None of Their Business?

Within some days, the Babushkinsky District Court will pronounce a sentence to the group of Muslims who were invited to a shared praying in a wiretapped apartment and were then accused of participation in Tablighi Jamaat, the organisation prohibited in the Russian Federation.

Eight young men enter the courtroom. Six of them are then locked up in a tight cage where they are struggling to fit on the same bench: there is not enough room so someone gets up but bailiffs motion them to stay seated. The other cage is even smaller, two people are brought there; the old man immediately starts warming his knees up with his hands, the man next to him is fanning his face with his hands. No one is looking at the audience benches: there are no relatives or friends, as the majority of the defendants originate from Kyrgyzstan. The proceedings have been lasting for almost a year, and their loved ones cannot afford attending the hearings.

There are two Russian citizens among the defendants: Zufar Mustafin and Airat Usmanov. Mustafin glances first at the prosecution and then gazes at the judge. He is a candidate of technical sciences and appears to each of the hearings wearing a suit. With 27 degrees Celsius, his outfit looks almost like a challenge. However, no one pays any attention to the defendant.

All of these men are accused of participation in Tablighi Jamaat, the organisation that was recognised extremist in 2009 within the whole territory of Russia. In Kyrgyzstan, it does not enter into the list of the prohibited organisations. It is an apolitical religious movement that has appeared in Delhi and considers itself to be aimed at peaceful propagation of Islam. The name of the movement can be translated as “The Society of summon and dispatch of the faith”.  

During Ramadan, many of those who are now on trial visited the apartment at Startovaya 3 in various points of time. In the Cathedral Mosque at Prospekt Mira, they met the person who introduced himself as Toha. It was him who invited them to the said apartment. As people of faith, they could not refuse the suggestion to share a dinner and a prayer during the sacred month, so they accepted the invitation. Later on almost everyone who was in the apartment during those days got detained. The accusation followed: participation in the Moscow section of the Tablighi Jamaat movement (part 2 Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation), and for some of them, organisation of the activity of an extremist organisation (part 1 Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation).  

Zufar Mustafin told the journalists that upon detention he was tortured while the attempts were undertaken to force him to confess that he was a participant in Tablighi Jamaat. Later on, Zufar’s accomplices claimed having been tortured as well: the main part of the charges was based on confessionary statements of some of them at the time of the preliminary investigation; however, later on four of them (Bakirov, Kubatov, Dzhumaev, Kamchibekov) stated that they had been speaking under duress. An inspection was carried out in response to application of prohibited methods of investigation to the indictees, but no criminal case against field officers of the Federal Security Service Directorate was opened.

In the criminal indictment, the prosecution also referred to the report of the expert Roman Silantyev who had examined the sound of the video-recording that had been conducted in the apartment. The said expert (who had been dismissed from the position of the executive secretary of the Interreligious Council of Russia (MCR) in 2005 as the Russia Muftis Council considered the monograph of the scientist “The contemporary history of the Islamic community in Russia” “a strong factor of destabilisation, intolerance and lack of respect to the leaders of traditional Islam”) wrote that the visitors of the apartment at Startovaya wanted to create “the World Islamic Caliphate” within the territory of Russia.

That being said, according to the information of the attorneys of the defendants, the transcript of the sound contained no direct quotation proving that the accused were planning illegal actions in the territory of the Russian Federation or that they were holding a meeting as members of some religious organisation. Silantyev prepared an expert opinion with clear prosecutorial bias. It should be noted that he worked with the translation of the transcript from Kyrgyz language (which he stated himself in his report), and this copy of transcript was attached to the case file, however, no one but him had seen the original transcript. It is noteworthy as well that he did not carry out a phonological expert examination of the recording, so it was not established who exactly pronounced which phrase.

Zufar Mustafin’s attorney, Magomedshamil Shabanov, invited Mikhail Roshchin, a candidate of historical sciences, the senior scientific associate of the “Islamica” Center, to one of the hearings for clarification of the matters of religious nature. The expert familiarised himself with the translation of the transcript that his colleague had examined and did not manage to find any notice of the need to install the World Caliphate in the territory of the Russian Federation: “These days, many are concerned by the problematic of the Syrian conflict, and not the Muslims alone. Hence there is nothing surprising in the fact of addressing this topic. The question is whether any plans of sending someone to participate in non-governmental armed forces in Syria were being elaborated. The answer is clear to me: no such plans were being elaborated.”

