Russia Persecutes Muslims: Rights Group
MOSCOW, August 3, 2005 ( & News
Agencies)  A leading human rights group accused the
Russian authorities of carrying out a campaign of
pursuit against Russian Muslims, under the guise of
fighting terrorism.

"We are currently involved in 23 judicial inquiries
concerning 81 people, all of them Muslims officially
pursued for extremist or terrorist activities, but all
the cases have political subtexts," said Vitaly
Ponomarev, director of the Memorial's Central Asia
Program, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported Tuesday,
August 2.

He maintained that the pursuit campaign, launched
after the bloody Beslan school hostage-taking crisis,
targets mostly Russian Muslims as well as Uzbeks,
Tajiks and Kyrgyz residing in Russia.

The director of the rights group, which was
established in the last years of the Soviet Union to
uncover the mass abuses that took place under Soviet
dictator Josef Stalin, said it had compiled numerous
dossiers on Muslims who had been unfairly treated.

Ponomarev stressed that a Memorial study conducted in
some of Russia's 89 regions showed at least 23
extremism cases involving over 80 people have been
fabricated since last fall. But he maintained that the
real number is estimated to be much higher.

Russian Muslims have been facing increasingly racist
and violent attacks ranging from raping and body
assaults to attacks on mosques, especially in the wake
of the bloody end to the Beslan school crisis in

On September 16,2004, a Muslim woman was found in a
remote area in the eastern city of Asbest raped and
tortured to death.

Russian Muslims have repeatedly complained about
social persecution and official ignorance despite
their relatively high number.

Leaders of Russian Muslims repeatedly express
resentment at being ignored by the federal authorities
in dealing with Islamic affairs despite the sizeable
minority that makes 23 million Muslims, out of a total
population of 144 millions.


Svetlana Ganushkina of the rights group also accused
the Russian authorities of targeting the Muslim
minority in the country.

"This campaign has either been initiated from the top,
or it is a campaign that people have understood they
are supposed to carry out," he said.

The rights activist further warned that such a
campaign was highly dangerous for the country, of
which Muslims make up approximately 20 per cent.

"If one fights against terrorism . . . by placing
innocent people in custody, the number of terrorists
and extremists will not decrease, and most likely it
will encourage recruitment of additional forces into
their ranks."

Ganushkina further condemned the Russian authorities'
detention of 14 Uzbeks on June 18 on suspicion of
involvement in the bloody events that shook the
eastern Uzbek province of Andijan in May.

"These people are still in detention and there was no
document permitting their arrest for three weeks...
Too often innocent people are found among the victims
of the fight against terrorism in Russia," she said,
according to AFP.

The protests were triggered in the eastern city of
Andijan by the trial of 23 local businessmen on
charges of religious extremism, a claim observers say
used by the government to crack down on activists.

The unrest also feeds on long pent-up anger in Andijan
regarding the treatment of prisoners, poverty,
unemployment and other social problems.

Human rights campaigners estimated up to 500 people
may have been killed in the ensuing operation to crush
the protests. 


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