The Ufa Twenty: 329 Years in Prison for Nothing

Alexandra Kalistratova
Facebook
September 21, 2020

⚡️⚡️⚡️Today a panel of judges at the Russian Supreme Court upheld the sentences of eighteen of the defendants in the case of the so-called Ufa Twenty. They reduced the sentence of one defendant from 22 years to 21 years.

Here are the sentences according to the appeals ruling:

Rinat Nurlygayanov — 24 years
Rustem Khamzin — 23 years
Linar Vakhitov — 22 years
Rustem Galyamov — 22 years
Artur Salimov — 22 years
Danis Fayzrakhmanov — 22 years
Rafael Fattakhov — 22 years
Radik Akhmetov — 21 years
Khalil Mustafin — 21 years
Azamat Kayumov — 20 years
Ilgiz Gimaletdinov — 14 years
Irek Tagirov — 14 years
Shamisl Sharipov  — 14 years
Alexander Kornev — 13 years
Ural Yakupov — 13 years
Fanis Akhmetshin — 11 years
Farit Mustafayev — 11 years
Radmir Maksutov — 10 years
Ruslan Fattakhov — 10 years

All the defendants convicted in the case will serve their sentences in high-security penal colonies.

They were given the sentences for suspected involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is officially deemed a “terrorist organization” in Russia.

The ruling was made by a judicial panel consisting of the presiding judge Igor Krupnov and judges Alexander Voronov and Oleg Derbilov.

Translated by the Russian Reader

ufim 20Images from the appeals hearing in late August. Courtesy of RFE/RL

Karinna Moskalenko: Ten Questions about the Ufa Twenty
Rights in Russia
August 25, 2020

Karinna Moskalenko is a lawyer, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, and founder of the International Protection Centre

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Эхо Москвы]

The real tragedy-cum-farce of our times are the events unfolding in the Supreme Court of Russia right now. [The Supreme Court’s judicial panel] on cases concerning military service personnel is currently considering the appeal of a group of Muslim activists from Bashkortostan (with no connection at all to the military) in a case best known as case of the Ufa Twenty. In fact, the judicial panel has already commenced the appeal proceedings, and it’s worthwhile attending for anyone who can visit the Supreme Court Building (the address is 12 Maly Kharitonyevsky Pereulok, entrance to the court is free but you should bring your passport).

Recently, there have been several prosecutions related to the Islamic movement Hizb ut-Tahrir that began with ambiguous and ‘murky’ charges and ended with lengthy prison sentences – sometimes exceedingly so. Case in point: one of my clients was sentenced to serve 24 years in a maximum-security penal colony, while some of my other clients were given sentences only slightly shorter in length. Yet despite the already lengthy sentence, the Prosecutor’s Office has submitted an appeal demanding a tougher sentence for this client.

This has forced our international team of lawyers to get involved with the case and attempt to fathom the true nature of what can best be described as a repressive campaign launched by the authorities. If the authorities plan to launch this campaign soon under some sort of official title, we should really establish who the ultimate beneficiaries of such a campaign are.

Without doubt, the law enforcement agencies are one of the biggest beneficiaries. Thanks to this campaign of repression, law enforcement officers can now ‘heroically’ rise in status, adorn themselves with awards, and climb the career ladder, and all by ‘exposing’ so-called ‘criminal groups’ like Hizb ut-Tahrir with little effort. It’s all a rather devious business. Law enforcement officers carry out Operational Investigative Measures (what people often call ‘Special Repressive Measures’ [these have the same initials in Russian – ed.] and infiltrate agents who often act as provocateurs. And instead of combating real crime, blatant banditry, protection rackets, corruption that has paralysed the state, and the many crimes left without investigation, instead, without especial effort or risk, they catch dozens of innocents in their nets who have gone to discussions in search of the meaning of life, religious knowledge, and to read religious literature together – religious literature that includes pamphlets published by Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organisation banned in Russia. It is these people who become the victims of these deviously set out traps.

If you were an unbiased observer, you would immediately see that there is no evidence at all of acts of violence or even preparation to commit such acts, and there is simply no crime at all.

If you were some sort of an incorrigible hardliner, you might say: sure, let them all go to jail anyway as a precaution, as a lesson to everyone else.

We, however, don’t just have purely human sympathy for the people prosecuted in this case, we also have a lively professional interest. We have yet to fully form an in-depth legal opinion, but the court so far has refused to accept even well-founded appeals from the lawyers who have newly taken up the case after reviewing the more than 374 volumes of the case materials.

While this remains the case, here are ten short questions of the kind ‘One curious person can ask enough questions that hundreds of clever people can’t answer.’

1. Why do the authorities drag people into the criminal justice system and sentence them to maximum prison stretches for activities which do not exhibit the slightest trace of terrorist or violent behaviour, and why has the decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, banning this movement, not been officially published in order that those whose rights have been impacted by it can at least appeal against it?

