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Russia sentences 19 men to over 300 years’ imprisonment without any crime

Halya Coynash

17 years after Russia’s Supreme Court passed a secret ruling declaring a peaceful organization ‘terrorist’, three judges from that same court have upheld sentences of up to 24 years against 19 men who have committed no crime and whose involvement in that peaceful organization was never proven.  The ruling is a shocking travesty of justice and one that Ukraine should not ignore, as Russia is staging the same fatally flawed ‘trials’ in occupied Crimea.  

The appeal hearings, against the sentences passed on 30 July 2018, had been continuing for many months, and there had seemed a flickering hope of some limited modicum of justice.  Despite a formidable team of lawyers, nobody seriously expected the judges to be courageous enough to overturn 19 manifestly wrongful sentences, but they could have at least reduced them. However, on 21 September presiding judge Igor Vladimirovich Krupnov, together with Aleksandr Vladimirovich Voronov and Oleg Anatolyevich Derbilov,  upheld all of the sentences, reducing only one – that against Khalil Mustafin – from 22 to 21 years.   All of the defendants were recognized as political prisoners by the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre back in 2016, and the lawyers had presented a massive amount of evidence demonstrating the flawed nature of the charges; the likely use of torture and falsifications, but to no avail.  The lawyers now plan to turn to the European Court of Human Rights, with well-known human rights lawyer, Karina Moskalenko taking this under her control.  

Russia brought similar ‘cases’ to occupied Crimea in early 2015, with the sentences passed last week against 7 Crimean Tatar civic journalists and activists also appallingly long, although shorter than those against the 21 Russian citizens from Bashkortostan.  In all cases, the charges are of ‘involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir’, a peaceful Muslim organization which is legal in Ukraine and most countries, and which only Russia (and, since 2016, Uzbekistan) have declared ‘terrorist’.  In Russia’s case, the ruling by the Supreme Court in 2003, declaring Hizb ut-Tahrir terrorist was taken in a closed hearing without the organization itself or human rights groups being informed of it for around a year, which prevented them from lodging an appeal.  Memorial HRC and other human rights NGOs have repeatedly pointed to the lack of any grounds for the ruling, since Hizb ut-Tahrir has never committed any acts of terrorism anywhere in the world. It is also likely that the ruling in 2003 was politically motivated, giving Russia justification for forcibly extraditing men to Uzbekistan where they were facing religious persecution.

23 Muslims from Bashkortostan were arrested in February 2015 and charged with involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir under Article 205.5 § 2 of Russia’s criminal code) with another three men placed on the wanted list.  Memorial HRC pointed out, when declaring the men political prisoners, that the charge at the time only allowed for a one-year term of detention. After the year elapsed, and only three men had agreed (either in return for a shorter sentence, or under torture) to plead ‘guilty’, all of the others were also charged with ‘planning violent seizure of power, under Article 30 § 1 and Article 278. 

Memorial noted that neither the Supreme Court, nor the investigators in this case, had provided any evidence to back the claims that the organization was terrorist and that the men’s behaviour fell under the articles of the law on terrorism.  The investigators had based their charges of planning violent seizure of power on alleged actions which are either legal, or are not punishable under law.  These include, for example, spreading theological ideas that purportedly lead to ‘tendentious thinking and taking part in rallies in support of people arrested.

None of the people had been in possession of firearms or other weapons, nor was the prosecution able to present the alleged plan to seize power. There had been multiple violations of the men’s right to a fair trial, including flagrant falsification of the file material. There had also been reports, Memorial said, of the men being subjected to torture and beating while held in detention.

The three men who agreed to plead guilty received 4 or 5-year sentences.  It is possible that part of their ‘deal’ with the FSB investigators was that they give false testimony against the other men. 

Whatever the reasons, only 19 men seem to have appealed against sentences from 10 to 24 years.

The following are the sentences which must now be challenged through the European Court of Human Rights.  All of the men are political prisoners, but will be serving horrific sentences in maximum security prisons.  The latter should be for dangerous prisoners, but are already holding a large number of Ukrainian political prisoners, who, like the men below, have committed no crime.

Rinat Nurlygayanov           24 years

Rustem Khamzin               23 years

Linar Vakhitov                   22 years

Rustem Gallyamov            22

Artur Salimov                    22

Danis Faizrakhmanov        22

Rafael Fattakhov               22

Radik Akhmetov                21

Khalil Mustafin                  21

Azamat Kayumov              20

Ilgiz Gimaletdinov              14

Irek Tagirov                      14

Shamil Sharipov                14

Aleksandr Kornev             13

Ural Yakupov                    13

Fanis Akhmetshin             11

Farid Mustafayev              11

Radmir Maksutov              10

Ruslan Fattakhov              10

Karina Moskalenko recently wrote a powerful critique of this case (known as the ‘Ufa 20’ or «уфимская двадцатка»), in which she represented Nurlygayanov and one other defendant.

The charges in all these ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’ trials, she wrote, are, on the one hand, unclear and muddy, while on the other are resulting in absolutely horrendous terms of imprisonment.  Although ten of the men had received sentences of from 20 to 24 years, the prosecutor had actually demanded higher sentences.

When they come up with a repressive campaign “to fight …”, you need to understand who this suits, and who are the beneficiaries.

They [such cases] are, in the first instance, needed by the law enforcement bodies.  Thanks to this campaign, they have the opportunity, without any particular effort, to ‘uncover’ a huge number of ‘criminal’ gangs and heroically earn themselves stars, ranks and positions.” 

Instead of fighting real crime, flagrant banditry and protection rackets around corruption, all of which are destroying the country, instead of addressing a multitude of unsolved crimes, they can “take minimum effort and risk, and pull in “dozens of people who come to meetings in search of the meaning of life and religious knowledge…”

“If you are an unbiased observer, you will immediately realize that in this case there isn’t even any sign of violent actions or at least plans to commit them, that there, quite simply, are no elements of a crime”.

       From the words spoken by Rinat Nurlygayanov before the ruling was announced

     “My beloved children. It is possible that your father will be going away today for many many long years. I want you to know that your father is no criminal and has nothing to do with what they have accused him. I want you, regardless of anything, to retain your love of people. While I am alive, while my heart is beating, I swear that I will continue to fight against this injustice”

«I am not a terrorist, I am merely a Muslim.  The sentence contains no proof either regarding the organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, or of any plans to overthrow the constitutional order.  What am I supposed to have done that I am effectively being buried alive?”

Rinat Nurlygayanov, Muslim and recognized political prisoner, sentenced to 24 years’ imprisonment

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