Vienna, April 19 – A Shanghai Cooperation Organization accord to share information about terrorists and the willingness of its member states to extradite by non-judicial means those any SOC state has identified as terrorists is doing little to counter terrorism but a great deal to increase repression in both Russia and the Central Asia.
That is the conclusion of Vitaliy Ponomaryev, a longtime specialist on human rights, the director of the Moscow Memorial Society’s program for Central Asia, and author of the widely acclaimed study, “Islam Karimov Against Hizb-ut-Tahrir” (http://www.agentura.ru/experts/ponomarev/).
In an interview with the Agentura.ru website, Ponomaryev argued that well-advanced plans to create a list of terrorist organizations that will be banned through the SOC – which includes Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan – threatens the rights of the residents of all of them.
The reason for that, he said, is simple: The SOC agreement creates a dangerous game of “political trade: your recognize as terrorists our dissidents and then we will recognize as terrorists those whom you seek.” And that means that Uzbekistan, perhaps the most repressive in the SOC, is able to get others to go along with its approach.
This danger is compounded, Ponomaryev suggested, because the security services in the Russian Federation are ever more willing to deport people before the latter gain access to the courts, something proscribed by the Russian constitution and law but that is very much part of Russian practice.
Moreover, Russian security officials are seeking to prevent any discussion of what is going on. Ponomaryev said that Russian officials have warned Memorial that “any publicly expressed doubts” about the RF Supreme Court’s decision on 17 groups as “’terrorist’” would be “considered as ‘support for terrorist activity.’”
Nonetheless, the human rights expert continued, he and his colleagues feel compelled to speak out. “There is no reliable information,” he continued, that Hizb-ur-Tahrir, one of the groups on this list, has ever been involved in terrorist activity either in the Russian Federation or in other countries of the world.
But, he said, there are reasons why including this organization on the list is “very convenient” for Russia’s security services. Unlike most such groups, Hizb-ut-Tahrir has thousands of adherents, and thus the organs have no problem arresting ‘10, 20 or even 100” of it members whenever Moscow wants to demonstrate that it is fighting terrorism.
Indeed, he suggested, the focus on this group by the SOC member states has often meant that officials in these countries spend much less time on those who may be engaging in real terrorism rather than just threatening the increasingly repressive status quo there.
According to Ponomaryev, the compilation of lists of “terrorist” groups, the sharing of information about them, and the extradition of those linked to these organizations have yet another baleful consequence -- a dramatic lowering of evidentiary standards in cases involving those charged with being members of these groups.
Any Muslim in the Russian Federation or Central Asia who talks about establishing a Muslim state can be charged and then condemned for Hizb-ut-Tahrir membership and imprisoned, deported or both, Ponomaryev said. Sometimes even wearing a beard or being in contact with another Muslim has been enough.
Indeed, the situation has become “absurd” on its face. Many of the so-called experts in such cases know almost nothing about Islam but were earlier trained as specialists on Marxism-Leninism, something that appears to incline them to accept as true any charge that someone or other is “a terrorist.”
Indeed, in at least one case, Ponomaryev recounted, such “experts,” with the backing of the officials who have called them, have announced that otherwise innocuous leaflets are linked to terrorism because the publishers who printed it “are known for their connects to ‘the Wahhabis.’ And this [has been] used as proof!”
To reinforce his point, Ponomaryev concluded his Agentura.ru interview by noting that one Moscow judge had actually said that a person charged with terrorist was guilty only of expressing “utopian ideas.” But the judge said, because of the Supreme Court’s decision, “I must consider them terrorist