18 September 2020
Magomed Khamkhoev is facing unsubstantiated charges of inciting violence not dangerous to life or health against law enforcement officers during the forcible dispersal of a peaceful rally in Ingushetia in March 2019.
Source: Memorial Human Rights Centre
Memorial Human Rights Centre considers Magomed Khamkhoev, a defendant in the ‘Ingush case’ (a prosecution of a number of opposition activists), a political prisoner. We believe the criminal prosecution of Khamkhoev is based solely on his participation in a peaceful protest against the actions of the Ingush authorities and demand his immediate release.
Context: how the Ingush authorities suppressed the March 2019 protest
In the autumn of 2018 Ramzan Kadyrov and Yunus-Bek Yevkurov signed an agreement, ‘On the Establishment of the Border…,’ under which part of the territory of Ingushetia was transferred to Chechnya. The document was prepared in secret. A very large part of the population of Ingushetia rose up to protest.
On 26 March 2019 a 20,000-strong rally was held in Magas, the capital of Ingushetia, demanding the resignation of the Ingush leadership and the holding of free elections. The authorities agreed to allow the rally to last for one day, but some of the participants declared the protest ‘indefinite.’ On the morning of 27 March several hundred people remained on the square. These protesters did not pose a threat to public order and did not interfere with traffic, pedestrians or the functioning of institutions.
Nevertheless, officers of the National Guard sent to Ingushetia from other Russian regions attempted to disperse the protesters. Investigators working on the case claim that ten law enforcement officers were injured in clashes that followed.
After the clashes in Magas, criminal proceedings were initiated and dozens of protesters were arrested. More than two dozen demonstrators have already been convicted on charges of using minor forms of violence against law enforcement officials and eight protest leaders have been charged, without evidence, of organising this violence. Memorial Human Rights Centre has declared those convicted or remanded in custody in the case to be political prisoners.
The charges: from violence to incitement of violence
Magomed Khamkhoev was arrested in early April 2019 and charged, along with more than three dozen other participants in the Magas rally, of using violence dangerous to the life or health of public officials under Article 318, Part 2, of the Criminal Code.
However, the investigating officers concluded that Khamkhoev did not commit this crime. Despite this, he was not released. Instead, at the beginning of 2020 new charges were brought against Khamkhoev for an offence under Article 33, Part 4, of the Russian Criminal Code (‘Incitement to violence non-threatening to life or health against public officials,’ punishable by up to five years in prison).
The Investigative Committee claims Magomed Khamkhoev ‘persuaded’ the rally participants to use violence that was not dangerous to life or health against law enforcement officers. Giving in to this persuasion, the demonstrators ‘struck on various parts of the body’ 65 National Guard officers and one Ingushetian police officer ‘with their hands and feet, stones, chairs, sticks, metal turnstiles or pieces of them, as well as other improvised objects.’ As a result, 58 of these officers experienced physical pain, while eight suffered bodily injuries that did not harm their health such as abrasions, contusions and bruises.
The trial has begun.
Why Memorial considers Khamkhoev a political prisoner
According to international standards of freedom of peaceful assembly as set out in documents of the UN and the European Court of Human Rights, a state must not forcibly disperse demonstrations if the actions of its participants do not pose a danger to the public, even if the event has not been authorised. Therefore we consider the attempt to forcibly disperse the rally in Ingushetia on 27 March 2019 unlawful.
After reading Magomed Khamkhoev’s indictment, we discovered that only one witness, ‘I. Iliev’, whose true identity was kept secret, allegedly heard Khamkhoev’s calls to violence at the rally. ‘I. Iliev’ testified that he had heard Magomed Khamkhoev calling on activists to ‘stand to the end, even if we have to fight.’
Moreover, the investigators only ‘discovered’ this witness in December 2019, nine months after the investigation began, and his testimony was contradictory. In his first interrogation on 16 December 2019, Iliev claimed that he saw Khamkhoev ‘walking among young people and talking.’ Iliev ‘approached a group of young guys’ and asked them ‘what M. M. Khamkhoev wanted, to which they replied that M. M. Khamkhoev had asked everyone to stand to the end ….’ Two days later, during an interrogation on 18 December, Iliev changed his testimony. He said that he could not describe the people who had conveyed Khamkhoev’s words to him because he was afraid of them. The indictment cites his testimony in this way: ‘In fact, he heard all these words from M. M. Khamkhoyev himself.’ The investigation has no other evidence of Magomed Khamkhoev’s guilt. We suspect that the testimony of the witness ‘Iliev’ is fabricated, as it appears improbable. However, even from this it is impossible to conclude unequivocally that Khamkhoev incited violence.
It is outrageous that such an absolutely groundless and unsubstantiated indictment was approved by the deputy Prosecutor General and submitted to court.
Thirty-four-year-old Magomed Khamkhoev was not one of the organisers or ideological leaders of the rally in question. As far as we know, he is not a civil society activist. As the investigation showed, he did not participate in clashes with law enforcement officials on 27 March 2019. We therefore believe there was only one reason why Khamkhoev was arrested and prosecuted, namely to put pressure on his close relatives. He is the son-in-law of one of the main persons accused, the Ingush elder Akhmed Barakhoev, and a nephew of Isa Khamkhoev, the Mufti of Ingushetia. The then head of the region, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, had been in conflict with the Mufti for several years. On the day of the rally, 26 March 2019, Yevkurov went on Ingush television to name the Ingush Muftiate as the main instigator of unrest in the republic. From the beginning of April 2019, the homes of the Mufti and his relatives, along with offices of the Muftiate, were subjected to numerous searches.
Memorial believes that the aim of those behind the ‘Ingush case’ is to silence the protest movement in the republic and teach a ‘lesson’ to other Russian regions. The prosecution of Ingush opposition activists is another step towards suppressing legitimate civic activity and the rights and freedoms, not only of residents of Ingushetia, but also of Russian citizens in general.
Memorial Human Rights Centre, according international guidelines defining the term ‘political prisoner,’ believes the criminal prosecution of Magomed Khamkhoev is intended to forcibly end public criticism of the authorities by residents of Ingushetia and he has been imprisoned solely for the non-violent exercise of the right to peaceful assembly.
Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner or as a victim of politically motivated prosecution does not imply Memorial Human Rights Centre agrees with, or approves of, their views, statements, or actions.
More information about this case and the opinion of Memorial is available on our website.
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Translated by Simon Cosgrove