RUSSIA: Persecution against religious organizations and believers, monitoring by Sova Center
HRWF (27.10.2020) – Every month, Sova Center publishes an update of the persecution of believers of all faiths in Russia.
In September, the Southern District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don sentenced eight alleged members of the banned Islamic radical party Hizb ut-Tahrir. They were charged under Article 205.5 Parts 1 or 2 of the Criminal Code (organizing the activities of a terrorist organization or participating in it) and Article 278 of the Criminal Code in aggregation with Article 30 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (preparations for the forcible seizure of power). The court sentenced Marlen Asanov to 19 years in a penal colony, Memet Belyalov – to 18 years, Timur Ibragimov – to 17 years, Seyran Saliev – to 16 years in a penal colony, Server Mustafaev – to 14 years, Edem Smailov and Server Zekiryaev to 13 years each. Ernes Ametov was acquitted (as far as we know, this was the first acquittal in a Hizb ut-Tahrir case). We oppose the practice of charging Hizb ut-Tahrir supporters under anti-terrorist articles, since the organization does not practice violence, and the charges against them are only brought for their party activities, such as holding meetings, studying and distributing the party literature, and so on. The fact that the party preaches the idea of creating a world Islamic caliphate does not give sufficient grounds for charging its followers with planning a violent takeover of power in Russia.
We learned in September that, back in mid-August, the Volzhsky District Court of Saratov issued a verdict under Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code (organizing or participating in an extremist organization) in the case of a group of six farmers – Radik Galimjanov, Bakhtiar Baykulov, Aydyngali Mindagaliev, Aslan Makhmaliev, Mukhambetzhan Bakhmetov – charged with involvement in the banned Islamic religious movement Tablighi Jamaat. The “cell leader” was reportedly convicted under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code and received three years in a minimum security penal colony with a one-year restriction of freedom. The other five defendants were recognized as members of the cell and sentenced under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code – four to 1 year and four months in a minimum security penal colony with a one-year restriction of freedom, and the fifth one – to a year in a minimum security penal colony with a one-year restriction of freedom. Personalized information about these sentences is not currently available. Tablighi Jamaat was banned in Russia in 2009 – in our opinion, inappropriately. This association is engaged in propaganda of fundamentalist Islam, but has never been implicated any calls for violence; therefore we view the persecution against its supporters as unjustified.
The Sibay Town Court in Bashkortostan fined Damir Kuvandykov in August and Yulia Arslanova in September one thousand rubles each under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (mass distribution of extremist materials). The prosecutor’s office also issued a warning to Arslanova about the impermissibility of violating anti-extremist legislation. Kuvandykov gave his wife and brother three forbidden Islamic religious books to read; this action should not be qualified as mass distribution of materials. Arslanova was prosecuted for reposting The Book of Monotheism by Muhammad ibn Sulayman at-Tamimi (Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab), recognized as extremist. This book contains certain elements of hate speech and a number of positive references to jihad, but, in our opinion, modern standards cannot be applied to 18th century religious works. Therefore we consider the ban against this work inappropriate and believe that people should not be prosecuted for its dissemination.
According to our data, at least five sentences against eleven Jehovah’s Witnesses were issued in September for continuing the activities of their communities that have been banned in Russia as extremist organizations. We view this ban and prosecutions for membership in Jehovah’s Witnesses communities as inappropriate.
- The Berezovsky Town Court of the Kemerovo Region delivered a verdict in the case of Sergei Britvin and Vadim Levchuk in early September. They were sentenced to four years in prison in a minimum security penal colony with a three-year ban on holding certain posts and a year of restriction of freedom under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (organizing the activities of an extremist organization). Britvin and Levchuk were accused of organizing prayer meetings of the banned community in the town of Berezovsky. Both pleaded not guilty and intend to appeal the verdict.
- The Novozybkov Town Court of the Bryansk Region issued a guilty verdict in the case of four believers. Vladimir Khokhlov and Eduard Zhinzhikov, charged under Article 282.2 Part 1 and Article 282.3 Part 1 (financing extremist activities) of the Criminal Code, received a year and three months of imprisonment with additional punishments in the form of one year of restriction of freedom and a three-year ban on holding leadership positions. Tatiana Shamsheva and Olga Silaeva, charged with participating in the activities of an extremist organization (Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code), were sentenced to a year of imprisonment, six months of restriction of freedom and a two-year ban on holding leadership positions. All four were released from their prison sentences, since they had spent a long time under arrest during the investigation.
- The Berezovsky Town Court of the Kemerovo Region found Khasan Kogut guilty under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code and issued a suspended sentence of two and a half years with a two-year probationary period.
- In Rostov-on-Don, a court found a 58-year-old follower of Jehovah’s Witnesses guilty under Article 282.2 Part 2 and Article 132 Part 3 Paragraph “c” (committing violent actions of a sexual character against a person under the age of fourteen) of the Criminal Code and sentenced him to eleven years in a maximum-security penal colony with a one-year restriction of freedom. According to the Investigative Committee, the man was both guilty of preaching and participating in religious meetings of a banned community and “repeatedly committed sexual assault against his three young daughters and their female friend from 2006 to 2008.”
- Yelizovsky District Court of the Kamchatka Territory issued a verdict under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code against Konstantin Bazhenov, his wife Snezhana Bazhenova and Vera Zolotova. Each of them received a two-year suspended sentence with a three-year probationary period and an additional six-month restriction of freedom.
In late August, an investigator of the FSB Directorate for the Sakhalin Region terminated the criminal case against Vyacheslav Ivanov and Dmitry Kulakov from Nevelsk – suspects under Article 282.2 Part 2. The investigator concluded that their actions were “of a general religious nature, connected with the right to practice religion not prohibited in the Russian Federation, which is guaranteed by Article 28 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation.” However, Ivanov remains a defendant in another criminal case initiated under the same article.
The Penza Regional Court commuted in its appellate capacity the sentence of Vladimir Alushkin, a follower of Jehovah’s Witnesses previously convicted under of Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code, replacing his six-year prison term with a four-year suspended sentence in September. The verdict against five other believers, also charged in this case, was upheld by the court.
The Pervorechensky District Court of Vladivostok returned the case of Elena Barmakina, charged under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code, to the prosecutor, noting that the text of the indictment failed to clarify how Barmakina’s exercise of her constitutional right to freedom of religion violated the prohibitions established by the Criminal Code. At the same time, the court continues to consider the case of Barmakina’s husband Dmitry; several believers, who had the status of witnesses in the case, have since become defendants.
In September, we learned about new criminal cases against Jehovah’s Witnesses in different regions of Russia.
- A court in Kazan detained Konstantin Sannikov in late August. The charges against him were brought because meetings, which included reading of religious texts, were held at his home.
- In Vladivostok, Igor Lonchakov was charged under Article 282.2 Part 1 and Ekaterina Treguba – under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code.
- In Blagoveshchensk, the charge under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code was filed against 57-year-old Adam Svarichevsky and 56-year-old Sergei Afanasyev. They were placed under travel restrictions.