2. Why does the military court system become involved with cases of non-military persons and even non-combatants who have never used weapons and are not going to do so? How has such an abnormal practice evolved and how has it been justified?

3. Why did the preliminary court hearing hold the most important part of the trial in closed court, in the absence of any justification on legal grounds?

4. Why were those defendants, who made the slightest attempts to make statements and voice objections, removed from the courtroom ‘until the end of the trial’ in such a rough manner that other defendants were simply afraid to deliver their own statements?

5. It is impossible to establish where, from whom and under what circumstances the prohibited literature was seized. It ‘emerged’ to form the charges and the evidence in this case. Where did the protocols of the searches disappear from the case files? Who failed to keep them secure? Why were the statements of the criminal investigative department destroyed?

6. What happened during the trial at court of first instance with the defence team in this case? Can they be considered as effective and adequate, judging by the position and actions of the defence as reported in the court transcript?

7. What is wrong with the trial transcript if it does not correspond, according to the statements of the defendants, to the progress of the trial or the audio recording of the trial, and if the comments of the defendants themselves on the transcript of the trial are not considered by the court?

8. Can the trial at first instance be considered fair and impartial if its many decisions regarding the pre-trial detention of the defendants over the course of many years has already been recognized by the European Court of Human Rights as violations of human rights?

9. Why did the court of appeal begin to hear the case, despite the fact that those convicted had not been able to read the dozens of volumes of court reports on the case and their new lawyers had not been able to examine all the materials of the case?

10. Why did the judicial panel for cases involving military service personnel, even without waiting for the end of the trial, engage in reprisals against the lawyers, initiating disciplinary cases against them? Was it because they had reacted to particularly intolerable violations of the court with urgent complaints and telegrams to the chair of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation? And should not any lawyer, in the face of arbitrary behaviour by any official, defend the rights of their clients by all means not forbidden by law, instead of passively watching irreversible procedural violations take place?

So this is the case currently being considered by the judicial panel ‘for cases of people with no connection to the military’ involving victims of numerous miscarriages of justice, though this is far from all the violations in the case, but just the most pressing questions… The court must respond to these questions after hearing from the parties during these days of the trial.

Though it is regrettable to note, there is little hope for justice. Suffice to say that the oral hearings began with a scandal, namely with a violation of the adversarial principle. Judge for yourself. The two sides filed their objections to the judgment in an appeal. Who should be the first to speak in this instance? The prosecution, of course, so that the defence may object to the arguments of the prosecution based on the results of the appeal proceedings. But the court gave the prosecution the last word, leaving the defence to speak first(!). The defence objected but were forced to comply. Suddenly, sometime after these protestations, during the statements of the defence, the prosecutor took the floor and, without any introduction or detailed analysis of the evidence, stated that the verdict was lawful and grounded and that he would not uphold the appeal by the Prosecutor’s Office. This was the bizarre way in which the court and the prosecution apparently attempted to justify the violation of the adversarial principle and oral hearing procedures.

Thus, it is the eleventh question that remains the most relevant:

Will the appeal court remedy these violations by overturning the unjust verdict, or will lawlessness prevail?

All concerned citizens attending the trial in the Supreme Court building on Maly Kharitonyevsky Pereulok over the next few days will be able to find the answer to this question.

Translated by Fergus Wright, Graham Jones and Verity Hemp. The translation has been slightly edited to make it more accurate and readable. || TRR

Russia’s War on “Terrorists” and “Extremists” in Crimea and Syria

filatovPersecuted Crimean Jehovah’s Witness Sergei Filatov faces seven years in prison for “extremism.” Photo courtesy of Grati

Prosecutor Requests Seven Years in High-Security Prison for Jehovah’s Witness in Crimea
OVD Info
February 25, 2020

During closing arguments in the trial of local resident Sergei Filatov, who organized meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the prosecutor asked the Dzhankoy District Court to sentence Filatov to seven years in a high-security penal colony, according to the online publication Grati, which cited Filatov himself as its source.

Filatov, who is currently free on his own recognizance, is accused of “organizing the activities of an extremist organization,” punishable under Article 282.2.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code. According to investigators, Filatov, as the head of a religious organization, “undermined the foundations of the constitutional system and the security of the state.” The case files include an audio recording, made by local FSB field officer Vladislav Stradetsky, in which Filatov and other believers can be heard discussing religious topics.

The prosecution claims that Filatov is a co-organizer of a Jehovah’s Witness organization called Sivash, which held gatherings and religious lectures at the defendant’s registered domicile.

