Sova Center / HRWF (18.09.2018) – https://bit.ly/2RfV21T – Every month Sova Center publishes a review of the misuse of anti-extremist laws in Russia. Here are a few cases related to freedom of religion:
Ibragim Ibragimov and Others v. Russia
On August 28, the European Court issued a ruling regarding the prohibition against the works of the Turkish theologian Said Nursi, banned in Russia as extremist. The court unanimously decided to uphold the relevant complaints, which were combined into one case – “Ibragim Ibragimov and Others v. Russia.” The first complaint concerned the prohibition of fourteen works by Nursi from the Risale-i Nur collection. The corresponding decision was made by the Koptevsky District Court of Moscow in 2007. The complaint was filed on behalf of Nuru Badi Cultural Educational Fund, which published the books, and its head Ibragim Ibragimov. The Fund was a party to the process as a third party; so was the Council of Muftis of Russia. The second complaint, United Religious Board of Muslims of the Krasnoyarsk Region v. Russia,” challenged the ban on “The Tenth Word: The Resurrection and the Hereafter,” a brochure also included in Risale-I Nur. The decision to recognize the brochure as extremist was made by the Zhelezhnodorozhny District Court of Krasnoyarsk in 2010. The printing of the brochure was commissioned by the United Religious Board of Muslims of the Krasnoyarsk Region, which participated in the proceedings as a third party.
The European Court noted that Said Nursi was a well-known Turkish Muslim theologian and commentator of the Qur’an, and that Muslim authorities both in Russia and abroad, as well as Islamic studies scholars, all affirmed that his texts were moderate, belonged to mainstream Islam, advocated open and tolerant relationships and cooperation between religions, and opposed any use of violence. The Russian side submitted no evidence that dissemination of these works had caused inter-religious tensions or led to any harmful consequences, let alone violence. Cultural, historical, religious and other local features, which provide ample opportunities for national legislations to regulate inter-religious relations, do not, however, allow one individual country to prohibit its citizens from accessing authoritative religious literature that is universally accessible throughout the world.
The ECHR indicated that the judges had essentially relied on expert opinions. The decisions to ban fourteen brochures included no references to any specific problematic passages from them; the court didn’t take into account the context of distribution of Nursi’s books and the possible negative consequences. Expert opinions submitted by the applicants were rejected by the courts, as were the opinions of the heads of Muslim organizations and experts on Islam. With regard to the process of recognizing the “The Tenth Word: The Resurrection and the Hereafter” as extremist, the ECHR noted that some of the offending words, used in the book to characterize followers of other faiths, as well as positive characterization of the Muslims, did not cross boundaries of permissible criticism of other religions; they were not accompanied by calls for violence and can not be interpreted as inciting hatred and intolerance. The mere fact, emphasized by the Russian court, that the author’s intention was to convince the readers to adopt his religious beliefs is insufficient to justify the ban of a religious book, since the book did not advocate any illegal methods for achieving this goal.
Thus, the ECHR came to the conclusion that, when examining the cases on the recognition of Nursi’s books as extremist and their prohibition, the Russian courts failed to provide relevant and sufficient reasons for interfering with the applicants’ right to freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention, and the interference in this case can not be considered necessary in a democratic society. The court ruled that Russia should pay Ibragim Ibragimov EUR 7,500 in compensation for non-pecuniary damage.
Meanwhile, the Federal List of Extremist Materials came to include four more editions of Nursi’s works in August; the decision to ban them was made by the Sverdlovsky District Court of Krasnoyarsk in March and confirmed by the Krasnoyarsk Regional Court in June 2018.
Prosecutions against Religious Organizations and Believers
In mid-August, the Sovetsky District Court of Krasnoyarsk issued a two-year suspended sentence to Sabirzhon Kabirzoda, 27, having found him guilty of involvement in the activities of the extremist organization Nurcular (Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code). We regard banning both books by Turkish theologian Said Nursi and Nurcular (which has never existed in Russia at all) as inappropriate. In our opinion, there are only individual believers, who study the heritage of Nursi and face unreasonable persecution.
At the same time, Privolzhsky District Military Court sentenced Rinat Galiullin to eight years of imprisonment under Article 205.5 part 2 of the Criminal Code (participation in the activities of a terrorist organization). Galiullin was found guilty of continuing the activity of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a radical Islamic party banned in Russia. For his involvement in the organization Galiullin was already sentenced to six and a half years in a penal colony in 2013; his term was reduced to five years in 2015. Galiullin was charged for having conducted “collective and individual conversations with prisoners and attempted to involve them in the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir”, while in prison.
Almaz Usmanov, the owner of a halal butcher shop was arrested in Ufa in mid-August. He was named a defendant in a criminal case under Article 205.5 initiated in connection with the activities of a Hizb ut-Tahrir cell. Usmanov became the fourteenth person to be arrested in this case. In March 2018, the defendants’ relatives reported that the defendants were being tortured.
We view charges of terrorism against Hizb ut-Tahrir followers made solely on the basis of their party activities (holding meetings, reading literature, etc.) as inappropriate.
In August, at least two new cases under Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code were initiated for continuing the activities of the Jehovah’s Witnesses communities, banned in Russia as local branches of an extremist organization.
The Federal Security Service of Russia in the Khabarovsk Region conducted searches in at least four houses of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Khabarovsk in early August. 51-year-old Valery Moskalenko was detained and then, on the following day, put under arrest by the court as a defendant under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (participation in the activities of an extremist organization).
In the second half of August, the case under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (organizing activities of an extremist organization) was initiated against three Jehovah’s Witnesses from the city of Elizovo (the Kamchatka Region) – spouses Konstantin and Snezhana Bazhenov and their acquaintance Vera Zolotova, 72. The women were released under travel restrictions and the pledge of proper behavior; the court placed the man under arrest, but then released him without specifying any further pre-trial restrictions.
The Russian Supreme Court recognized the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center in Russia and 395 local organizations of Jehovah’s Witnesses as extremist in April 2017. We regard this decision, which became the basis for the criminal prosecution of believers, as lacking any legitimate grounds.
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