Public Statement from the International Society “Memorial” on the official warning it has received for publishing an independent expert study.
On 26 February 2006, Moscows Prosecutor presented the Executive Director of the International Historical and Educational Human Rights and Humanitarian Society “Memorial”, Y.B. Zhemkova, with a written warning “On the inadmissibility of violations of the law”. The pretext for this was the placing on the “Memorial” website of an expert conclusion from the Mufti of the Asian part of Russia, Nafigulla Ashirov, on four brochures of the organization “Khizb ut-Takhrir”, which is prohibited in Russia (published in Russian on www.memo.ru)
The Procurator accuses “Memorial” of infringing the Federal Law of the Russian Federation “On countering extremist activity”. It has been learned that the Moscow Prosecutors office was considering launching a criminal case in connection with the said publication on the “Memorial” website however the decision was taken to instead issue a warning.
In our opinion this is nothing less than a limitation of freedom of speech, an attempt at illegal censorship in contravention both of the Constitution and of the Russian Federations international commitments.
N. Ashirovs conclusion was prepared at the request of the Chairperson of the Civic Assistance Committee and member of the Council of the Human Rights Centre “Memorial”, Svetlana Gannushkina, in connection with the fact that from autumn 2004 in regions of Central Russia, Povolzhya [the Volga Region], Ural and Siberia, ten criminal cases were initiated against citizens of Russia and CIS countries, involving charges of keeping, studying and distributing literature of the organization “Khizb ut-Takhrir”. In not one of these cases had a competent religious expert study been carried out.
The Mufti, Nafigulla Ashirov, is a recognized Russian specialist with higher Islamic education. Having studied the brochures: “The System of Islam”, “Islamic identity”, “Khizb ut-Takhrir” and “The Concept of Khizb ut-Takhrir” , he came to the conclusion that these publications did not contain any calls to violence, incitement of inter-religious enmity, infringement of civil rights on the basis of attitude to religion, insults to the religious sentiments or human dignity of members of other faiths. He also made mention of the illegitimate use in the court investigation documents when arguing the extremist nature of several Islamic publications of such expressions as “covert calls to action” or “the indirect promotion of the stirring up of enmity”. The specialist expressed his doubts as to the legitimacy of initiating criminal cases against the distributors of these publications which, in his opinion, was in violation of the Law of the Russian Federation (RF) “On Freedom of conscience and religious organizations”.
Obviously the opinion of this specialist may or may not coincide with the official position. However RF legislation guarantees him the right to both express and to make public his opinion. It appears, therefore, absurd and odd to accuse “Memorial” of having violated Article 12 of the Law “On countering extremist activity” by publishing this opinion, and “of using a general use network in order to carry out extremist activities”.
Absurd also is the Prosecutors reference to Article 17 of the above-mentioned law prohibiting the distribution of material of a banned organization, as well as any other information-bearing output, containing the material of this organization. Ashirovs text not only does not constitute “material” of the given organization, but does not even contain a single quotation from such kinds of material.
With such an arbitrary and broad interpretation of the law, any public criticism of a court ruling banning a particular organization or publication where, regardless of critical commentary given, a publication of a banned organization is quoted, could be viewed as criminally punishable “extremist activity”. In this way, any publicly expressed doubt about the justification for accusing an organization or person of terrorist activity could be interpreted by the authorities as excusing the acts of terrorists. It is precisely in this manner that the Prosecutor has acted in relation to the Society “Memorial”.
It is worthy of note that the warning from the Moscow Prosecutor is based on some “conclusion of a socio-psychological expert study” which “Memorial” has not been shown.
The “Prosecutors warning” also contains a reference to a ruling by the RF Supreme Court from 14 December, the text of which has yet to be officially published.
The Society “Memorial” considers the actions of the Moscow Prosecutor to be in contravention of both the Constitution of the Russian Federation and of the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and intends to appeal against this “warning” in the courts.
27 February 2006