The only witness at the previous hearings in Filatov’s trial was a man named Verbitsky, a computer science teacher at a rural school. In September 2019, he testified that he had gone to Jehovah’s Witness gatherings right up until the organization was banned in April 2017, and therefore was unaware of Filatov’s further actions. In November 2019, however, he changed his testimony, saying he had continued attending meetings of believers for another six months or so.

Verbitsky claimed the defendant was intimidating him, so the judge honored his request to hold the hearings in closed chambers. The website Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia reports that the “intimidation” in question was phone calls from strangers. The defense made several requests to hold the trial in open chambers, but to no avail.

Filatov has four children, two of whom are minors. He considers the trial biased,  and the whole case an instance of religious persecution.

“The prosecutor asked the judge to sentence me to seven years for extremist activity—seven years for religious convictions, for believing in God. There was no crime, no culpability. 1951 and 1937 are coming back. They happened in Russia and here [in Crimea]: there are people among us today who were persecuted and sent into exile. This is tyranny and genocide,” Grati reports Filatov as saying after the trial.

In November 2018, the security forces raided a number of homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Dzhankoy. Searches were conducted at several dozen addresses, but only Filatov was detained, allegedly because police found extremist literature and manuals on psychology and recruiting in his home.

On April 20, 2017, the Russian Supreme Court declared the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia an “extremist organization,” disbanded it, and prohibited it from operating in Russia. In August 2017, all Jehovah’s Witness organizations were placed on the official list of banned organizations, sparking a subsequent wave of criminal cases against members of the confession.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Putin: Our Forces Stopped a Serious Threat to Russia in Syria
Asharq Al-Aswat
February 24, 2020

President Vladimir Putin has revealed a decisive Russian military attack last week to prevent Turkish-backed Syrian opposition factions from advancing towards Neirab city.

The Russian military has rooted out well-equipped terrorist groups in Syria and prevented major threats to Russia, Putin said at a gala on Defender of the Fatherland Day.

The attack was followed by intense airstrikes on militant sites in Idlib province.

Putin’s statements came in line with accusations launched by the Kremlin against Turkey on its violation of the Sochi Agreement.

According to Russian sources, the military sought to prevent Ankara from trying to impose a new fait accompli by controlling sites that have been recently occupied by the regime.

Russia “will not allow the return of the previous situation, when Idlib province and its surrounding areas were under the control of Syrian factions,” the sources added.

Putin, however, revealed on Sunday another aim for his country’s intervention in Syria.

Russia’s officers and soldiers have confidently confirmed their high professionalism and combat capabilities, the strength of spirit and their best qualities during the military operation in Syria, he said.

“They have wiped out large and well-equipped terrorist groups, thwarted major threats for our motherland at distant frontiers, and helped the Syrians save the sovereignty of their country,” he stressed, thanking all soldiers who have participated in the fight in Syria.

Putin’s remarks highlighted information circulated on Ankara supplying the Syrian factions with US mobile anti-air systems, which enabled them to shoot down two Syrian army helicopters last week.

The Ministry of Defense said these weapons could be used against Russian forces, slamming Ankara and Washington.

It said both sides “cannot predict how and when the terrorists will use these weapons.”

Putin affirmed Moscow’s intention to continue to enhance its military capabilities and provide its armed forces with the most advanced arms, including laser weapons, hypersonic systems and high-precision systems.

Coffee Klatch Averted in Makhachkala

Six Activists and Journalists Detained After Refusing to Drink Coffee with Makhachkala’s Deputy Mayor
Novoye Delo
January 4, 2019

On January 4, OurCity (GorodNash) activists went to inspect Makhachkala’s main square, Effendi Kapiyev Square, after its reconstruction.

They were met by Makhachkala Deputy Mayor Effendi Khaydakov and a spokesman for the contractor, as well as city hall staffers.

After an exchange of opinions about the quality of the renovation and the completion date, the deputy minister invited the activists to go have a coffee, but they declined his offer and went on inspecting the square.

When the deputy mayor left to drink coffee, two police patrol squads arrived, detaining six people, including Svetlana Anokhina, Arsen Magomedov, Caucasian Knot journalist Musa Musayev, and two cameramen, one of them from city hall’s press service.

Magomedov told Novoye Delo by telephone that they were being taken to the Soviet District Police Department in Makhachkala.

After the square was cleared of activists, Makhachkala Mayor Salman Dadayev came out to chat with the remaining city hall staffers and townspeople.

P.S. Magomedov reported by telephone that all the detainees were released immediately after being delivered to the police department, and they have returned to the square to continue their inspection. Contractors recently handed the square over to the city.

makhachkala our cityOurCity activists in Makhachkala. Photo courtesy of RIA Derbent

What Does Makhachkala Have in Common with Yekaterinburg?
RIA Derbent
May 21, 2019

In Makhachkala, activists from the movement OurCity (Gorodnash) held a picket in support of Yekaterinburg residents protesting construction of a church in a city park.

