11 January 2022
Their prosecution may have been part of a government propaganda campaign against ‘Islamic extremism’
Source: Memorial Human Rights Centre
In accordance with international guidelines, Memorial Human Rights Centre considers Vagid Guseikhanov, Iusuf Guseikhanov, Azim Ismailov, Semed Nurmagomedov, Asret Rizakhanov and Ildarkhan Rizakhanov political prisoners. We consider they were convicted as part of a government campaign of persecution against Muslims on the pretext of combating terrorism. There are signs that evidence against them may have been falsified, including the dubious testimony of secret witnesses, the suspicious circumstances in which crucial evidence was discovered and the absence of any biological traces linking the evidence to the defendants. Their right to fair trial has probably been violated. We demand an immediate review of the court judgments in their cases that will respect the right to fair trial and eliminate falsified evidence.
Who are the defendants in the case and of what offences have they been convicted?
The six men accused in the case are Muslims from Dagestan. Five lived in Odinstovo, a town near Moscow: Vagid Guseikhanov (temporarily unemployed), Iusuf Guseikhanov (a crane operator), Azim Ismailov (a chauffeur), Semed Nurmagomedov (a salesman) and Asret Rizakhanov (a salesman). The sixth man, Ildarkhan Rizakhanov (a chauffeur), lived in Makhachkala and came to Moscow to look for a doctor for his son who has cerebral palsy.
On 7 May 2014 the six men were detained at a rented apartment in Odintsovo. On 10 March 2016, Moscow District Military Court sentenced them to terms of 11 to 14 years for preparing explosive devices (Article 223, Part 2, of the Russian Criminal Code), storage of explosives and explosive devices (Article 222, Part 2, of the Russian Criminal Code), and preparation of a terrorist attack (Article 30, Part 1, and Article 205, Part 2, Point a, of the Russian Criminal Code), in each case the six were convicted of committing the offence as part of a group of persons by prior collusion. Ildarkhan Rizakhanov died in February 2021; the others continue to serve their sentences.
The persons convicted allegedly planned to commit an act of terrorism on 9 May 2014 during the Victory Day firework display at Odintsovo and for that purpose had kept an explosive device in their apartment. The device was allegedly made by Ismailov and Ildarkhan Rizakhanov using explosives from a cache in Dagestan that belonged to Asret Rizakhanov and Iusuf Guseikhanov. The motives for the crime were resentment at the attitude of law enforcement agencies and revenge for the killing of militants by security forces in Dagestan.
Why does Memorial consider them political prisoners?
The prosecution may have been part of a government propaganda campaign against ‘Islamic extremism.’ It very likely resulted from law enforcement agencies wanting to demonstrate success in combating terrorism, as well as retribution by these agencies for a conflict between Nurmagomedov’s brother and the Dagestan police department for combating extremism.
There are indications that evidence in the case was falsified. For example, the dubious circumstances in which some crucial evidence was discovered and the absence of biological traces linking those convicted to the evidence. The main material evidence – an explosive device – was found in the course of an inspection of a location that was conducted with procedural violations. The circumstances of its discovery indicate with a high degree of probability that it had been planted. Other key pieces of evidence were allegedly overlooked during a seven-and-a-half-hour search of the one-room apartment, though they were in places that could not have been missed. They were allegedly discovered during a second inspection, photographs of which have gone missing. Some of the key evidence was found in a garage, which the investigators had neglected to examine in the course of five months while they were the only ones to have had access to it. Finally, the cache in Dagestan was found on a plot of land that was in active use, which makes it a strange location for a cache, and local residents allegedly saw persons connected to law enforcement agencies laying out items there.
There is also testimony in the case from a number of secret witnesses who made mistakes about facts they should have known, and who, after a long period of time, remembered new details helpful to the prosecution.
It is noteworthy that one of the pieces of evidence of guilt was the confession by neighbours in the apartment building who were convicted of possession of an explosive device. The neighbours maintained their innocence for more than a year, and then confessed in a statement that appeared to have been copied. In court they claimed they had made the statement under pressure from investigators.
It is probable that the judicial proceedings violated the right to fair trial. Despite the weak evidence of guilt, the court in practice acted to eliminate the shortcomings of the investigation in the course of the trial. Lawyers for the defence claimed they were not allowed to question the witnesses for the prosecution in a satisfactory manner. Nurmagomedov claimed he had not been given access to some of the case materials.
More information about this case and the position of Memorial Human Rights Centre is available on our website.
Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner or as a victim of a politically motivated prosecution does not imply Memorial Human Rights Centre agrees with, or approves of, their views, statements, or actions.
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Translated by Simon Cosgrove