15 September 2020
Lev Ponomarev, chair of the national NGO For Human Rights and a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group
In the near future, the Judicial Panel of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation for military service personnel will deliver a verdict in the case of the so-called Ufa20. It concerns Muslim activists from Bashkortostan who are accused of participating in the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a terrorist organization banned in Russia, according to a ruling of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation of 14th February, 2003.
For the first time that I can remember, an appeal hearing in the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation has continued for several months. As far as I and many other human rights defenders were concerned, it was crucial to give this trial a high profile and to publicise this case widely.
Immediately after the verdict was passed at the court of first instance, the families of those convicted appealed to human rights activists in Moscow.
Several press conferences were held, and parents and relatives of those convicted joined together in the organisation, “Parental Solidarity”, which has so far covered dozens of similar legal cases across the country.
Memorial has recognized and continues to recognize the defendants in Hizb ut-Tahrir* prosecutions as political prisoners. At the time of their appeal, a team of excellent lawyers had been assembled to work on the Ufa 20 case.
In addition, a working group was set up by the Federal Human Rights Ombudsman, with the participation of human rights activists, to amend the provisions of the Russian Criminal Code relating to extremism and terrorism. The Presidential Human Rights Council was also involved in this issue at that time, when it was headed by Mikhail Fedotov.
I will not list all the procedural violations committed by the investigative bodies and by the court of the first instance, although there were many of them. All of them are detailed in the blog of the lawyer Karinna Akopovna Moskalenko. The essence of this case is that a group of young people have been charged because they preached the ideals of a worldwide caliphate, united in the Hizb ut-Tahrir* party. The fact is that these people are being held to account for their views, opinions and thoughts.
I will focus mainly on the crucial element. All these violations were committed by the FSB officers themselves or under duress created by these officers. The case was initiated and investigated by the FSB, the prosecution relied on biased evidence, and the trial in the court of first instance could not but end with a guilty verdict. And that is what happened.
Ideas that bring people together develop in unpredictable ways. Ideas that are subsequently shaped into ideology, appeal to some people and are often unacceptable to others. Such ideas and groups of people form not only in the religious sphere, but also in politics (the communists are a striking example). The Hizb ut-Tahrir* party adheres to the idea of building a theocratic state based on Sharia rules. Furthermore, there are different ways to implement such an idea. The well-known organisation Islamic State* (declared terrorist in Russia) also united Muslims under the idea of creating a caliphate, but used brutal terrorist methods. Thanks to the joint efforts of many states, Islamic State* was defeated, but all this cost thousands of human lives. Because of this, the very idea of creating a world caliphate undoubtedly provokes fears. However, among Muslims there are those who want to achieve the same goals by peaceful means – they are the ones who have united to form the Hizb ut-Tahrir party *. Of course, the very idea of creating a theocracy is unacceptable to residents of secular democratic states, including Russians. The question arises: how to treat people who hold such views? Right now in Russia, under pressure from the FSB, they are being harshly persecuted under the banner of protecting the constitutional order. Despite their peaceful behaviour, they are imprisoned for long terms (up to 24 years).
According to the current statistics of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, 421 people have been convicted under Article 205.5 since it was added to the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (a process that took from 2013 to 2019). The European Union has chosen a different path. Realising that ideology cannot be destroyed, the EU countries limit the public activities of such organisations. The organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir* is banned in only one state – Germany – and there only administrative measures are applied to the violators; not a single criminal case has been initiated.
I am convinced that the practice of harsh criminal prosecution of the peaceful organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir* will lead to the radicalisation of Islam. If we persecute moderate Islamists with disproportionate cruelty, then it will promote the radicalisation of those who follow the same ideology. This line is being enforced and pursued by the FSB.
This case and all the violations of the law committed by the court of first instance make one think about who the real terrorists are: the people who are punished for thought crimes, or the FSB officers who instigate these criminal cases and put pressure on the judicial authorities.
Below I present the final speech of the leader of the Parental Solidarity movement, Milyausha Nurlygayanova, the mother of a young man sentenced to 24 years in a maximum security penal colony, leaving his wife and two young children in the care of his parents. She will speak at the hearing of the court of appeal on September 15, 2020.
* the organization is banned in the Russian Federation.