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RUSSIA: Release Bagir Kazikhanov

USCIRF Commissioner John Ruskay makes a statement in support of Bagir Kazikhanov

May 19, 2017
RUSSIA: Release Bagir Kazikhanov
USCIRF Commissioner John Ruskay tells the Russian Government to
“Stop Equating Peaceful Religious Behavior with Terrorism”
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) urges the government of Russia to release Bagir Kazikhanov, who was imprisoned unjustly because of his religious beliefs. May 21 marks the 10th anniversary of a Moscow district court designating as “extremist” 14 translations of the writings of Turkish Islamic theologian Said Nursi. Bagir’s so-called crime was being a reader of Nursi’s works.

“Bagir Kazikhanov has languished in prison since April 2014 simply for following the dictates of his conscience, said USCIRF Commissioner John Ruskay. “It is long overdue for the Russian government to stop equating peaceful religious behavior with terrorism or extremism and immediately release Bagir Kazikhanov and other prisoners of conscience who have been imprisoned on false charges of extremism.”

Commissioner John Ruskay has taken up the case of Bagir Kazikhanov as part of USCIRF’s Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project. This project highlights the plight of individuals who have been imprisoned for their religious beliefs, practices, or identity.

Kazikhanov organized regular study sessions in rented apartments between 2012 and 2014 in Dagestan, a Russian republic, where he was born.  During these study sessions, he and fellow Muslims studied the works of the highly regarded theologian Said Nursi. Kazikhanov was sentenced on February 25, 2015 to three and a half years’ imprisonment after being convicted under Part One of Art. 282.2 of the Russian Criminal Code for participating in “extremist activity.”

The Russian government continues to surveil, investigate, and prosecute Said Nursi readers for alleged extremism despite no apparent link to such activities. Another reader of Nursi’s writings was arrested in Russia a few weeks ago, bringing the number of Muslims known to be on trial or under criminal investigation for meeting to study Nursi's writings to twelve. On April 10, 2008, the Russian Supreme Court  banned the “Nurdzhular” organization, an alleged conspiracy of Nursi followers which is widely believed to be a legal fiction the Russian government invented to facilitate the prosecution of Nursi adherents.

Due to these and other actions the Russian government has taken, USCIRF for the first time recommended in the 2017 Annual Report that Russia be designated as a “country of particular concern” (CPC) for its “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” violations of religious freedom. For more information, please see USCIRF’s 2017 Annual Report chapter on Russia. The Russian translation may be found here.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission, the first of its kind in the world, dedicated to defending the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad. To learn more about the Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project or to interview a Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at Media@USCIRF.gov or John D. Lawrence, Director of Communications (JLawrence@USCIRF.gov/+1-202-786-0611).