RFE/RL: Rights Groups Say Muslims Are Unfairly Targeted
- Russia: Rights Groups Say Muslims Are Unfairly Targeted In Fight
By Claire Bigg
Muslims and human rights campaigners in Russia joined forces today
to denounce what they describe as a persistent campaign of
harassment and detentions targeting Muslims in the country. Growing
numbers of ordinary Muslims, they say, are falling victim to the
government's bid to show successes in fighting terrorism in the wake
of the Beslan hostage tragedy.
Moscow, 31 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The Russian government is
fabricating cases against Muslims in order to prosecute them for
terrorism, leading Russian human rights campaigners charged today.
Vitalii Ponomarev, an activist at the rights group Memorial, told a
press conference that 39 Muslims have been sentenced on terrorism
charges since the beginning of this year across Russia, the Caucasus
excluded. Dozens more are awaiting trial.
The first wave of terrorism charges brought against Muslims began
soon after the hostage tragedy in Beslan in September 2004, a trend
that rights activists say is gaining pace. Ponomarev alleges that
torture is routinely used to beat false confessions from Muslims.
"Torture is used in about 40 percent of cases to obtain confessions.
A new tendency is the fabrication of group cases. It is announced
that large underground terrorist organizations have been uncovered.
The most scandalous case, which has yet to reach court, is taking
place in Tatarstan, where more than 20 people are charged with
allegedly preparing terrorist attacks ahead of the millennium in the
city [of Kazan, the capital]," Ponomarev said.
The rights groups say that defendants are, as a rule, accused of
having ties to Hizb ut-Tahrir, a radical Islamic organization that
Russia outlawed in 2003 as terrorist group. Hizb ut-Tahrir seeks to
establish a caliphate in Central Asia, but formally rejects
violence. Russia's Federal Security Service, however, accuses the
group of supporting separatist rebels in Chechnya.
Mars Gayanov, a 53-year-old Muslim from Bashkortostan, told
reporters that Russian special forces in December raided his house,
where they allegedly found Islamic extremist literature and homemade
bombs. Gayanov denies hiding either bombs or extremist literature.
He said law-enforcement officials tried to beat confessions out of
"The interrogations started. On 1 January 2005, after lunch, I was
transferred to another cell where they tried to beat confessions
from me that I was a member, and even the leader, of a particular
division of the so-called Hizb ut-Tahrir party -- by beating and
torturing me. Neither I nor my sons are members of this party,"
The fact that Gayanov was beaten while in prison has been officially
established. He was given a suspended sentence, but his two sons
were sentenced to five years and 7 1/2 years in prison.
Svetlana Gannushkina, head of the rights group Civil Assistance,
said the Russian government is rounding up Muslims in an attempt to
make it appear that it is actively combating terrorism.
"Politics are currently aimed at channeling popular dissatisfaction,
which is always possible if there is some kind enemy," she
said. "The enemy is once again the United States, and we also need
an internal enemy. The internal enemy is chosen because it is
different and because someone is afraid of him. I am absolutely
convinced that Islam and the Islamic caliphate are a phobia of the
president of the Russian Federation."
Gannushkina said she has personally heard President Vladimir Putin
make negative comments about Islam and accuse Muslims of plotting to
establish a caliphate in Russia, particularly in Chechnya.
Rights groups also accuse the Russian government of illegally
allowing Uzbek security officers to operate on Russian territory and
to detain Uzbek nationals allegedly involved in terrorist activities.
Uzbek troops violently suppressed an uprising in the city of Andijon
in May, which they blamed on Islamic radicals. Since then, Uzbek
authorities have been seeking the extradition of suspects from
Russia and Kyrgyzstan.
Gannushkina said many alleged Uzbek terrorists have already been
illegally transferred to Uzbekistan, although the Council of Europe
and the European Union have denounced any such extraditions. "There
is a very clear agreement -- the falsification of legal cases
testify to this -- between the highest-ranking people in Russia and
in Uzbekistan, according to which people whom the Uzbek government
requests are sent to Uzbekistan," she said.
In June, 14 ethnic Uzbek were arrested in the central Russian city
of Ivanovo at the request of Uzbekistan for allegedly participating
in the Andijon uprising. All but one are in detention awaiting
extradition, despite efforts by lawyers and human rights groups.