Staunton, September 11 – Ramzan Kadyrov vitriolic reaction to a decision by a Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk court to declare a book containing verses from the Koran extremist has sparked widespread anger and debate about the reach of Russia’s anti-extremism law, but it has also highlighted the fact that in Russian jurisprudence, there is no system of precedent.
Consequently, as Rustam Dzhalilov points out in a commentary on this controversy, if one court finds something extremist, a dozen others may disagree, and vice versa, if this decision is reversed on appeal, “everything may remain as it was before” such a step might be taken (kavpolit.com/articles/zapret_islamskoj_literatury_ot_broshjur_do_korana-19801/).
But there is an important exception: if a book, pamphlet or article is declared extremist by a court and then that publication is included in the justice ministry’s list of extremist materials, it typically is treated as extremist throughout the Russian Federation even if the decision of the court of first instance is overruled on appeal.
The Kavkazskaya politika journalist spoke with Aslambek Ezhayev, a longtime publisher of Islamic books in Russia, about a practice that makes Russia a crazy quilt of legal situations despite Vladimir Putin’s claim to have restored “a single legal space” across the Russian Federation.
Ezhayev notes that the first book with Islamic texts to be prohibited in Russia was al-Tamimi’s “Book of the Single God,” which was declared extremist by a Moscow district court in 2004 and became the second book to be included in the Russian justice ministry’s list of extremist materials.
The first “mass prohibition of Muslim books,” he continues, occurred after law enforcement officers raided a medrassah in Orenburg oblast. The authorities confiscated all Russian-language books on Islam and a court then declared them to be extremist. Of the 68 books involved, only 18 were found to be “extremist” on appeal, but all 68 are still on the justice ministry list.
Subsequently, Ezhayev points out, the authorities have engaged in similar mass bans on the basis of the name of the author, the title of the book, the publishing house involved and so on with little or no concern about evaluating the content. Unfortunately, he says, divisions among Muslims have helped the authorities with one group denouncing another as extremist.
Almost all of these mass bans have started in obscure local courts and the decisions of these courts are selectively taken up by the justice ministry, with some of the decisions becoming “precedents” for others in this way and others simply irrelevant for behavior in any place but the territory of the original court’s jurisdiction.
The current case about which Kadyrov has complained is for those who keep track of this trend “nothing new.” The only reason it is attracting attention is because Kadyrov is saying something. If anyone else did, neither journalists nor investigators would be paying any attention, Ezhayev says.
There is only one way out of this “absurd” situation, the Islamic publisher says. The authorities must find the will and wisdom to do away with such “black lists” as the one maintained by the justice ministry so that books ultimately not found to be extremist aren’t treated as if they are.
Until that happens, one or more of the hundreds of courts like that in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk will find books extremist on the flimsiest of pretexts not because they have received a telephone call or telegraph from the Kremlin but because declaring materials extremist allows the authorities in the easiest possible to look good in the eyes of those above them, Evzhayev says.