RUSSIA: Misuse of anti-extremism in July 2020
Sova Center (21.08.2020) – https://bit.ly/3jq9Msq – Latest report about the misuse of the extremism legislation against Falun Gong practitioners, Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In late July, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Khakassia dismissed the claim of the republican prosecutor’s office to liquidate and recognize as extremist Khakassian Regional Public Organization for Spiritual and Physical Self-Improvement of a Person under the Great Falun Law “Falun Dafa.” Falun Dafa new religious movement is built around the practice of qigong gymnastics in combination with elements of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. It has been banned and persecuted in China, and its followers abroad sharply criticize the Chinese authorities. The Khakassian organization was accused of trying to disseminate Zhuan Falun, – a treatise by Falun Dafa (Falun Gong) founder Li Hongzhi declared extremist in 2011. According to the Falun Gong practitioners, the Khakassian Falun Dafa organization, founded in 2006, ceased its operations in 2017, and have tried to notify the state authorities about it. Zhuan Falun was recognized as extremist on the grounds that it allegedly advocated the superiority of the adherents of Falun Gong ideology over other people. In our opinion, propaganda of the truth of one’s own convictions cannot be regarded as incitement to hatred, and the book does not contain any calls for violence, therefore the ban against it and prosecution for its distribution are inappropriate. We welcome the court’s decision not to ban the organization, but would like to remind that Falun Dafa practitioners may face renewed persecution, since, in July, the activities of the movement’s seven foreign and international organizations were deemed undesirable on the Russian territory.
In July, we learned about two earlier sentences for involvement in the Islamic radical party Hizb ut-Tahrir, which has been recognized as terrorist in Russia. On March 11, 2020, the Central District Military Court in Yekaterinburg sentenced Ildar Akhmetzyanov, a resident of Chistopol, to 17 years in a maximum security colony under Article 205.5 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (organizing the activities of a terrorist organization). Akhmetzyanov is appealing against the verdict. On May 13, 2020, the same court sentenced Rais Gimadiev under the same article; he received 16 years in a maximum security colony. Akhmetzyanov and Gimadiev, along with previously convicted Eduard Nizamov, were accused of involving Muslims in the ranks of Hizb ut-Tahrir, as well as creating an underground network structure in Russia and facilitating the replenishment of military formations operating in the Middle East. As far as we know, Hizb ut-Tahrir does not resort to terrorist methods of struggle and does not participate in the recruitment of personnel to participate in hostilities in the Middle East. Therefore, we consider prosecution against the party followers under “terrorist articles” merely on the basis of their party activity (holding meetings, reading literature, etc.) inappropriate.
In early July, seven Muslims were detained in Crimea after a series of search raids. The arrests were carried out as part of the yet another investigation under Article 205.5 Part 1 and 2 of the Criminal Code (organizing the activities of or participation in a terrorist organization). Ismet Ibragimov and Vadim Bektemirov were detained near Simferopol, Emil Ziyadinov in the village of Oktyabrsky, Seyran Khairetdinov, Alim Sufianov and Alexander Sizikov (a sight-disabled person) in the Bakhchisarai region, and Zekirya Muratov in Alushta. In Alushta, the authorities also searched the house of Diliaver Memetov, but he was not at home at the time, and was put on the wanted list. The FSB reported that prohibited materials by Hizb ut-Tahrir had been confiscated during searches, while the detainees’ relatives reported that the materials had been planted. Sizikov was placed under house arrest; the others were sent to a pre-trial detention center.
On the last day of the month, the FSB, Federal National Guard (Rosgvardia) and the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported on the detention of six alleged supporters of the Tablighi Jamaat movement, banned in Russia. They were detained for investigation in the case under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (organizing the activities of an extremist organization). Tablighi Jamaat was banned in Russia in 2009 – in our opinion, without proper justification. This association is engaged in propaganda of fundamentalist Islam, but was never known to call for violence, and therefore, the persecution of its supporters, from our point of view, is inappropriate.
The Furmanov City Court of the Ivanovo Region found 34-year-old Yevgeny Spirin guilty of organizing the activities of an extremist organization under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code and sentenced him to a fine of 500 thousand rubles in late July. According to the investigation, Spirin organized and conducted meetings of the local community and talked with residents of the Ivanovo Region about religion in order to promote the activities of this organization. The prosecutor asked for a sentence of seven years in prison. We would like to remind that we regard as inappropriate both the prohibition of Jehovah’s Witnesses organizations in Russia as extremist and the persecution against believers for continuing the activities of their communities.
In July, we learned about a number of new cases of persecution against Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Back in late June, the FSB of Russia for the Krasnodar Territory opened two new cases under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (participation in the activities of an extremist organization) against Vladimir Skachidub and Maxim Beltikov from the village of Pavlovskaya; according to the investigation, they acted as preachers. They were put under travel restrictions.
In early July, six believers in Vladivostok, who served as witnesses in the case of Elena Barmakina, were put on the Rosfinmonitoring list. Five women and one man between the ages of 29 and 60 were put on the list of persons involved in extremist or terrorist activities: Nina Astvatsaturova, Roman Verigin, Violetta Verigina, Ludviga Katanaeva, Eva Katanaeva and Elena Tsorn; their houses were later searched. At least five detainees became suspects in the case. Nina Astvatsaturova was charged under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code.
A criminal case was opened in Kaliningrad, in which Mikhail Kopytov became a defendant, and searches were carried out in the homes of local Jehovah’s Witnesses. 12 people were detained and interrogated.
A series of search raids took place in Prokopyevsk of the Kemerovo Region under the auspices of a criminal investigation under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code; Andrei Vlasov and Viktor Mikhnyuk were interrogated. Vlasov was placed under house arrest.
In mid-July, as part of the investigation in the Voronezh Region of two criminal cases under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code related to the activities of a local banned community, searches were carried out in at least 110 homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses. At least 14 people were questioned. Two believers reported severe beatings for their refusals to share their smartphone passwords. Later, another detainee reported that he had been tortured during interrogation in the regional department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs – they had beaten him in the face and put a plastic bag over his head, demanding to name the elders of the community. Alexey Antyukhin, Sergey Baev, Mikhail Veselov, Yuri Galka, Valery Gursky, Vitaly Nerush, Stepan Pankratov, Igor Popov, Evgeny Sokolov and Anatoly Yagupov became suspects in the case. All ten of them were arrested.
Searches took place at five Jehovah’s Witnesses’ addresses in Seversk of the Tomsk Region, as part of a criminal investigation under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code. Nine people were taken for interrogation and then released; one of the believers, Sergei Korotun, was placed under house arrest.
In Solikamsk of Perm Krai, searches were conducted at three Jehovah’s Witnesses’ addresses; six people were detained. Two suspects, Vladimir Timoshkin and Vladimir Poltoradnev, were placed under house arrest, and another believer was banned from certain activities.