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

An Islamophobic Witch Trial in Moscow Ends with Hefty Sentences for Swarthy Men Who Read Banned Books

KMO_169609_00017_1_t218_222045Defendants in the trial holding up a homemade placard that reads, “Oh people! Wake up. We’re not tourists.” Photo courtesy of Kristina Kormilitsyna and Kommersant. Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up

In Moscow, Hizb ut-Tahrir Defendants Sentenced to 11 to 16 Years in Prison
OVD Info
February 15, 2019

The Moscow District Military Court has sentenced defendants in the so-called Hizb ut-Tahrir case to eleven to sixteen years in medium security penal colonies, reports Moscow News Agency.

The men were found guilty of violating either Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 205.5 Part 1 or Part 2, which criminalizes involvement in the work of an organization deemed a terrorist organization. According to investigators, the accused men read “banned literature, including religious and ideological texts” in a rented apartment in Moscow from October 7, 2016.

The prosecutor had originally asked the court to sentence the accused men to thirteen to seventeen years in prison.

Interfax reports that Zafar Nodirov, the cell’s alleged leader, Farhod Nodirov, and Hamid Igamberdyev received the maximum sentences.

Sobirjon Burhoniddini, Alijon Odinayev, Muradjon Sattorov, Otabek Isomadinov, and Aziz Hidirbayev were sentenced to eleven to twelve years in maximum security penal colonies.

Four of them did not deny their involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir. They claimed the organization was a political party whose members did not engage in prohibited activities.

The twelve natives [sic] of Central Asia were arrested in December 2016. Three defendants in the case pleaded guilty and were sentenced to ten to twelve years in maximum security penal colonies.

Hizb ut-Tahrir is an international pan-Islamist political organization. It is banned in a number of Muslim countries and Russia. It is also banned in Germany for not recognizing the state of Israel. The SOVA Center for Information and Analysis has argued the party has been wrongfully deemed a “terrorist” organization in Russia.

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

___________________________________________________

Why Ban Hizb Ut-Tahrir? They’re Not Isis—They’re Isis’s Whipping Boys
William Scates Frances
The Guardian
February 12, 2015

Another day, another Islamic State (Isis) meme. This one is a rather well done mimicry of the pamphlet style of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Its title reads “Hizb ut-Ta’khir”—translated roughly as the “party of delay”—and its bold headline reads, “Establishing the Khilafah since 1953.”

Beneath, the disclaimer reads: “I know, we have got nowhere so far, but we have lots of conferences and heaps of flags and are really good at sitting in cafes.”

This is not the first meme about Hizb ut-Tahrir to be spread around the oft deleted and resurrected pro-Isis Twitter handles. The Dawlah twittersphere (Dawlah meaning “state,” shorthand for Islamic State) is full of them, all of a similar theme, all targeting Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Reading much of the commentary in recent months, you would not expect Hizb ut-Tahrir to be the target of Isis supporters’ mockery. However, contrary to the common equivalency made between the two groups, the gap between Isis and the Hizb has never been wider. They are not only very different, but for some time have been in active opposition.

Hizb ut-Tahrir is a nonviolent political group that imagines itself as speaking truth to power from within the belly of the beast. Isis is a violent utopian movement that views staying in the west as inherently suspect. Hizb ut-Tahrir’s membership are generally inclined towards the classical Islamic sciences, while Isis affiliates are “Salafi-Jihadi” in approach.

Hizb ut-Tahrir has a party structure, with defined roles and official party lines. Isis is scattered, with isolated spokespeople of varied authority and rhetorical skill. The primary similarity between the two is their religion, but when their membership, approach, rhetoric and demographics are so utterly distinct, the comparison stops there.

In Australia, Hizb ut-Tahrir is something like the Muslim equivalent of a socialist student movement. Its prominent members are mostly tertiary-educated and imagine themselves as a sort of Muslim consulate to the west. They are avowedly nonviolent in their approach, but do not shy away from supporting specific “mujahedeen” groups in current conflicts, though this support has rarely been found to go beyond the rhetorical and is confined to wars within the Muslim world.

Like the aforementioned socialist student groups, their main form of communication comes through pamphlets and fiery speeches delivered by a small cadre of speakers from within their party structure.