Mustafin’s attorney Dmitry Sinelobov emphasised as well that he had studied the text of the transcript enclosed to the case file, and no plans of sending anyone to participate in nongovernmental armed forces in Syria were crafted by the visitors of the apartment at Startovaya street. “On the contrary, the interlocutors were condemning those who leave to Syria for that purpose, which follows directly from the context of the conversation; however, Silantyev and Savvin [professor of the department of theology of the Faculty of Humanities of the Federal State Budgetary Educational Institution of Higher Education “Russian State Social University” who carried out the expert’s examination together with Silantyev – note of the Civic Assistance Committee], seemingly with the aim of misleading the court, deliberately misrepresented the facts, presenting the conversation in the light that suited the prosecution best.” During the interrogation of the expert Roshchin, everyone became animated: the attorneys as well as their clients. It was evident from the faces of the defendants that they were surprised: someone is not afraid to say exactly what they were saying when describing the events that took place in the apartment at Startovaya street and is not trying to denigrate them. “Have you examined the transcript, was there discussion of the plans to establish the Caliphate?” inquired Mustafin’s attorneys Sharbatullo Sodikov and Magomedshamil Shabanov. “No, there was nothing like this,” responded Roshchin, “even though, of course, the question of restoration of the Caliphate is in certain way important to Muslims, but specifically in those meetings that took place, the question was neither addressed nor discussed”.

In his expert opinion, Silantyev pointed out as well that the long white garments worn by the Kyrgyz during the visit to the apartment at Startovaya street prove that those people are members of Tablighi Jamaat. However, according to the opinion of the main Mufti of the Spiritual Directorate of the Muslims of the Asian part of Russia, who was also invited to the hearing by the attorney Shabanov as an expert, it is common among all Muslims to invite each other for visits, pray collectively before sunrise and wear long loose clothes, and those features cannot be considered as indicative of participation in a specific group or an illegal organisation. Mufti disagreed as well to Silantyev’s conclusion that use of words “zikr” [Arabic for “memory, recollection”] and “da’wat” [Arabic for “summon, invitation’] – those words were pronounced by the accused, according to the recording – are indicative of participation in Tablighi. The Mufti noted that this terminology is widely applied in the Islamic community, moreover, it is used by representatives of completely different branches. “Zikr” means a ritual reference to Allah, a special kind of prayer, and “da’wat” is used in the meaning “life in accordance with the will of Allah”.

Silantyev’s expert report not only included the interpretation of terminology and the analysis of the appearance of the visitors at Startovaya street, but also express prosecutorial bias: participation in the meeting of an illegal organisation. The accused Shakir Kozhamkulov’s attorney Yury Khovrachev noted during the oral argument, “When this expert [Silantyev] was speaking, I asked: please, provide examples of specific actions of Kozhamkulov that he carried out and that are typical of a prohibited organisation and are not typical of Islam in general… The expert failed to respond this question”.

It is noteworthy that, at the time of investigation, a search was carried out in the house of the defendant Mustafin, and when the book “Selected Hadiths” was found in his house, he was immediately charged with “studying and propaganda of Tablighi Jamaat ideology”. How come the presence of the book indicated propagation activity to the investigation remains unknown, as well as why the defendants were accused of reading the extremist literature found in the apartment at Startovaya street in Arabic – the language none of the visitors can speak. It should also be noted that the charges against the group of Muslims were brought under part 2 Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of Russia as revised on 20 July 2016, that is to the time of laying the charges. While in accordance with Article 9 of the Criminal Сode, “unlawfulness and punishability of an act are defined by the criminal law effective as per the time of commitment of the  act”. And at the time of commitment of the act, that is the meetings at Startovaya street, the old version of the law was in force, under which participation in an extremist organisation was punishable by deprivation of liberty for a term from 0 to 4 years. The prosecutor was explaining her position by the following: the charges were brought in January 2017, and before none of the visitors of the apartment at Startovaya street appeared with confession, therefore, they should be tried in accordance with the law effective at the date of presentation of charges.

Attorney Maryam Makhaeva is convinced, “There is no evidence that Zufar Mustafin ever was a member and participated in the activity of Tablighi Jamaat. Besides, in accordance with para. 22 of the Resolution of the Plenary Session of the supreme Court of the Russian Federation of 28 June 2011 No. 11 “On the case law on criminal cases on extremism”, voluntary termination of participation in activities of an extremist organisation in relation to the above note is understood as termination of a criminal activity by an individual while realising the possibility to continue it. It can be expressed, for example, by withdrawing membership in an extremist organisation, by refusal to abide by an order of its leaders, by refusal to carry out other actions supporting the existence of the organisation, refusal to commit crimes. But the said list of examples of voluntary termination of participation in the activities of an extremist organisation does not comprise “appearance before the authorities of the Russian Federation”.

The attorneys of all the Muslims defendants insist that their clients be declared not guilty as, according to the defence, there is not a single real proof of participation of the defendants in an organisation prohibited in Russia and no indication that their actions carried signs of the crime defined by part 2 Article 282.2. of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

Daria Manina, Civic Assistance Committee

Translated by Daria Gorbacheva

In the photo: The Cathedral Mosque at Prospekt Mira in which the defendants met Toha who invited them to the apartment at Startovaya street.