The people who gathered on Saturday, May 18, also recorded a video message in which they voiced support for Yekaterinburg residents and proclaimed their solidarity with them against construction in park areas. Lawyer Arsen Magomedov said in the video that the Makhachkala activists had likewise been fighting plans to construct a church in the city’s Ak Gel Park.

Local activists have opposed construction of a church in the park since 2017. In September of that year, a memorial cross was dedicated on the site of planned construction in a religious service involving the Russian ethnic communities of Makhachkala, Kizlyar, and the Kizlyar District, as well as the Terek Cossacks of Dagestan. The Lenin District Court was already then considering a suit filed by activists challenging the legality of leasing land in the park for construction of a cathedral, a suit the activists won in December 2017. In April 2018, however, the Russian Supreme Court overturned the ruling by the Lenin District Court.

[…]

[T]he planned cathedral in Ak Gel Park was not the first or last target of Makhachkala urban activists opposed to redevelopment of the city’s green oases. Activists united to form the grassroots movement OurCity in January 2017 after Ramazan Abdulatipov, the former head of Dagestan, spearheaded a campaign to build an interactive museum, Russia Is My History, in Lenin Komsomol Park. After residents of Makhachkala protested, and thousands of people signed a petition opposing the plan, Abdulatipov announced that construction had been postponed in the wake of a “wide-ranging public discussion.” The same year, the now-united urban activists campaigned against plans to redevelop the square opposite the monument to Effendi Kapiyev. In both cases, activists managed to persuade courts to annul decisions by city hall to lease the land.

In December 2017, lawyer and urban activist Arsen Magomedov filed a complaint with the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service about the Makhachkala City Property Committee’s  tendering of a lease to a 520-square-meter plot in 50th Anniversary of the October Revolution Park (aka the Dog Park), a complaint that was upheld. Magomedov used a similar method to annul bidding to construct a residential building in the green belt on Ali Aliyev Street.

Comparing the situation in Yekaterinburg and Makhachkala, Magomedov complained that, over two years of grassroots confrontation and court proceedings, neither the Russian Orthodox diocese nor the municipal or republican governments had engaged in dialogue with activists to resolve the dispute. According to Magomedov, people in Yekaterinburg were able to attract the attention of the federal authorities and win concessions “because the issue turned into a shooting war, with clashes, confrontations, arrests, and fights.”

The protesters in Makhachkala and Yekaterinburg say they are not opposed to building churches, but to the redevelopment of parks. Activists in Makhachkala have suggested moving the construction site one hundred meters away from the park to wasteland near the lake.

We talked to human rights defender and OurCity activist Svetlana Anokhina about what the protests in Yekaterinburg have shown us and how we should think about them.

Svetlana, do you think what has happened in Yekaterinburg will become an example for the entire country?

I’m surprised that what happened here in Makhachkala hasn’t become an example for the entire country. After all, we were able to organize a pressure group of ethnic Russians to file a lawsuit and write a letter to Patriarch Kirill in order to protect the city’s Muslim activists from possible attacks. The authorities tried to politicize outrage over plans to build a church in Ak Gel Park, because everyone understands that if the subject were raised by Muslim activists, they would immediately be accused of extremism and belonging to a nonexistent pro-Islamic sleeper cell, of course.

It doesn’t occur to the authorities that people just want to live a normal city with parks and trees. They don’t notice how they’re destroying the city.

But to make themselves heard, people in Yekaterinburg had to tear down fences and battle the police.

I don’t believe the folks in Yekaterinburg are wrong, or that their actions have been too radical, but such risks are impossible for us. This shouldn’t become an example for the whole country, because it was a spontaneous protest by desperate people, driven to despair by the authorities themselves, who sicked riot cops and martial arts club fighters on them. In my opinion, the protest itself was spontaneous, something you cannot say about the crackdown against the protest, which involved oligarchs and fighters from a martial arts club owned by an oligarch, and the Orthodox Church, which is structured like a military organization, and the police and the authorities. In this light, it is total nonsense to say that the grassroots protests were organized by outside forces, and that the protesters were too radical.

So this is the price for getting the president’s attention and his suggestion to conduct a survey?

You did hear what Yekaterinburg’s mayor said, didn’t you? That there wouldn’t be a referendum on the issue because it required a lot of preparation (a year!), but there would be some kind of public opinion poll. Someone countered him by pointing out that the referendum in Crimea was organized in two weeks.

I don’t like the fact that residents need to get through to the president to solve local problems. Issues like this should be decided at the local level, and if local officials cannot come to an agreement with ordinary people, it means they are not doing their jobs and should be replaced.