Isis, on the other hand, is nothing like this. While in Raqqa and Mosul the group has something approaching a governance structure, in Australia the supporters of the group have no coherent hierarchy. Rather, “Dawlah fanboys,” as they are known to some, are scattered individuals confined to hidden Facebook groups, anonymous Twitter accounts and the occasional coy “spokesperson.”

They imagine the Islamic State as a sort of Muslim utopia, a land “free of humiliation.” They view themselves as destined to fight the good fight against the tyranny and disbelief which defines a postcolonial Muslim world. That they use memes is telling; they are a wholly different demographic from Hizb ut-Tahrir. Much of their membership seems to be both less educated and of a lower socioeconomic status. They deride the Hizb as all talk, and say as much often and publicly.

On the other side, Hizb ut-Tahrir has, in the few media releases in which they address Baghdadi directly, invoked verses of the Qur’an regarding the curse of God upon tyrants and their servants. This rhetoric has only increased since a senior member of the group was reportedly executed in Aleppo for “questioning Baghdadi’s self-proclaimed Caliphate.” Hizb ut-Tahrir called dibs on the Caliphate, and they view Baghdadi’s group and his title as wholly illegitimate.

Much was made of Wassim Dourehi’s refusal to denounce Isis during his Dateline interview with Emma Albarici. This was no show of support; Dourehi’s refusal was Hizb ut-Tahrir exposing the media’s ignorance of their movement. Further, it only takes a cursory look at Hizb ut-Tahrir’s website to see that they are embroiled in a bitter and ongoing feud with Isis.

While Tony Abbott has not confirmed whether the federal government will attempt to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir, it would be foolish to do so. Hizb ut-Tahrir thrives on bans. It is banned in a large number of the regimes of “taghout”—tyrants, as their language describes it—and they wear these bans as a mark of honor, as a sign of their legitimacy and the fear their truths inspire. Indeed, the lack of a ban is used by some Isis supporters to prop up a persistent rumor that Hizb ut-Tahrir is a government front.

As it stands, Hizb ut-Tahrir is a whipping boy. Whenever Isis does something bad, they are dragged out in public to get a flogging. The idea that banning the Hizb will somehow reign in Isis or stop the spread of their rhetoric shows just how much this ignorance pervades discussions of public policy.

There Is a Party in Warsaw Tonight

anti aircraft warning

All the retrospective, self-aggrandizing, virtual handwringing I have been seeing on Russophone social media in recent days, occasioned by the fiftieth anniversary of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, seems obscene on the part of people who have had nothing whatsoever to say, good or bad, about Russia’s signally destructive role in shoring up Assad’s brutal dictatorship in Syria.

What’s the difference between 1968 and now?

The difference is that the Czechs and Slovaks were “white” “Christian” Slavs, while Syria is, unfortunately, populated by people that Russians, many of whom hilariously regard “political correctness” as the greatest threat to civilization, would tend to think of as “blacks,” which is a term of real racist abuse in Russian.

Worse yet, most of those “blacks” are Muslims.

Syrians are thus sub-humans and, as such, were put in their place by a superior “white” nation.

Maybe very few Russians actually have bothered to think this through explicitly, but there is almost no evidence the vicious Russian bombing of opposition-held towns in Syria has bothered much of anyone in Russia at all, so the rest of us are free to impute any and all motives whatsoever to their actions and inaction. And remember, on this sad anniversary, that at the time only something less than a dozen brave Russians opposed the invasion of Czechoslovakia publicly. {TRR}

 

Photo by the Russian Reader

Emir Hussein Kuku: 23 Days on Hunger Strike

274381Emir Hussein Kuku

Anton Naumlyuk
Facebook
July 19, 2018

Emir Hussein Kuku

Guards did not give Emir Hussein Kuku the baby food his wife Meryem brought and tried to have delivered to her husband,  hoping that, if he did not stop his hunger strike, he would at least ease up a bit. Kuku has been on hunger strike for 23 days. He has demanded the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia. The guards initially took the care package from his wife, but they quickly returned it, since Kuku refused to quit his hunger strike.

Kuka has written himself about the state of his health.

