Russian Muslims Concerned With Sweeping Arrests

arrests. image (c) Robert Zagreyev and Sobkor®ruMuslims in the Russian Republic of Bashkortostan have appealed to Russia’s human rights organizations to lead a full investigation into a series of mass-arrests that shook the community.

According to statements by community leaders, armed and camouflaged officers burst into the homes of local muslims on the morning of April 3rd. The officers allegedly used force against women and children, and seized religious literature from the homes. Over 30 people were arrested across the region, on charges of involvement in the banned pan-islamist Hizb ut-Tahrir party.

Those arrested maintain that their interrogators mocked and threatened them, exerting both physical and psychological pressure. They added that the police broke from standard protocol during the questioning, and documented the sessions very poorly (for instance, dates and times were excluded from the paperwork).

The community does not exclude the possibility that the arrests followed the script developed in the case of Said Bayburin, an area imam who has been repeatedly vilified by authorities.

Said Bayburin, an imam from Ufa, the capital of Bashkortostan, was initially detained in May of 2007 by traffic police, who claimed they discovered narcotics and explosives in his car. After his attorney, Svetlana Avdzhaeva, managed to prove that the contraband was planted in the vehicle, Bayburin was accused on new charges of distributing pornography. Finally, after Avdzhaeva disproved the second charges, officials changed their story again, accusing the imam of distributing extremist religious literature. Bashkortostan court officials then attempted to remove Avdzhaeva from the case, and appealed to Moscow to have her disbarred.

The central Qualifications Commission, finding no unlawful acts on the part of the attorney, twice dismissed the Ufa court’s requests. Ignoring their rulings, an Ufa judge then filed a third recommendation to disqualify Avdzhaeva as an attorney.

Flyura Bayburina, the spouse of the arrested imam, said one reason for her husband’s arrest was “the desire of [local] agencies to report the great work being done on preventing terrorism to their higher-ups.”

In preparation of the 450th anniversary of Bashkortostan joining Russia, which was attended by President Vladimir Putin, the federal budget doled out great sums for maintaining security. “Since there weren’t and aren’t any extremists or radicals prepared for a terrorist act in Bashkiria, it was necessary to create this myth,” Bayburina said.

Some other experts proposed that the arrest of a popular imam like Said Bayburin could be connected with a power struggle within the Central Spiritual Directorate of Muslims in Russia. The group, one of Russia’s major muslim organizations, is based out of Ufa.