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
Decemrber 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.

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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:

Jenya Kulakova: A Letter from Dilmurod

dilmurod-2Dilmurod Muidinov. Photo courtesy of Regnum and Jenya Kulakova

Jenya Kulakova
Facebook
February 24, 2020

I received a Federal Penitentiary Service (FPS) Letter Service letter from Dilmurod Muidinov. (He is 22 years old, and he was sentenced to nearly the same number of years—20—for the bombing in the Petersburg subway, something he obviously had nothing to do with.) He wrote super-small on the reply form to make as much fit as possible , while the resolution of scan was very low, and so I wound up with a bunch of pixels. (Update: Lyova helped me with the image, so I’ll be able to read it, yay!)

Dilmurod is a gnarly letter writer and an interesting correspondent who has a sense of humor and a fascinating story. He has permitted me to publish his letters, so I’m going to post here his previous letter, in which he writes about how he came up with a cake recipe called “Gentle Morozov” (named after the judge who sentenced him to 20 years in maximum security), and about how he, an ethnic Uzbek, witnessed the ethnic riots in Osh in 2010, when he was 13 years old.

dilmurod-1

A scan of Dilmurod Muidinov’s letter to Jenya Kulakova. Courtesy of Jenya Kulakova

“I made a cake the other day. I turned on my imagination and made it following my own recipe, which I gave the name “Gentle Morozov.” :) Maybe I can treat you to it someday, and if I am somehow able to sell the recipe to a pastry shop, I will ask that they not change the name.”

“When I was 13 years old, we had a genocide in our city. I witnessed women, old people, and children being killed and burned only because they were from a different ethnic group, and at the age of 22 I witnessed everything that has happened to me now.”

Read his letter and write to Dilmurod or anyone else from the group of eleven people convicted for the bombing in the Petersburg subway. You can read about the case and the defendants on this website: http://3apr2017.tilda.ws. And here is information you need to send letters via the FPS Letter Service.

Remand Prison No. 5 (Arsenalka):
Кarimova, Shohista Sodikovna, born 1971 (sentenced to 20 years in prison)
Remand Prison No. 6 (Gorelovo):
Azimov, Abror Ahralovich, born 1990 (sentenced to life in prison)
Remand Prison No. 1 (Kresty):
Azimov, Akram Ahralovich, born 1998 (28 years in maximum security)
Ortikov, Sodik Zokirovich, born 1979 (22 years in maximum security)
Ermatov, Muhamadusup Bahodirovich, born 1991 (28 years in maximum security)
Ermatov, Ibrahimjon Bahodirovich, born 1993 (27 years in maximum security)
Mirzaalimov, Mahamadusuf Dilshadovich, born 1995 (20 years in maximum security)
Mahmudov, Azamjon Asadovich, born 1994 (20 years in maximum security)
Hakimov, Seifulla Vahitovich, born 1978 (19 years in maximum security)
Ergashev, Bahrom Hasilovich, born 1978 (19 years in maximum security)
Muidinov, Dilmurod Furkatovich, born 1997 (20 years in maximum security)

Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on the presumed terrorist attack, 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 defendants in the case:

Prosecutor Asks for Life in Prison for Four Defendants in Petersburg Show Trial

KMO_158163_00033_1Shohista Karimova. Photo courtesy of Fontanka.ru

Court Asked to Sentence Some Defendants in Petersburg Subway Bombing Case to Life in Prison
Mediazona
November 18, 2019

The prosecutor has asked the court to sentence some of the defendants in the 2017 Petersburg subway bombing case to life in prison, our correspondent has reported from the courtroom.

The prosecutor [Nadezhda Tikhonova] asked the court to sentence Akram Azimov, Abror Azimov, Ibrahimjon Ermatov, and Muhamadusup Ermatov to life imprisonment in a high-security penal colony and fines of one million rubles [approximately 14,000 euros] each. She asked the court to sentence Sodik Ortikov to 28 years in a maximum-security penal colony and a fine of one million rubles. She requested sentences of 27 years in a maxium-security penal colony and fines of one million rubles each for Mahamadusuf Mirzaalimov, Azamjon Mahmudov, Seifulla Hakimov, Bahrom Ergashev, and Dilmurod Muidinov.

Defendant Shohista Karimova had a nervous breakdown during the hearing, which led to a thirty-minute recess. After the recess, Karimova refused to return to the courtroom, screaming and resisting attempts to make her move. Consequently, the hearing was postponed until tomorrow.

Convening in Petersburg, the Moscow District Military Court began hearing the case on April 2, 2019. All the defendants pleaded not guilty, and four of them said they had been brutally tortured. On April 17, 2017, an explosion occurred on a subway train traveling between the stations Sennaya Ploshchad and Tekhnologichesky Institut. Sixteen people were killed, and another fifty [sic] people were injured.

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Yana Teplitskaya
Facebook
November 18, 2019

Today, the state prosecutor announced her wishes in the Petersburg subway bombing case: life imprisonment for four of the defendants (the Azimov brothers and the Ermatov brothers), and between 27 and 28 years in prison for all the other defendants, except Shohista Karimova. (The prosecutor will request a sentence for her tomorrow.)

And she asked that all the defendants be fined a million rubles each.

Most likely, the sentences handed down by the court will not differ greatly from the prosecution’s wishes. (Maybe the more uproar there is now, the greater the difference will be.)

Most likely, the verdict will be upheld on appeal.

Most likely, someday this case (like hundreds of others) will be reviewed, and the convicted defendants exonerated.

I’d like to live to see the day when that happens. And for the accused and their loved ones to live to see it, too.

http://3apr2017.tilda.ws/#court

Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on the terrorist attack, the case against its alleged planners, its roots in the Islamophobia that has infected Russia under Putin, and the shocking lack of local and international solidarity with the thirteen defendants in the case: