Friday, July 25, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Russian Prisons Persecuting Muslim Prisoners During Ramadan, Social Network Posts Say

Paul Goble


            Staunton, July 25 – Russian prison officials are marking Ramadan in their own distinctive way by intensifying their longstanding discrimination against and active persecution of Muslim prisoners, according to a survey by’s Gulya Arifmezova of posts by the relatives and friends of these prisoners on the Internet.


            Because Islam requires fasting during the day and other rituals during the holy month of Ramadan, Arifmezova says the posts show, prison officials have had additional opportunities to crack down against them, especially in the prisons in the northern and central part of Russia (


            Unfortunately, she continues, despite the evidence in hand of such abuses – and they stress that they have had similar evidence in the past -- human rights activist say there is little they can do to bring those guilty of such abuses to justice or achieve an improvement in the treatment of Muslims caught up in the Russian penal system.


            Arifmezova reports about one particularly horrific example, a case in a Vologda prison camp where an Uzbek was beaten and then put in punishment cells for reading the Koran during a time when he was supposed to be working. The guards tore out pages of the Koran, Umar Buttayev says in Facebook, and then they beat the man.


            According to the Facebook post, “any manifestation of Islam” has the effect of provoking “extreme aggression.”  Praying, reading the Koran, or trying to grow a beard can all lead to beatings or confinement in punishment cells. 


            Such abuses, human rights activists say, are especially common in prisons and camps far from the homes of inmates.  Officials purposely send Muslim prisoners to the distant north because that has the effect of cutting them off from their families and friends and thus reducing the possibilities the prisoners have for talking about any mistreatment.


            According to one activist, Zaur Magomedkadyrov, prison officials defend what they do by insisting that Muslims just like any other group should not expect to be going to a summer resort when they are sent to prison. But in fact, these same officials treat Muslims differently and worse and are often more successful at hiding what they are doing from outsiders.


            Magomedkadyrov says that he has little hope for any improvement in the situation. On the one hand, Russia’s “’non-Caucasian’ regions if one can use that expression have been taught to hate us for too long. And on the other, most of the prison guards are people who fought in Afghanistan or Chechnya and “pathologically hate Muslims.”


            He points out that those who seek to defend Muslim prisoners “do not have either the rights or the authority to go into [any part of the prison system] and check the conditions there, even though in the rules of these institutions precisely that kind of activity is authorities.”  And the guards protect themselves in addition by threatening anyone who talks with even greater punishments.




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