30 June 2020
All ten Muslims were found guilty under a terrorist article of the Russian Criminal Code, although there is no evidence they committed, or planned to commit, crimes of violence.
Source: Memorial Human Rights Centre
Memorial Human Rights Centre considers the following ten Muslims from St. Petersburg political prisoners: Karim Ibragimov, Eldar Ramazanov, Magomed Akhimov, Islam Akhmedov, Artur Akhmedov, Eldar Mamedov, Mirzobarot Mirzosharipov, Farkhod Nurmatov, Maksim Tsvetkov and Aziz Yusufov. We believe they have been prosecuted for political reasons for non-violent exercise of freedom of conscience, freedom of religion and right of association. Their convictions were handed down in violation of the right to a legal defence and fair trial. Memorial Human Rights Centre calls for the immediate release of the ten convicted individuals.
Custody and Trials
Karim Ibragimov and Eldar Ramazanov were detained in St. Petersburg in June 2014; Magomed Akhimov, Islam Akhmedov, Artur Akhmedov, Eldar Mamedov, Mirzobarot Mirzosharipov, Farkhod Nurmatov, Maksim Tsvetkov and Aziz Yusufov were detained between November 2016 and June 2017.
On 17 August 2016 the Moscow District Military Court convicted Ibragimov and Ramazanov of an offence under Article 205.2, Part 1, of the Russian Criminal Code (organisation of the activity of a terrorist organisation).
On 26 July 2018 the same court sentenced the others to real terms of imprisonment. They were convicted under Article 205.5, Part 2, of the Russian Criminal Code (participation in the activity of a terrorist organisation).
In addition, they were all found guilty under Article 282.2 of the Russian Criminal Code (organisation of the activity of an extremist organisation).
The ten Muslims were sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging from five years in a general regime prison colony to 17 years in a strict regime prison colony. On 11 November 2019, the First Eastern District Military Court sentenced the already convicted Mirzosharipov to three years in a strict regime prison colony under Article 205.2, Part 1, of the Russian Criminal Code (incitement of terrorist activity, public justification of terrorism or advocacy of terrorism).
The essence of the charges
According to the investigation, the convicted Muslims became involved in the activities of a St. Petersburg cell of Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami, an organisation designated as terrorist in Russia and banned on its territory.
Ibragimov and Ramazanov were charged with organizing this cell. According to the investigation, they created a media office for the organisation ‘whose task was to carry out advocacy and awareness raising activities,’ provide political education for the organisation’s members, publicise its work and attract new members (Article 205.5, Part 1, of the Russian Criminal Code).
The terrorist activity of the other defendants took the form, in the opinion of investigators, of participation in periodic meetings of organisation members, undergoing training in the ideological sources of Hizb ut-Tahrir, reporting to the group’s leaders on the results of their training, keeping the group’s literature, flags and other materials in their apartments and cars, taking part in conferences and periodically donating money for the organisation’s needs (Article 205.5, Part 2, of the Russian Criminal Code).
Some of those convicted were additionally accused of inciting other Muslims to participate in the activity of Hizb ut-Tahrir, studying together with them the ideological sources of the organisation and participating in the group’s nationwide events that consisted of conversations in mosques and single-person pickets.
In addition, Mamedov was charged with producing ideological materials for the organisation, while Tsvetkov was charged with producing videos.
Mirzosharipov was convicted of the public justification of terrorism (Article 205.2, Part 1, of the Russian Criminal Code) while serving his sentence in a prison colony.
Why Memorial considers the ten individuals political prisoners
The convicted Muslims were guilty only of being members of a civil society association. They were not charged with preparing terrorist attacks or voicing terrorist threats. There is no evidence whatsoever that the defendants committed or planned violence, still less actions that could be called terrorist in the common sense meaning of the word.
Memorial considers the designation of Hizb ut-Tahrir as a terrorist organisation unlawful. The 2003 Supreme Court ruling that banned a large number of Islamic organisations devoted one paragraph of three sentences to Hizb ut-Tahrir. None of those sentences contains any evidence the organisation engages in terrorist activities.
The designation of Hizb ut-Tahrir as a terrorist organisation makes it possible to define any of its activities as ‘terrorist’ in nature. Gatherings, meetings or storage of the organisation’s literature became terrorist activities. It should be remembered that Article 28 of the Russian Constitution protects these activities for members of a religious faith. It guarantees everyone ‘freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, including the right, individually or jointly with others, to profess any religion or not to profess any religion, to freely choose, have and disseminate religious and other beliefs and to act in accordance with them.’
Furthermore, some of the evidence examined in court would seem to be unreliable since it is based on the testimony of secret witnesses, which in practice cannot be verified or refuted. The use of such testimony plays into the hands of the Russian justice system which hands down acquittals extremely rarely. Moreover, most of those convicted had ceased their involvement with Hizb-ut-Tahrir by the time they were arrested, which obviously reduces the public danger of the crime.
In the years since the Supreme Court ruling designating Hizb-ut-Tahrir a terrorist organisation, hundreds of Muslims have been prosecuted on charges related to their involvement in the organisation. Currently, there are about 300 people behind bars.
Civilian oversight of such prosecutions is minimal and the security services have the opportunity to improve their statistics for solving crimes many times over (thereby demonstrating their own utility). They also manipulate public notions of the terrorist threat and substitute a pretence of the struggle against terrorism for the real thing.
Law enforcement agencies make little effort to investigate cases of this kind that are prosecuted in large numbers, merely using them to improve crime statistics. At the same time, in recent years it has been precisely these exaggerated notions of the terrorist threat that have been used to justify the adoption of laws restricting the constitutional rights of citizens, thereby strengthening and broadening the authorities’ powers.
Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner does not imply that Memorial Human Rights Centre agrees with their views or statements, or approves their statements or actions.
Translated by Simon Cosgrove