“On the 22nd day of my hunger strike, my condition leaves much to be desired, to put it mildly. My left kidney (which FSB Special Forces officers beat in 2015) really hurts, as does my heart and something under my left ribs and in the front of my chest; my pancreas, probably. The area around my liver and my right kidney hurt, but they hurt less. I feel the pain if I stand up or sit reading. If I lie down, the pain subsides, but it doesn’t go away entirely. It’s hard to fall asleep. I toss and turn, sleepless, almost until morning. I won’t bother mentioning trifles like dizziness, the weakness I feel when I take five steps in my cell, the constant thirstiness, the vile taste in my mouth, and the smell of acetone.

“On July 16, I was again transported to the hospital for inmates with TB. The doctors have not divulged the outcome of the tests and ECG, but their faces tell me the news is not good. Actually, for several days, the doctors in the remand prison have stopped talking to me about my condition. They have even stopped weighing me. Apparently, this is due to publication of my statement about my health. The big shots with the stars on their epaulettes banned them from playing into the hands of ‘enemies of the state.’ All I found out in the TB hospital was that my ‘official’ weight was 67.8 kilograms, meaning I have lost 11 kilograms. Although, according to my calculations, I should weigh around 66 kilograms, since I weighed 68.5 kilograms on July 12, and I’ve been losing 0.6 kilograms a day.

1530198608-9959Emir Hussein and Meryem Kuku

“They have not been giving me any maintenance therapy—no glucose, no vitamins, nothing. Apparently, top-ranking officials do not want a second Sentsov, someone who would be able to drag out a hunger strike for months if he got care in the form of glucose and vitamins. They realized the mistake they made [with Senstov]. They have to break me quickly.

“Earlier, I was warned that if I didn’t give up the hunger strike, they would be forced to hospitalize me in the TB hospital, a place teeming with inmates infected with tuberculosis and HIV. It’s a TB hospital, after all.”

The trial of the so-called Yalta group in the Hizb ut-Tahrir case is currently underway in the North Caucasus Military District Court [in Rostov-on-Don].

Photos courtesy of 112.International and Unian. Translated by the Russian Reader

Zeitgeist Checklist

taste real mexicoA Williamsburg-inspired eatery in snowy central Petersburg, 5 February 2018. Photo by the Russian Reader

It’s remarkable how the MH17 final report and Ukrainian political prisoner and filmmaker Oleg Sentsov’s hunger strike have exacerbated two sad trends among Russia’s left/liberal/creative/academic intelligentsia.

The first trend involves intelligenty out-Putining Putin and his regime’s put-on anti-Americanism by ramping up the number of social media posts and hasbarical hate-a-grams about the US, its sinister machinations, and its signal failings.

This is part of the same operetta in which the nefarious NATO is a greater threat to world peace than a country that reserves the right to invade its closest neighbor and join in crushing a democratic, grassroots rebellion in a faraway country whose people have never harmed Russia in any shape or form.

But it’s no fun talking, much less doing anything, about that at all, because it would require real collective effort. So, depending on your political tastes, it’s much easier, as a Russophone, to hate on NATO or Hamas.

Some Russians go for the trifecta, hating on both “terrorist” organizations, while also indulging in the most satisfying infantile pleasure on our planet today: Islamophobia. You know, Europe has been overrun by Islamic terrorists and that whole tired spiel, which gives such a sense of purpose to otherwise wildly ignorant people who have betrayed their own country and countrymen so many ways over the last 25 or 30 years it should make all our heads spin.

The other trend, which has also kicked into high gear again, is going hipster as hard as you can. There are any number of “projects,” “creative clusters,” eating and drinking establishments, festivals, semi-secret dance parties, and god knows what else in “the capitals” to make the younger crowd and even some of the middle-aged set forget they live in a country ruled by a ultra-reactionary kleptocratic clique that can have any of them abducted for any reason whatsoever at a moment’s notice and charged with “involvement in a terrorist community” or some such nonsense and ruin their lives forever.

That’s no fun to think about it, either, and it’s altogether scary to do something about it, so why not pretend you live in Williamsburg while you can?

The day before yesterday, I translated and posted an essay, by Maria Kuvshinova, about Oleg Sentsov’s hunger strike and the non/reaction to this brave call to action on the part of Russia’s creative so-called intelligentsia. At some point, I thought the essay might be a bit off the mark, but on second thought, despite its obvious quirks, I decided Ms. Kuvshinova had sized up the Russian zeitgeist perfectly.

