Among the numerous routine violations of human rights in the Republic of Daghestan, one of the most widespread and pernicious is the inclusion of thousands of people, including some underage children, in the so-called "prophylactic register" of individuals suspected of "an inclination to commit a criminal offense."
While that category includes former offenders, registered drug addicts and alcoholics, and people with a record of domestic violence, many others are peaceable, law-abiding members of society. Their sole offense is that the republic's Interior Ministry regards them as "religious extremists," even though there may not be the slightest evidence to substantiate such suspicions.
It should be stressed that the prophylactic register is not an exclusively Daghestani phenomenon. It was instituted by the federal Interior Ministry, and the bureaucratic procedure under which local police officers identify and add to it the names of potential offenders is spelled out in detail in a directive issued in December 2012, according to the news portal Caucasian Knot.
In Daghestan, however, that procedure, together with the stipulation that a person can be entered in the register only after a police officer has become convinced on the basis of a one-on-one conversation that he/she poses a genuine threat, is routinely violated in the name of fighting religious extremism.
Moreover, in April 2015, Daghestan's Interior Minister Lieutenant General Abdurashid Magomedov issued additional instructions on intensifying measures to identify and register extremists, and on keeping them under surveillance. Human rights activists say Magomedov was not empowered to issue those instructions, which are therefore illegal.
Detailed criteria for inclusion on the prophylactic register have never been made public, and some Daghestanis remain unaware that they have been so designated until they are detained by police. They are then routinely taken to a police precinct, photographed, fingerprinted, and required to provide DNA samples, none of which are required under the federal Interior Ministry directive.
People on the register may not travel beyond Daghestan. Some hospitals reportedly refuse to treat them. In the worst-case scenario, they are subjected to torture to induce them to incriminate fellow "religious radicals," or criminal charges are fabricated against them.
Initially, Daghestan's Interior Ministry targeted primarily those believers who profess the austere Salafi strain of Sunni Islam favored by the now moribund North Caucasus insurgency. But increasingly in recent months adherents of traditional Sufi Islam are also being included in the register.
At the same time, human rights campaigners also suspect rank-and-file police officers in Daghestan are under pressure to demonstrate their "efficiency" in combatting the threat posed by "religious extremism" and risk dismissal for failing to do so.
Daghestan's Salafi minority reportedly numbers between 40,000-50,000 people, of a total population of some 2.9 million. In his annual address to parliament in March 2015, Interior Minister Magomedov gave the total number of names on the prophylactic register as 17,200, of whom he said 6,601 "espoused nontraditional Islam" (meaning Salafism), according to the independent Russian-language weekly Chernovik.
One year later, those figures had risen to 20,407 and 10,338, respectively. That represents an increase of more than 50 percent in the number of people entered in the register on the grounds of their actual or imputed religious belief.
The Moscow-based human rights group Memorial said in the summer of 2016 that its Makhachkala office advised "dozens of people every day" who seek help in getting their names removed from the prophylactic register. Some of them, according to lawyer Murad Magomedov, were atheists.
The most likely explanation for the exponential increase over the past two years in the number of people officially designated religious extremists is alarm over the number of young men leaving Daghestan and other North Caucasus republics to join the fight in Syria, and a resulting intensification of efforts by the Interior Ministry to stem that exodus. Chernovik reported in June 2016 that over the previous 10 months there was an analogous huge increase in detentions of worshippers at Salafi mosques after Friday Prayers. The most prominent Salafi mosques, including that on Kotrov Street in Makhachkala, have since been closed.
Meeting in May 2015 with Interior Minister Magomedov and Republic of Daghestan head Ramazan Abdulatipov, members of the Russian presidential human rights commission argued that the practice of including suspected religious extremists in the prophylactic register was unconstitutional insofar as it impinges on the right to freedom of belief. Magomedov categorically denied that anyone was added to the register on the basis of his religious beliefs, and insisted that the entire procedure was legal. Republican Deputy Prime Minister Ramazan Djafarov, a retired Federal Security Service (FSB) major general, similarly affirmed that the prophylactic register was both necessary and legal.
Memorial's team of lawyers has since drafted extensive and detailed advice to people who discover they have been entered in the prophylactic register, enumerating their legal rights and explaining how, and within what time period, to appeal against procedural violations or take legal action.
Some court cases have even been successful: Daghestan's Supreme Court has ruled twice that police acted illegally in adding people to the register, while one of the most prominent victims, Magomed Magomedov, spokesman for a Salafi mosque in Makhachkala, won a legal battle late last year to have his name removed from the register.
Meanwhile, Kremlin insider Maksim Shevchenko, who was refused registration in Daghestan to run as a candidate for last year's Russian State Duma election, has formally asked President Vladimir Putin to task the Prosecutor-General's Office with investigating violations by Daghestani police of the requirements for entering people in the prophylactic register.
An end to such violations seems unlikely, however. Nikolai Petrov of the Moscow Carnegie Center has described Daghestan's Interior Ministry as an independent actor, a "fortress under siege" that seeks in the first instance to defend "its own corporate interests," rather than a government agency called on to protect the state system.
As for its head, Magomedov, he currently ranks fourth in the most recent straw poll conducted by Chernovik to determine which of 10 prominent Daghestani political figures could muster enough support to qualify for the title of "people's president."