Grave Abuse of The Fight Against Terrorism and Extremism in Russia

On the eve of momentous elections in Russia, FIDH sent there a fact-finding mission which took place from the 7th to the 17th of February. Their assignment was to examine compliance with human rights obligations and the rule of law in the application of anti-terrorism measures. This mission is a part of a large mobilisation for the respect of human rights in the framework of the fight against terrorism all over the world.

The mission completed, FIDH express it’s grave concerns in light of the egregious human rights violations perpetrated in the name of the fight against terrorism and extremism in Russia.


Background

The fight against terrorism came to the fore in Russia before the 11 September 2001 attacks, with the start of the “second” war in Chechnya in 1999, entirely under the banner of “anti-terrorism”. The international context, the trauma caused by the Dubrovka Theatre hostage taking in 2002, the attacks on the primary school in Beslan in 2004, and the spilling-over of the conflict in Chechnya to neighbouring republics in the Northern Caucuses helped to fuel the systematic spread of new forms of the fight against terrorism throughout Russia. The consequences were fabricated criminal cases (Zara Mourtazalieva [1] and Zaurbek Talkhigov [2]) and rigged criminal proceedings brought against persons belonging to “non-traditional” Muslim communities in various regions in Russia, for instance in Tatarstan. The cases have been used to feed the fear of an Islamist threat which radiates from the Northern Caucuses and to generate campaigns of repression in Central Asian countries, namely Uzbekistan, with whom Russia has established significantly closer relations.

The forces of law and order have taken advantage of the generalized fear of the Muslim religion and are willing to use any fallacious admixture to harass religious groups deemed to be suspect (the cases of Said Nursi, Hizb-ut-Tahrir [3], and Jamaat-e-Islami [4]). When unofficial lists were drafted of terrorists organizations they included only Muslim groups.

New anti-terrorist legislation passed in 2006, which makes it possible to override the principles of the rule of law by creating an “anti-terrorist operational zone”, has strengthened existing mechanisms. Thus, several regions in Ingushetia and in the mountainous region of Dagestan have been recently declared “anti-terrorist operational zones”.

In addition to the anti-terrorist legislation, there is now a law to fight extremism aimed at cracking down on acts that incite racial, religious and political hatred , as well as membership in an organization qualified as extremist. The nebulous definitions given for extremism and terrorism [5]

, have made it possible for intolerable excesses and abuses in the eyes of civil society, namely the creation of a climate of intimidation that targets individuals, NGOs, groups, societies, and associations for example the Sakharov Centre case [6] . The same lack of clarity has made it possible for certain cases, namely those involving Muslims, to be tried for extremism rather than anti-terrorism, making them easier to bring to trial. Moreover, the list of outlawed publications is getting longer everyday and now includes, without explanation or clarification, any works titled “The Founding Principles of Islam”. The State clearly uses anti-extremism legislation as a mechanism for social and political control that is detrimental to freedom of expression and freedom of belief.

Disturbing observations

After having heard numerous victims of violations, NGO representatives and lawyers, in Moscow, Kazan and Naberezhnye Chelny, the FIDH staunchly denounces the practices described hereunder.

1. Systematic, aggravated and recurrent dysfunction of the Russian judicial system during the investigation and trial of criminal offences:

- Abusive arrest and search conditions, the use of “approved witnesses”;

- The manner in which investigations (from the preliminary phase through to the bringing of charges) are conducted with the use of ill treatment, torture, and extortion of confessions;

- Abusive conditions in remand and custody;

- The abusive and obstructive role of the prosecution and judges often breaching principles of judicial independence and political non-interference;

- Violations of the rights of the defence;

- Relentlessly trying a case, at any price, rather than recognizing an error; and

- The use of “made-to-order” expert testimony, the manipulation of the juries - which has gone so far as to quash or reverse acquittals on the basis of a contrived legal technicality, or supposed problems linked to the admissibility of evidence - which in some cases is simply fabricated and taints proceedings that no longer meet the standards for a fair and impartial trial.

Individuals found guilty and sentenced have only one avenue for recourse, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which takes a long time to hand down decisions. FIDH points out that Russia blocks a reform that would enable the Court, among other things, to accelerate proceedings.

2. Practices in anti-terrorist operations:

- The abnegation of the principles of the rule of law under a declaration that stipulates that “an officer in charge” (no further details are provided) assigned to “an anti-terrorist zone” (no time frame or geographical limits are provided, contrary to the provisions for a state of emergency, which is limited to a period of 30 days that is renewable but must be presented before Parliament and to the Council of Europe) is able to intercept (and ban) correspondence, have unlimited access to private areas, control and limit (and ban) any form of communication, silence all press (with the exception of official coverage), displace populations, shoot rather than negotiate with terrorists, and can bring down civilian aircraft that are deemed to represent a “threat”;

- The constant overstepping of the limits of the new law, which was aimed at making previously illegal practices legal namely: kidnapping, abuse, torture, extrajudicial executions, not to mention the use of death squads;

- The competition between the FSB (former KGB) and the Ministry of the Interior (MVD) won by the FSB and the lawlessness caused by the transfer of certain responsibilities to the local and regional levels and also the role given to certain structures or units that were not covered by the law (the National Anti-Terrorist Committee or NAK);

- Opaque extradition procedures between Russia and Central Asian countries, in particular Uzbekistan, which are facilitated by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization [7].
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3. Practices in the fight against extremism:

- The harassment of certain groups -Muslims, nationalists, extreme left- through incrimination (involvement with an extremist group or distributing extremist literature) which is the equivalent to criminalizing their opinions or beliefs ;

- The intimidation of NGOs or other forms of associations through the use of “warnings” handed down by the prosecutor that can lead to their dissolution;

- The creation of a climate of suspicion and intimidation and of constant social and political repression. One is witnessing the passage from the former institutionalized military-police/FBS system to the instrumentalization of the judicial system through the criminalization of behaviours that come under the freedom of expression and belief.

The FIDH calls on the President of the Russian Federation to guarantee, as of his election in March, that anti-terrorists laws and the methods used to enforce them are fully compliant with the regional and international human rights instruments ratified by Russia and to guarantee, under all circumstances, the independence of the judicial system, and the freedoms of expression, belief, opinion and association.

In particular, the FIDH requests that current anti-terrorist and anti-extremist legislation be amended with a view to better defining the scope of its application, to define torture and explicitly ban its use, and to eliminate inequalities in procedures and practices that are favourable to the prosecution and detrimental to the defence. The FIDH also requests the publication of lists of banned organizations and publications; and allowing for legal challenge to such a ban; and to have the appointment of public defenders made by the Bar Association rather than the State Prosecutor’s Office.

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