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