Post-Soviet infantilism is total. It affects the so-called intelligentsia no less than the so-called ordinary folk. Infantilism means being unable to empathize, being unable to put yourself in another person’s shoes, even if that person is President Putin, a man with a quite distinct sense of ethics, a man who has been studied backwards and forwards for twenty years. Apparently, the message sent to the creative communities through the arrest of Kirill Serebrennikov was not registered. If you want to be a dissident, start down the hard road of doing jail time for misdemeanor charges, facing insuperable difficulties in renting performance and exhibition spaces, becoming an outsider, and experiencing despair. If you want a big theater in downtown Moscow, play by the rules. Like your average late-Soviet philistine, Putin regarded the creative intelligentsia with respect at the outset of his presidential career. (See, for example, footage from his visit to Mosfilm Studios in 2003.) However, a few years later, he was convinced the creative intelligentsia was a rampantly conformist social group who would never move even a millimeter out of its comfort zone and would make one concession after another. A lack of self-respect always generates disrespect in counterparts. // TRR

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

DSCN0877
Monument to Emperor Nicholas I, the so-called gendarme of Europe, on St. Isaac’s Square in Petersburg, 13 October 2017. Photo by the Russian Reader

Below the fold you’ll find an angry screed I wrote on Facebook a year ago. Since nothing has changed for the better since then, it’s as relevant today as it was then. Thanks to Comrade RA for the reminder. TRR

*****

Here’s the kicker. You literally cannot see almost any reaction on the part of almost any Russians to this mayhem in Syria caused by their government, none at all. Middle-class Russians and Russian intellectuals continue to lead their lives as they have before, chockablock with business and leisure trips to other parts of the “civilized world,” and other, more important activities. They don’t give a second’s thought to what is happening in Syria for one simple reason: because Islamophobia, if this is possible, is even more widespread in Russia than in Europe and the US. The Syrians blown to bits on a daily basis by Russian bombs are not just abstractions to Russians; they’re hateful abstractions, “terrorists.”

Most importantly, it would be news to 99.999% of Russians that the war in Syria started as a grassroots, non-violent, non-sectarian, extraordinarily popular, and extraordinarily determined revolution against the vicious, monstrous regime of Bashar Assad. A revolution that Assad has drowned in blood and used foreign allies (Hezbollah, the Iranians, and now the Russians) to put down.

The reason this would be news to most Russians is not only that their Goebbelsesque TV channels have been lying to them about what is happening in Syria (when they bother to talk about it at all, which is not always the case) but that they don’t want to hear news about more determined, more popular grassrooots revolutions against corrupt tyrants in other countries, because their own “snow revolution” of 2011–2012 was such an abortive miserable failure.

That is the other kicker. Since Putin faced popular discontent in 2011–2012 in a more or less visible form, he has become even more keen on the half-baked notion that all such popular uprisings are instigated by outside forces and powers. So now, echoing Emperor Nicholas I in the nineteenth century, he has dedicated himself to restoring Russia’s great power status by acting as a reactionary, anti-revolutionary gendarme in countries like Ukraine and Syria.

But this discussion is utterly moot in Russia itself, where way too many people are way too fond of their being “civilized” (i.e., being “white”) to give a thought to the untermenschen their bombs are obliterating in a “non-white,” “uncivilized” country like Syria.

Since they are not forced to think about it, they’d rather not think about it all. And they don’t.

A Rainbow May Day in Petersburg vs. The Dead in Chechnya

Varya Mikhaylova
Facebook
May 1, 2017

I don’t know what else to on May 1 when LGBT people in Chechnya are facing flagrant genocide, so today this was how it went down. Now we have been detained and taken to the 43rd police precinct. A man who came out bearing a placard that read, “Putin, go away. Putin is evil” was detained with us. It’s forbidden to say that now, too.

Chechen Mothers Mourned Their Bloodied Children on Nevsky

On May 1, 2017, activists staged a performed on Nevsky Prospect, the city’s main boulevard, during which Chechen mothers mourned and sprinkled their children with earth. Prone on the ground, the bodies of the LGBT people were covered with rainbow and Chechen flags. The performance was meant to express solidarity with the people of the Republic of Chechnya as well as draw attention to the horrifying events occurring there now.

Since the beginning of the year in Chechnya, which is part of Russia, there have been numerous illegal detentions, torture, and executions of homosexual men, including men deemed homosexual. We know of hundred of victims, dozens of them murdered. Even as they deny the occurrence of genocide, local officials have publicly justified these atrocities by citing medieval “ethnic traditions” and “Muslim values.”