Thanks to Marina Ken for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Special Rapid Deployment Force Raids Jehovah’s Witness Gathering in Norilsk

tomsk raidPolice raiding Jehovah’s Witnesses in Tomsk in 2018. Photo courtesy of the website Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia

Special Forces Raid Recreational Compound in Norilsk Where More Than 50 Jehovah’s Witnesses Were Gathered, Criminal Charges Filed
OVD Info
October 22, 2019

On October 20, the Special Rapid Deployment Force (SOBR) raided a recreational compound in Norilsk where more than fifty Jehovah’s Witnesses had gathered, later carrying out searches in some of their homes, according to a report posted the next day on the religious organization’s website. A source in law enforcement confirmed that the raid had happened, according to local news website Tayga.info.

“Masked commandos broke into the building and ordered everyone who was there to surrender their telephones and tablets,” said the report on the Jehovah’s Witness website. Some of the people were then taken away in minivans to be interrogated or have their homes searched. Witnesses noticed the Norilsk Nickel logo on some of the vans.

There is information about searches in five homes. They lasted around five hours. Police confiscated Bibles, computers, tablets, and telephones from the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The interrogations took place at the local headquarters of the Russian Investigative Committee. The people interrogated were asked questions from a questionnaire consisting of twenty-five questions. In particular, they were asked about their affiliation with the “forbidden” faith.

According to Tayga.info’s source, criminal charges have been filed against the leader of the local Jehovah’s Witness community.

On April 20, 2017, the Russian Supreme Court declared the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia an “extremist” organization, abolishing it and banning it from operating in Russia. In August of the same year, all local Jehovah’s Witness organizations in Russia were banned, setting off a subsequent wave of criminal cases against members of the church.

In February 2019, a court handed down the first sentence against a Jehovah’s Witness involving a long term of imprisonment: Danish national Dennis Christensen was sentenced to six years in prison. He has filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which has promised to review it.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Five Time’s the Charm

yashinIlya Yashin is not the only unregistered candidate for the Moscow City Duma against whom the tactic of consecutive arrests has been used. Photo by Yevgeny Razumny. Courtesy of Vedomosti

Yashin Breaks Record for Numbers of Arrests: Moscow Test Drives New Method of Combating Activists
Anastasia Kornya
Vedomosti
August 30, 2019

On Thursday, Ilya Yashin, head of the Krasnoselsky Municipal District Council in Moscow, was sentenced to his fifth consecutive jail sentence of ten days for an administrative violation. The Tverskaya District Court found him guilty of calling on the public to attend an August 3 “unauthorized” protest rally in support of the independent candidates barred from running in the September 8 elections to the Moscow City Duma.

Yashin has been in police custody since July 29. He has been detained every time he left the special detention center after serving his latest sentence. Police have taken him to court, where he has faced fresh charges of holding an “unauthorized” protest or calling on the public to attend one and then been sentenced to jail again. The municipal district councilman has thus been in detention almost continuously for thirty-two days, while the total time he has spent in jail this summer is forty-one days. This considerably exceeds the maximum allowable sentence of thirty days, as stipulated by the Criminal Procedures Code.

Yashin is scheduled to be released on September 7, but there is no guarantee he will not go to jail again.

Yashin’s lawyer Vadim Prokhorov told the court that the prosecution of the councilman was tantamount to a political reprisal. Formally, he noted, one arrest can follow another without violating the law. The problem was that the courts could make one wrongful ruling after another. Prokhorov saw no point in amending the laws, which are quite logical on this point.

“It would be like treating cancer with aspirin,” he said. “We have to change the whole judicial system.”

Ilya Yashin is not the only unregistered candidate for the Moscow City Duma against whom the tactic of consecutive arrests has been used. Former MP Dmitry Gudkov was sentenced to thirty days in jail on July 30, but several days before his scheduled release he was sentenced to another ten days in jail for calling on people to attend the July 27 protest rally. Yulia Galyamina has been convicted of three administrative offenses and sentenced to ten days in jail twice and fifteen days once; she is still in police custody. Konstantin Yankauskas has been arrested and sentenced to seven, ten, and nine days in jail, respectively; like Yashin, he was detained by police after leaving the special detention center. Oleg Stepanov has been sentenced consecutively to eight and fifteen days in jail; Ivan Zhdanov, to ten and fifteen days in jail.

The authorities are unwilling to charge the protest leaders with felonies and remand them in custody, but they clearly do not want to see them at large, said Alexei Glukhov, head of the project Defense of Protest. He noted that the current tactic of arresting opposition leaders multiple times is something novel: in the entire history of the protest movement [sic], no one had ever been arrested more than two times in a row.

Glukhov warned that the tactic was quite dangerous. Courtesy of the Russian Supreme Court, which in the recent past has ruled that violating the deadline for filing charges (legally, the authorities have two days to do this) did not preclude filing charges later, any person who attends a protest rally has the sword of Damocles hanging over their head for a year after the rally.  The authorities can arrest them at any time, for example, by claiming they had only just established their identities.

