Staunton, July 8 – When Moscow or its representatives in the regions and republics seeks to declare an organization extremist, the courts typically go along without much ceremony; but the center’s latest effort to do so has run into problems. VTOTs, the All-Tatar Social Center, is resisting in court and even putting judges and prosecutors on the defensive.
This doesn’t mean that officialdom will not win out, but both resistance by VTOTs and its lawyers and the unwillingness or inability of the courts to simply ignore it reflects the strength of this oldest Tatar socio-political organization that has been a mainstay of the Tatar national movement for three decades (business-gazeta.ru/article/515054).
A day before the latest hearing in this case, the authorities replaced the judge; and the new judge quickly showed himself to be out of his depth when it came to dealing with VTOTs and its legal team. He couldn’t cope with language issues or evidentiary questions or even defend the conclusions of FSB experts on which the charges of extremism rest.
The new judge showed that he doesn’t view Tatar as a state language and personally doesn’t know it by ordering a translator for those testifying on behalf of VTOTs, something that calls into question his ability to follow what is going on and will certainly offend many Tatars who will view this as yet another reason to see the case as the action of colonial masters.
The judge also showed that he is completely unfamiliar with the case or with VTOTs. He appeared to accept prosecutors insistence that Fauziya Bayramova, a leading Tatar nationalist who has been outspoken in her views, is a member of the group and thus her words can be used to charge the organization with extremism.
But she isn’t a member for the simple reason that VTOTs doesn’t have members as such. It is a loose congeries of people who share a commitment to the defense and advancement of the Tatar nation. But as the judge finally appeared to acknowledge, it can’t be held responsible for what those who aren’t members say.
Moreover, the court proved incapable of dealing with the two most serious moves of the defense team. VTOTs lawyers pointed out that if the organization was extremist, then the judicial system should bring in the republic justice ministry which had examined the VTOTs statute twice, in 2004 and 2012, found it to be legitimate and registered the group.
The court refused to add the justice ministry to the list of accused, but the lawyers made their point.
But on a second point, the lawyers were more successful. They argued that the FSB expertise that the court had been using was defective and needed to be repeated either by the security organs or by independent observers. The court agreed to order a new report, something that will delay any finding of extremism and may prevent it altogether.
What officials in Moscow and Kazan do not want to recognize is that VTOTs has been a moderating force in recent years, and efforts to ban it will only fan the flames of more extreme groups in that Middle Volga republic (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/01/vtots-now-facing-liquidation-has-been.html).