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Same notorious ‘experts’ used against Memorial as in Russia’s persecution of Yury Dmitriev, Pussy Riot & Jehovah’s Witnesses

22.11.2021
Halya Coynash
Yury Dmitriev, the young son of one of the Crimean Tatar civic journalists arrested and facing a huge prison sentence because of the supposed ’expert’ assessments of individuals like (inserted) Natalya Kryukova, and Alexander Tarasov

Russia’s new attempt to crush the world-renowned International Memorial Society and Memorial Human Rights Centre is backed by an ‘expert assessment’ from a maths teacher and translator.  Neither Natalia Kryukova nor Alexander Tarasov has any expert knowledge, but they most certainly have experience of what Russia’s FSB requires of such ‘assessments’.  Maths teacher Kryukova is co-founder of the Centre for Socio-Cultural Expert Assessments ["Центр социокультурных экспертиз"]  to which translator Tarasov also provides his services.  The Centre is most notorious in connection with the dodgy ‘assessments’ provided for Russia’s politically motivated persecution of the Pussy Riot punk group and historian of the Soviet Terror Yury Dmitriev, as well as for conclusions used for Russia’s extraordinary banning of the Jehovah’s Witnesses

As reported, Russia’s Prosecutor General applied earlier in November 2021 to the Supreme Court to have International Memorial dissolved, with an analogous application lodged by the Moscow Prosecutor to a Moscow court for the dissolution of the Memorial Human Rights Centre.  Memorial has existed since 1989, and it is thanks to the efforts of its historians and activists that very many of us learned the fate of our grandparents or other relatives executed during Stalin’s Terror.  Both International Memorial and the linked, but separate, Memorial Human Rights Centre have over recent years also played an invaluable role in documenting persecution both in Russia and, since 2014, in occupied Crimea.  Many of the previous attacks on both organizations have quite openly focused on their opposition to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and Russia’s violation of international law by applying its legislation in occupied Crimea.  The application for the dissolution of Memorial HRC actually claims that by recognizing as political prisoners Ukrainians or Russians whom Russia accuses of ‘terrorism’ or ‘extremism’, the NGO is ‘justifying’ the latter (See: Russia claims that by naming its political prisoners, Memorial is ‘justifying terrorism’)

Such an offensive against both organizations, but especially against Memorial HRC, required backing from highly specific ‘experts’, and maths teacher Kryukova and translator Tarasov were chosen.

Andrei Zayakin is co-founder of the important Russian initiative Dissernet which exposes the ‘expert assessments’ often used for the persecution of Crimean or Russian political prisoners. In an article for Novaya Gazeta, he demonstrates that neither Kryukova nor Tarasov have any expert knowledge that could justify their involvement in what is described as a ‘psycholinguistic study’.  Zayakin has scrutinized the two individuals’ academic qualifications and academic career and found nothing even remotely connected with the required field, nor any particular evidence of academic success.  They have, nonetheless, been employed to provide ‘expert assessments’ in a number of cases, with their assessments claiming a truly incredible number of areas of competence. Zayakin mentions three cases where Kryukova was involved in finding Jehovah’s Witnesses’ material ‘extremist’.  In one case, the maths teacher was described as “a religious expert”, in a second  – “a cultural expert” and in a third “a linguist”.  Russia’s persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses has reached such a scale that two ‘experts’ may not cope with the workload, but both Kryukova and Tarasov have clearly been involved in a very large number of such prosecutions. In one opinion signed by both Kryukova and Tarasov, they were alleged to be ‘social anthropologists’, while in another they were ‘sexologists’.  

Kryukova was also one of the alleged experts who concluded that nine of the many photos that Yury Dmitriev, historian and head of the Karela Memorial Society, had saved of his adopted daughter (приемная дочь) were ‘pornographic’.  This conclusion was demolished in court by Dr Lev Shcheglov, the President of Russia’s National Institute of Sexology.  He was categorical that none of the photographs in the Dmitriev file were pornographic.  The same conclusion was reached by other experts called by the defence.  (Details about the case here).

Zayakin notes that Kryukova’s lack of qualifications and competence was confirmed by the court in one prominent case involving allegations that a person had demanded a bribe.  That, however, was in a case where the prosecutor doubted Kryukova’s competence, and the judge supported the prosecutor.  In the majority of cases, any amount of evidence that the alleged ‘experts’ are not competent to give such an assessment is simply ignored.

In the vast majority of cases, Kryukova and Tarasov will be in no doubt that their ‘expert assessments’ will lead to people being imprisoned, often for long periods, without any crime. 

With respect to the Memorial Human Rights Centre, Kryukova and Tarasov were asked to give their ‘assessment’ of the NGO’s Guidelines on the definition of a political prisoner’ (available in Russian and in English)

This innocuous document is described by the two supposed experts as a resource “dedicated to the propaganda of views, the ideas of an indefinite circle of individuals in order to change their views, beliefs or to form new ones in accordance with the aspirations of the propagandists.”

In answer to the question “does the material contain the linguistic and psychological elements of justification of or propaganda of any activities?”, the maths teacher and translator answer yes, that they contain “linguistic and psychological elements of the justification of the activities of members of international terrorist organizations Hizb ut-Tahrir ; Tablighi Jamaat and Takfir wal-Hijra, as well as of the extremist organizations ‘Artpodgotovka’ and the Jehovah’s Witnesses ….”

“The authors show bias in presenting the activities of experts, employees of the law enforcement bodies, the investigation, the prosecutor’s office, courts in order to distort the reader’s perception of the situation regarding application of the law in the Russian Federation”.

“All of the material considered above, placed on the Internet site of the Memorial Human Rights Centre are aimed at forming in an indefinite circle of people the impression that it is acceptable to carry out terrorist and extremist activities, namely the activities of international extremist and terrorist organizations and to take part in their activities.”

This has been taken virtually verbatim for the prosecutor’s application to have Memorial HRC dissolved (cited here).

Russia’s persecution of Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians in occupied Crimea on spurious ‘terrorism’ or ‘extremism’ charges, based solely on alleged involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir (a peaceful transnational Muslim organization which is legal in Ukraine) or the Jehovah’s Witnesses has received international condemnation. Those imprisoned on such charges are recognized as political prisoners not only by the Memorial Human Rights Centre, but by the UN General Assembly; OSCE; the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe; the EU and essentially all democratic states.

If Russia succeeds in destroying Memorial, this will be a devastating blow to all those who wish to see rule of law in Russia and occupied Crimea.  It will also provide a terrifying precedent, enabling Russia to substantially escalate its repression, including in occupied Crimea by bringing criminal charges (of ‘justifying terrorism / extremism/) against all of those who speak out in defence of Russia’s ever-mounting number of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience.

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