Glukhov pointed out that, in its review of the government’s draft project for a new Criminal Procedures Code, the Presidential Council on Human Rights had drawn attention to the fact that the one-year statute of limitations in such cases was not justified and could be misused.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Did the FSB “Recruit” for Islamic State in Nizhny Novgorod?

imgbin-islamic-state-of-iraq-and-the-levant-black-standard-boko-haram-syria-others-XD0ZwSqRYuFuazPa6K3kJy23rThe Islamic State’s Black Standard was used by Russian state prosecutors as evidence that three Uzbek nationals resident in the Nizhny Novgorod area were involved with the terrorist organization. In fact, the flag that was entered into evidence in the case probably belonged to an FSB provocateur. Image courtesy of IMGBIN

Video Published Showing Nizhny Novgorod FSB Provocateur Recruiting for ISIL
Irina Slavina
Koza Press
August 25, 2019

On August 22, the Russian Supreme Court’s Judicial Board on Military Cases considered an appeal of the sentences handed down to three Uzbek nationals whom the FSB’s Nizhny Novgorod Regional Office had accused of involvement in ISIL, a terrorist organization banned in Russia. The charges against Azamatjon Urinov (b. 1988), Adishun Husanov (b. 1990), and Dilshodbek Yuldoshov (b. 1996) were based on the testimony of another Uzbek, identified as “Ulugbek,” as well as videos shot with a hidden camera in an apartment, allegedly rented by “Ulugbek” in the Bor Urban District. The videos are posted below.

When it heard the case in February of this year, the Moscow Military District Court, chaired by Judge Albert Trishkin, refused to examine the videos during its hearings. Nevertheless, State Prosecutor Vsevolod Korolyov asked the court to sentence each of the defendants to sixteen years in maximum-security penal colonies for the actions captured in the videos.

urinovaDefendant Azamatjon Urinov’s wife fainted when she heard the prosecutor ask the court to sentence her husband to sixteen years in prison. Photo courtesy of Koza Press

The court demonstrated how much the evidence gathered by state investigators and the arguments made by the persecution weighed by adding Russian Criminal Code Article 30.1 (“preparations for the commission of a crime”) to the charges against the three defendants. This enabled the court to sentence them to shorter terms in prison than were stipulated by Criminal Code Article 205.5.2 (“involvement in the work of a terrorist organization”). Consequently, Husanov was sentenced to seven years in a maximum-security penal colony, while the other two defendants were sentenced to six years each.

It took the court four days to try the case.

In the video below, shot by a hidden camera in the afternoon, “Ulugbek” puts on a black [New York Yankees] cap at the 7:35 mark, gets up out of bed, goes to the closet, and takes a piece of black fabric emblazoned with Arabic script and the ISIL logo [the so-called Black Standard of the Islamic State], which he then hangs on the wall. This flag would later be entered into the physical evidence in the case against Urinov, Husanov, and Yuldoshov. “Ulugbek” would then persuade his countrymen to swear an oath of allegiance to an Islamic state emir. He then, allegedly, went to confess to law enforcement authorities, who classified his identity, exempted him from criminal charges, and sent him back to Uzbekistan.

He did not attend the trial, even as a witness.

In the second video, recorded in the evening, it is “Ulugbek” who talks about the war in Syria and his plans to travel there to help his fellow Muslims. This was established by Husan’s defense counsel, Shuhrat Hamrakulov, who speaks Uzbek.

“Ulugbek” thus entrapped Urinov, Husanov, and Yuldoshov into committing a crime while avoiding criminal prosecution himself; no charges were filed against him. Accordingly, there is good reason to believe he was a provocateur working for the FSB’s Nizhny Novogorod Regional Office.

The Russian Supreme Court’s Judicial Board on Military Cases rejected the appeal of the sentences handed down to Urinov, Husanov, and Yuldoshov, but it reduced their sentences by six months each, their defense lawyers told Koza Press. Their sentences have thus come into force.

Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Sergei Zaitsev gave Nizhny Novgorod prosecutors a dressing-down for the fact that they had not uncovered a single piece of evidence concerning the financing of terrorism in their region.

Thanks to Two Hundred Fives for the heads-up. In her comment to their reposting of this article, Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission member Yana Teplitskaya noted that all three defendants in the Nizhny Novgorod “Islamic State” case were, allegedly, tortured in custody. Translated by the Russian Reader 

Russian Police Tortured Jehovah’s Witnesses in Surgut with Stun Guns

stun master 100-sA stun gun like the Stun Master S-100 could have been used by Russian police on recalcitrant Jehovah’s Witnesses in Surgut. The Stun Master delivers an electric shock of 100,000 volts and sells for a mere $22 at diyhomeprotection.com.

