the fundamentalist movement Tablighi Jamaat and the peaceable followers of the quite moderate Turkish theologian Said Nursi have been banned in Russia and persecuted under the same law in the Russian Criminal Code.

The pattern was the same. First, the texts published by the groups were banned because, allegedly, they claimed the superiority of their religious doctrines to others and contained hostile descriptions of non-believers. Then, the organizations themselves were banned for the same reasons, including using the banned texts in their worship services. Finally, the Russian authorities prosecuted believers for “going on with the work” of their now-banned organizations. Moreover, the courts usually gave defendants probation sentences at first. Subsequently, however, people convicted on the same charges were sent to prison and the sentences handed down were harsher.

The Muslim activists were also tortured by Russian law enforcement. The current shock over events in Surgut can be put down to the fact that Russian society is in some sense inured to the torture of Muslims suspected of “radicalism.”

The Russian Supreme Court banned all three groups: the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the followers of Said Nusri, and Tablighi Jamaat. For some reason, it paid no mind to the fuzzy definition of “extremism” to which it resorted in all three rulings. It is true that all three religious doctrines claim only their way is the true way and that all other ways are false, and their texts occasionally contain rather harsh descriptions of non-believers. The current Russian legal definition of “extremism” is such that these things can be considered evidence of “extremism,” but you could find more or less the same things in nearly all religious doctrines. Such claims are typical of confessions of faith, and, as such, they are protected by the Russian Constitution.

With regard to criminal cases of incitement to hatred, including religious hatred, in 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that criticism of religious convictions, religious rituals, and religious groups is not a criminal offense. For some reason, however, this ruling has not been applied in civil cases banning religious literature and organizations, although the conflict between the procedure for banning religious “extremism” and Russia’s constitutionally enshrined freedom of conscience is striking. Perhaps unraveling this conflict is a job for the Russian Constitutional Court?

Returning to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, we should again pay attention to the scale of their persecution. The number of accused Jehovah’s Witnesses in terms of one calendar year has been much greater than the numbers of the two Muslim groups mentioned. It is more comparable to the persecution of the radical movement Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islaami.

Hizb ut-Tahrir was banned in 2003 as a terrorist group, although it has not been implicated in terrorism. The Russian authorities were clearly in a hurry to ban it, so the actual danger it posed or did not pose to the constitution was not even at issue. Members of the movement have been charged under the anti-terrorist laws in the criminal code, and so their prison sentences have been even harsher. But there are similarities with the other religious groups we have been discussing: participating in group gatherings and reading the same texts were offered as evidence of their criminal deeds.

Another serious conflict emerges in this case between the Russian Constitution and the articles in the Russian Criminal Code dealing with “extremist” (Article 282.2) and “terrorist” (Article 205.5) groups. Let us assume for simplicity’s sake that a group has been banned altogether legitimately. When this happens, the group’s formal and informal members are obliged to honor the court’s ban. But they have not changed their views, and they still associate with the same group of people. It is likely they would want to discuss what to do in the circumstances: perhaps, for example, establishing a new group based on slightly different principles. If we are dealing with a dangerous group that has been rightfully outlawed, such discussions and meetings could not help but interest the police and security services, but they are hardly criminal in their own right, for these people have not been deprived of their basic civic rights, including the right to assemble. Besides, not only active members could take part in these meetings but also outsiders, and yet law enforcement does not especially distinguish between the two groups of people in practice.

These problems are more apparent when we speak of religious communities. The Russian Constitution enshrines the right to practice one’s religion both alone and in the company of others. The work of any religious organization mainly consists in praying together and other joint activities, such as confessing and preaching as part of religious services. If a religious association has been banned, its members are in effect barred from exercising their constitutional right. If Russia’s current anti-“extremist” laws are meant to enact such severe restrictions of a fundamental human right, this have never been explicitly stated. So, again, one would like the Russian Constitutional Court to issue a clarification. It is, after all, a matter of tens of thousands of Russian nationals potentially facing criminal charges.

Since there have not been any clarifications, and the current crackdown has only been picking up steam, many have wondered how it happened. There is hardly a single, simple answer to this question. We might say that in their campaign against potentially dangerous movements, the Russian authorities have gone much too far and made a considerable number of mistakes. One of the reasons is that they listened to politically and religiously biased “experts,” and they continue to heed their advice, judging by the way the anti-“extremist” campaign has progressed in the religious realm. Our many years of experience with these cases have shown that counterarguments by religious studies scholars and legal experts rarely reverse the current tendency. They prove useful only when the authorities are willing to listen to them for reasons of their own.

The growing campaign against the Jehovah’s Witnesses has been horrifying, but there is also the chance that this time someone in the elite will finally come to their senses and change their mind. The Jehovah’s Witnesses clearly pose no threat whatsoever to Russian national security. Moreover, it is clearly just as impossible to eradicate their religion in Russia, since it would be wrong to jail or force over 100,000 people to emigrate, especially since Russia’s Jehovah’s Witnesses did not give up their faith in the worst of times.

The problem, however, is whether the officials who make key decisions about large-scale crackdowns could find acceptable means for reconsidering their earlier decisions. If this does happen, it matters, given the constitutional conflicts described above, whether anti-“extremist” policies will be reconsidered, if only in the religious realm.

Alexander Verkhovsky is director of the SOVA Information and Analysis Center. Thanks to Nikolay Mitrokhin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader