Vadim Bektemirov, a religious leader from Simferopol accused of involvement in the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir, is a political prisoner
Memorial Human Rights Centre, in accordance with international guidelines, considers Vadim Bektemirov, a Crimean Tatar, a political prisoner. We believe he is being prosecuted for the non-violent exercise of freedom of conscience and religion and the right of association. So far as we know, he has been deprived of liberty in the absence of any evidence of a crime having been committed in order to stop his religious activities, as well as to suppress civic activism by the residents of Crimea, which has been annexed by Russia.
We demand the immediate release of Vadim Bektemirov.
Who is Vadim Bektemirov and what are the charges against him?
Vadim Bektemirov, a philologist and religious leader from Crimea, is accused of participating in the activities of a terrorist organisation. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years’ imprisonment for an offence under Article 205.5, Part 2, of the Russian Criminal Code.
In July 2020 law enforcement officers conducted a large number of searches in the homes of Muslims in various districts of Crimea. As a result, six people, including Bektemirov, were remanded in custody and one other was placed under house arrest. On 26 May 2021 court proceedings in the case of Bektemirov, in which he is the sole defendant, began in the Southern District Military Court. Bektemirov himself is being held in a remand centre in Rostov-on-Don.
The indictment against Bektemirov consists of evidence of his participation in the international Islamic party Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is designated as terrorist and banned in Russia. The indictment cites the testimony of two classified witnesses, using pseudonyms, who claim that from 2015 to 2018 Bektemirov took them to conspiratorial meetings of a Hizb ut-Tahrir cell in Simferopol. At the meetings, participants discussed the need to follow the ideas of Hizb ut-Tahrir, attract new supporters to the organisation and hold explanatory talks in mosques. They also raised the matter of the harassment of Muslims in Crimea.
The materials of the case also refer to a video from April 2015 in which Bektemirov allegedly justifies the activities and promotes the ideas of Hizb ut-Tahrir ‘in front of other people present in the room.’ Another proof of Bektemirov’s guilt, according to the Investigative Committee, is a list of Islamic literature seized from his home during a search.
Vadim Bektemirov is a graduate of the Arabic language and literature department of Jinan University in Lebanon. Before his arrest he worked as a translator. Bektemirov has three children, one of which was born after he was remanded in custody. Bektemirov’s father died of a heart attack two weeks after his son’s arrest.
At the first court hearing, which took place on 26 May 2021, Vadim Bektemirov said: ‘The only reason I am here is because I profess my religion. This is a continuation of the genocide that began under Stalin. This is repression of my people and me, that is the reason I am here. My detention is solely because I am a Muslim and a Crimean Tatar. That was enough for the FSB.’
Why Memorial considers Bektemirov a political prisoner?
The prosecution of real and presumed members of Hizb ut-Tahrir is now systematic in Russia. The mere fact of joining or participating in the activities of the organisation has become sufficient to be convicted of terrorism. As in many similar cases, Vadim Bektemirov has not been charged with the preparation or execution of an act of terrorism, or with making terrorist threats or inciting violence. Instead, the indictment lists evidence such as participation in meetings of believers and inviting new people to take part in them, discussing religious topics and reading Islamic literature.
Memorial Human Rights Centre considers the 2003 decision of the Supreme Court, that designated Hizb ut-Tahrir a terrorist organisation, to be unfounded. The ruling contains no evidence that Hizb ut-Tahrir engages in terrorist activity. There is not a single known instance of members of this organisation committing or preparing acts of terrorism anywhere in the world.
At the same time, the Supreme Court’s decision enabled a simplification of the procedure for investigating ‘terrorist’ cases involving Hizb ut-Tahrir, removing the need to prove the commission or preparation of a terrorist act. Russian security forces take advantage of this to artificially inflate the statistics on solving terrorist crimes.
In annexed Crimea, the prosecution of members of Hizb ut-Tahrir serves another purpose for the security forces, namely the suppression of a historically disaffected group — the Crimean Tatars (with few exceptions, all those prosecuted for involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir have belonged to this ethnic group). In 2014 Crimean Tatars did not support the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. Since that time they have been victims of persecution. As part of Ukraine, Hizb ut-Tahrir carried out its activities in Crimea legally.
Bektemirov took an active role in supporting Crimean Tatars prosecuted by the Russian authorities. As a religious leader, he conducted prayers, attended court hearings and provided assistance to families. It seems very likely that the accusation of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, among other things, is a means to suppress civic solidarity and activism among residents of Crimea.
Memorial Human Rights Centre believes Vadim Bektemirov has been deprived of his liberty for political reasons because of his exercise of freedom of religion, in violation of the right to a fair trial and in the absence of any evidence of a crime having been committed.
More information about this case and the position of Memorial Human Rights Centre are available on our website.
Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner does not imply Memorial Human Rights Centre agrees with, or approves of, their views, statements, or actions.
● How to help
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