Forensic Examination Confirms Surgut Jehovah’s Witnesses Tortured with Stun Gun
OVD Info
March 28, 2019

Defense lawyers commissioned an independent forensic examination of the wounds on the bodies of six Jehovah’s Witnesses in Surgut. The Stealth Forensic Research Institute concluded five of the men could have been tortured with stun guns. OVD Info has a copy of the institute’s findings.

Burns from stun guns were found on Vyacheslav Boronos, Yevgeny Kairyak, Kirill Severinchik, Alexei Plekhov, and Artyom Kim.

The forensic examiners concluded the wounds on the bodies of the arrested men were consistent with wounds they could have received if they had been shocked with stun guns. The examiners arrived at the findings after analyzing medical files and considering the opinions of experts on the wounds and the photographic and video documentation of the wounds.

In mid February, numerous police raids and searches were carried out in the homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Surgut. At least seven of the men detained during the raids complained they were beaten, humiliated, and tortured with stun guns. OVD Info published an account of these events, as provided by the victims’ lawyer.

On March 27, the Russian Investigative Committee reported the Jehovah’s Witnesses detained during the raids in Surgut had not been tortured with stun guns. But they had been subjected to physical force due to the fact that they, allegedly, had resisted arrest. The Investigative Committee thus explained why there had been bruises and abrasions of the legs of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

In April 2017, the Russian Supreme Court ruled that the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia was an extremist group and banned its work nationwide. In August 2017, all Jehovah’s Witness congregations in Russia were placed on the list of officially banned “extremist” groups.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Here is a list of the articles I have previously published about the new campaign of persecution of Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses:

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Note: This Stun Master stun gun will have an effect anywhere on the body, but the maximum effect is in the following areas:

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Source: DIY Home Protection

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Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights prohibits torture, and “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. There are no exceptions or limitations on this right.

Article 9 – Freedom of thought, conscience and religion

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

The Russian Federation signed the European Convention on Human Rights on February 28, 1996, and ratified it on May 5, 1998.

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

Russia Without Putin

1211505Vladimir Putin playing hockey Moscow’s Red Square on December 29, 2018. Photo courtesy of Valery Sharufulin/TASS and RA’s Daily News Blast

Yana Teplitskaya
Facebook
December 27, 2018

Police officers usually realize that, whatever they do, they are breaking the law or disobeying standing orders, and since they are afraid of being found out, they definitely don’t talk to the press. Here we have a different story, which I don’t know how to explain. Petersburg opposition activists are well aware of a police officer from the “Third Department” by the name of Ruslan Sentemov, while other people have not heard of him, likely as not. For some reason, Sentemov operates quite openly, going so far as to give the local news website Fontanka.ru a detailed interview about his work.

I don’t knowwhat happened to Petersburg opposition activist Shakhnaz Shitik at the Yabloko Party’s Petersburg office, but this is what happened at the police precinct, as related by Shakhnaz. It has been corroborated by one police officer, nor has it been refuted by the other officers who were present. According to the shift commander, during the incident, all or nearly all the officers at the 78th Police Precinct were in the duty room and were separated from the incident by a glass door. I also understand that Shakhnaz’s account is borne out by the videotape that civil rights activist Dinar Idrisov and Petersburg city councilman Boris Vishnevsky have seen.

Sentemov and two of his colleagues (their names are also known) used force on Shakhnaz. They pressed her head hard to her chest, causing her agonizing pain. Consequently, in the incident report, according to the social defender, in addition to the injuries she suffered at the Yabloko office, damage to her cervical vertebrae was caused at the police station.

Moreover, the officers grabbed Shakhnaz’s telephone by sticking their hands down her painties. No public witnesses or female police officers were present during this search, nor was an incident report filed. Taken from her but not officially confiscated, her telephone lay in the police department, along with her blouse and other clothing, prior to the Public Monitoring Commission’s visit. During the incident, Shakhnaz was wearing a bra. The blouse was returned to her only at the hospital.

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Concerning the sadistic tendencies of our police investigators and judges, I would argue this is an allegory, artistic embellishment. Otherwise, what kind of judicial system do we have? These were your words: the judicial system. The system includes the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court. Are they sadists, too? We should choose our words more carefully. I realize you wanted to rouse us, you wanted to get our attention. You did what you set out to do. Thank you.

The courts and law enforcement agencies are staffed by our fellow Russian citizens. They live in the places we live in. They [were] raised in the same families in which we were raised. They are part of our society. There are probably all kinds of different people everywhere, in all large organizations. If you have a look at the percentage of law enforcement officers convicted of crimes, it has recently increased and increased considerably.

This suggests the work of housecleaning has not stood still. It has intensified and produced certain results. In order to minimize this, however, we do not need repressive actions against the justice or judicial system. We need serious, multi-pronged, multi-faceted work. That is what we have been trying to do on this Council.

