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Russia: Rights Groups Say Muslims Are Unfairly Targeted In Fight Against Terrorism

Muslim praying in Chechnya (AFP) Muslims and human rights campaigners in Russia joined forces today to denounce what they describe as a persistent campaign of harassment and detentions targeting Muslims in the country. Growing numbers of ordinary Muslims, they say, are falling victim to the government’s bid to show successes in fighting terrorism in the wake of the Beslan hostage tragedy.

Moscow, 31 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The Russian government is fabricating cases against Muslims in order to prosecute them for terrorism, leading Russian human rights campaigners charged today.

Vitalii Ponomarev, an activist at the rights group Memorial, told a press conference that 39 Muslims have been sentenced on terrorism charges since the beginning of this year across Russia, the Caucasus excluded. Dozens more are awaiting trial.

The first wave of terrorism charges brought against Muslims began soon after the hostage tragedy in Beslan in September 2004, a trend that rights activists say is gaining pace. Ponomarev alleges that torture is routinely used to beat false confessions from Muslims.

"Torture is used in about 40 percent of cases to obtain confessions. A new tendency is the fabrication of group cases. It is announced that large underground terrorist organizations have been uncovered. The most scandalous case, which has yet to reach court, is taking place in Tatarstan, where more than 20 people are charged with allegedly preparing terrorist attacks ahead of the millennium in the city [of Kazan, the capital]," Ponomarev said.

The rights groups say that defendants are, as a rule, accused of having ties to Hizb ut-Tahrir, a radical Islamic organization that Russia outlawed in 2003 as terrorist group. Hizb ut-Tahrir seeks to establish a caliphate in Central Asia, but formally rejects violence. Russia's Federal Security Service, however, accuses the group of supporting separatist rebels in Chechnya.

Mars Gayanov, a 53-year-old Muslim from Bashkortostan, told

reporters that Russian special forces in December raided his house, where they allegedly found Islamic extremist literature and homemade bombs. Gayanov denies hiding either bombs or extremist literature. He said law-enforcement officials tried to beat confessions out of him.

"Politics are currently aimed at channeling popular dissatisfaction, which is always possible if there is some kind enemy." -- Gannushkina

"The interrogations started. On 1 January 2005, after lunch, I was transferred to another cell where they tried to beat confessions from me that I was a member, and even the leader, of a particular division of the so-called Hizb ut-Tahrir party -- by beating and torturing me. Neither I nor my sons are members of this party," Gayanov said.

The fact that Gayanov was beaten while in prison has been officially established. He was given a suspended sentence, but his two sons were sentenced to five years and 7 1/2 years in prison.

Svetlana Gannushkina, head of the rights group Civil Assistance, said the Russian government is rounding up Muslims in an attempt to make it appear that it is actively combating terrorism.

"Politics are currently aimed at channeling popular dissatisfaction, which is always possible if there is some kind enemy," she said. "The enemy is once again the United States, and we also need an internal enemy. The internal enemy is chosen because it is different and because someone is afraid of him. I am absolutely convinced that Islam and the Islamic caliphate are a phobia of the president of the Russian Federation."

Gannushkina said she has personally heard President Vladimir Putin make negative comments about Islam and accuse Muslims of plotting to establish a caliphate in Russia, particularly in Chechnya.

Rights groups also accuse the Russian government of illegally allowing Uzbek security officers to operate on Russian territory and to detain Uzbek nationals allegedly involved in terrorist activities. (See also "Rights Groups Say Country Intolerant To Minority Religions")

Uzbek troops violently suppressed an uprising in the city of Andijon in May, which they blamed on Islamic radicals. Since then, Uzbek authorities have been seeking the extradition of suspects from Russia and Kyrgyzstan.

Gannushkina said many alleged Uzbek terrorists have already been illegally transferred to Uzbekistan, although the Council of Europe and the European Union have denounced any such extraditions. "There is a very clear agreement -- the falsification of legal cases testify to this -- between the highest-ranking people in Russia and in Uzbekistan, according to which people whom the Uzbek government requests are sent to Uzbekistan," she said.

In June, 14 ethnic Uzbek were arrested in the central Russian city of Ivanovo at the request of Uzbekistan for allegedly participating in the Andijon uprising. All but one are in detention awaiting extradition, despite efforts by lawyers and human rights groups.

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