The persecution of LGBT people in Chechnya and the North Caucasus is nothing new. The region has long been plagued by rampant corruption, violence, and murder, affecting everyone who lives there. However, targeted mass killings are a new phenomenon. Both local and federal authorities are to blame for the state terror. On the one hand, they have vigorously popularized “traditional religious values.” On the other, they have proved incapable of opposing the spread of radical Islam and ensuring the enforcement of the Russian Constitution and human rights. Impunity on the ground encourages terrorism and radicalization, leading to the deaths of civilians not only in Chechnya but outside it. Consequently, terrorists  exploded a bomb in the St. Petersburg subway for the first time in the city’s history.*

“Cruelty is a severe infection that is prone to pandemic. It is not a one-off event. They started with the people of Chechnya and, although many imagined that would be the end  of it, they continued with ‘their own kind,’ as is now the ‘patriotic’ expression,” wrote Anna Politkovskaya.

The escalation of terror is a vivid example of how the violation of human rights and violence against a particular group can quickly balloon into violence against everyone.

We demand the strict observance of Russian federal laws in Chechnya and preservation of the Russian state’s secular nature. We demand that religious fanatics who are calling for violence be punished according to the law. We demand an investigation of allegations of widespread torture and executions of gays in Chechnya and severe punishment for the guilty parties, including government officials.

#MayDay #Chechnya #MayDayLGBT  #RainbowMayday #LGBT

Photographs by David Frenkel, Alexandra Polukeyeva, and Fontanka.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader

* NB. I have translated and posted the above out of a sense of solidarity and friendship with the people who staged this action during today’s May Day marches on the Nevsky in Petersburg.

However, I would be remiss not to note the striking Alexei Navalny-like anti-Caucasus/anti-Muslim rhetoric in the protesters’ communique, which, of course, is not unique to the otherwise admirable anti-corruption fighter, but is a commonplace in the non-thinking of many “ethnic” Russians. As thoroughly deplorable and despicable as the persecution of gay men in Chechnya and anywhere else is (what, are gay men not persecuted in “Russia proper”?), the activists quote the slain journalist and human rights activist Anna Politkovskaya while seemingly forgetting why she was assassinated: because she wrote truthfully about what Russian federal armed forces and police were doing in Chechnya. Moscow’s successive bloody invasions of Chechnya in the 1990s and the 2000s, involving the torture and rape of non-combatants, the wholesale slaughter of civilians, and mass displacement of the local population might seem to be more appropriately qualified by the word “genocide” than what has been happening recently to the republic’s gay men, however horrifying. Not to put too fine a point on it, “Russians proper,” with the notable exception of Politkovskaya and a brave but tiny minority of others, have never been able to assign the responsibility for what happened in Chechnya where it belongs, and they have been aided and abetted by the other “world powers” (i.e., the “former” colonial and imperial powers), who were only too happy to turn a blind eye to what first Yeltsin and then Putin were up to in their own backyard, so to speak. If Chechnya is now an out-of-control autocracy, run by an “Islamist” strongman-cum-madman, Russians have only to look in the mirror to find out who is to blame for this deplorable state of affairs.

Nor, finally, is it a given that the recent bombing in the Petersburg subway (which wasn’t even the first such bombing, in fact) was the work of “radicalized Islamists.” Of course, that is one possibility. But there are other possibilities, as any “Russian proper” who hasn’t had his or her memory erased would realize.

When the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly passed its infamous homophobic law several years ago, there was no popular outcry against the law on the part of Petersburgers, the vast majority of whom are not Muslim and thus cannot be suspected of adhering to “medieval Muslim values.” Nobody but a handful of people “rioted” in the streets, and as far as I can tell, Petersburgers still, inexplicably, regard themselves proudly as “Europeans,” although they have this disgusting “medieval” law on the books, and many of the same local Petersburg riot cops (OMON) who wearily drag them into paddy wagons and kettle them when they occasionally want to exercise their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly were, as is well known, on active combat duty in Chechnya during the First and Second Chechen Wars and are, possibly, guilty of God knows what war crimes against the “uncivilized” Chechens, whose tiny, beautiful corner of the world has been ravaged at least three times in living memory by their Great Russian rulers. TRR