Source: Vladimir Putin, Meeting of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, The Kremlin, Moscow, December 11, 2018. Thanks to Yevgenia Litvinova for the heads-up.

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Open Russia Activist Whom Police Assaulted in October Detained in Lipetsk
OVD Info
December 12, 2018

Alexander Kiselevich, the Open Russia activist assaulted by four police officers in October, has been detained in Lipetsk. He has reported the incident to OVD Info.

Kiselevich was stopped near his home by traffic police. After checking his papers, they asked Kiselevich to follow them to the Izmalkovo District Police Department, where he was charged with breaking Article 19.3 of the Administrative Offenses Code (disobeying a police officer’s lawful orders). The policemen told Kiselevich he would be taken to court from the police station.

In October, on the eve of an election to choose the head of the Izmalkovo District Council, Kiselevich was beaten by police officers before being taken to a psychiatric hospital for a compulsory examination. Kiselevich was thus unable to present himself to the competition committee, and his name was struck from the ballot

Kiselevich was charged with breaking Article 19.3 after the incident in October. The police claimed Kiselevich resisted them when they were forcibly delivering him to the psychiatric hospital.

Kiselevich is a well-known opposition activist in Lipetsk Region. In 2016, he was elected head of the Afanasyevo Village Council, but shortly thereafter the majority of council members voted to dismiss him. Kiselevich was charged with embezzlement (Article 160 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code).

UPDATE. Kiselevich has reported to MBKh Media that a court in Lipetsk has found him guilty of disobeying a policeman’s lawful orders and fined him 500 rubles. Kiselevich plans to appeal the sentence.

Translated by the Russian Reader

One Good Turn Deserves Another

Media Identify Prigozhin Firms as Developers of Judicial Quarter in Petersburg
According to Kommersant, Firms Affiliated with Businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin and Concord Management and Consulting Are Project Subcontractors
Grigory Dubov
RBC
December 26, 2018

755458040463897Judicial district construction site in Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Stanislav Zaburdayev/TASS and RBC

Firms affiliated with businessman and restaurateur Yevgeny Prigozhin will build the judicial quarter in Petersburg, a project costing 35.7 billion rubles [approx. 455 million euros] that will include residential buildings for the Russian Supreme Court and Boris Eifman’s Dance Palace, report sources quoted by Kommersant newspaper familiar with the project, which has been designed by the Russian Presidential Property Management Department and construction industry insiders.

The sources say the subcontractor was selected in the summer of 2018 without tendering. The newspaper’s sources claim firms affiliated with Prigozhin have launched the process of awarding commercial tenders and have been requesting bids from major construction companies for the construction of individual buildings without advance payment. One of the Prigozhin-affiliated companies engaged in sending out bid and tender requests is Lizena, a firm founded in 2014.

In 2016, the Russian Presidential Property Management Department pledged it would build two office buildings for the Supreme Court and Judicial Department, the Dance Palance, and four residential buildings containing a total of 600 apartments within four years in Petersburg. Construction was supposed to have begun in 2017, and the opening of the facility was scheduled for 2020. In May 2017, the Presidential Property Management Department declared the project top secret and obliged future contractors to maintain secrecy.

judicial quarterThe future judicial quarter in Petersburg is currently a giant sandbox. Photo courtesy of Alexander Koryakov/Kommersant

Construction was not begun, however. In September 2018, the Presidential Property Management Department acknowledged the deadlines it had set would be missed. As Kommersant wrote, the department failed to spend the 22.3 billion rubles allocated on the project. The funds were reallocated for 2021, when completion of construction has been planned. As transpired in December, an advance payment in the amount of more then 9.2 billion rubles was postponed from 2018 to 2021; no advances are envisaged in 2019 and 2020. As of December 1, according to the Federal Targeted Investment Program, builders in Petersburg had started to dig foundation pits for the residential complex. There was no information about the Supreme Court’s residence and the Dance Palace.

In March, the US Department of Justice imposed sanctions against Prigozhin and his companies Concord Management and Consulting, and Concord Catering. In February, Prigozhin and twelve other Russian nationals, as well as a number of legal entities, were indicted for interfering in the 2016 US elections. Included in the indictment was Prigozhin’s Internet Research Agency, which was abolished [sic] in 2016. RBC’s sources identified the IRA as the “troll factory” that, according to the US Department of Justice, had tried to influence US voters since 2014. President Putin called the charges made against Prigozhin by US officials “laughable.”

prigozhinYevgeny Prigozhin. Photo courtesy of Mikhail Metzel/TASS and RBC

A number of media outlets have also identified Prigozhin as “Putin’s chef.”

At his press conference on December 20, Putin said, “All my chefs are officers of the Federal Protection Service (FSO). All of them are military men. I have no other chefs.”

Translated by the Russian Reader