Bagavudin Omarov, a Muslim from Dagestan charged with organising a cell of the banned At-Takfir wal-Hijra, is a political prisoner, Memorial says

Memorial Human Rights Centre, in accordance with international guidelines defining the term ‘political prisoner,’ considers Bagavudin Omarov a political prisoner. A Muslim from Dagestan, Omarov has been imprisoned for the non-violent exercise of freedom of conscience in the absence of a crime and in violation of his right to a fair trial. We demand his immediate release.

Who is Bagavudin Omarov and what are the charges against him?

A Muslim from Makhachkala, Bagavudin Omarov was remanded in custody on 1 November 2018. He has been charged with an offence under Article 282.2, Part 1, of the Russian Criminal Code (organising the activities of a banned organisation). According to the investigation, he set up a cell of At-Takfir wal-Hijra, an organisation declared extremist by the Russian Supreme Court in 2010 and banned on Russian territory. Omarov is currently on trial in Makhachkala.

Why Memorial considers Omarov a political prisoner

Omarov was charged with an offence under Article 282.2, Part 1, of the Criminal Code for belonging to a banned organisation about which all that is known is that it existed in Egypt in the 1970s.

There is no objective evidence of the existence of the cell other than that believers read and discussed books together. There is no evidence of plans, of contacts between ‘members’ and the alleged international organisation, or of receiving money, and so on.

The evidence for the prosecution consists of the testimonies of eight people from the region where Omarov lived who told investigators they were members of a cell he controlled (they are witnesses in the case), other indirect evidence and the interpretation of audio recordings made secretly in the course of the investigation.

No mention is ever made of the name of the organisation in conversations or in the seized literature. The investigation therefore concludes that Omarov was involved in At-Takfir wal-Hijra based on indirect evidence: according to an assessment by experts, Bagavudin and the ‘participants’ in the cell, in their discussions on religious, moral and ethical topics, used notions ‘characteristic’ of the ideology of this organisation. For example, members of the group issued a ’takfir’ (accusation of disbelief) against some people with whom they were acquainted (including some who attended their meetings) and others. It is known that the ideology of the Egyptian organisation was based, among other things, on issuing ’takfirs’ against apostates. But many of the concepts that were heard in the conversations are widespread and characteristic of various Islamic currents.

Many experts (see, for example, here) question the very existence of At-Takfir wal-Hijra in today’s Islamic world. Even an expert on Islam who appeared in court in the Omarov case could not give any information about the existence of the organisation after it was broken up in Egypt in 1978.

Nine witnesses (including six members of the alleged cell) have already retracted their testimony at the trial, stating that the words recorded by the investigator did not correspond to what they actually said. Omarov also retracted his confession, explaining he had been forced to confess by threats of torture. According to witnesses, they did meet to pray together and discuss religious issues, but had nothing to do with any organisation. The first time they had heard the term ’At-Takfir wal-Hijra’ was from an investigator.

From studying the case file, Memorial has concluded that the investigation was often biased and interpreted the motives for the participants’ actions in a one-sided manner, as well as the meaning and content of the literature that was seized.

Apparently, At-Takfir wal-Hijra is becoming yet another radical Islamic organisation for the real or imaginary involvement in which law enforcement officials are persecuting Muslims. At the same time, they do not bother to prove the real criminal activities of the defendants.

In our opinion, law enforcement agencies regularly ‘improve’ their crime detection statistics by using the appearance of ‘success’ based on fabricated cases of this kind as a substitute for any genuine fight against the terrorist threat.

More information about this case and the opinion of Memorial Human Rights Centre is available on our website.

Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner or as a victim of politically motivated prosecution does not imply Memorial Human Rights Centre agrees with, or approves of, their views, statements, or actions.

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