Russia’s persecution of Azat Miftakhov, a PhD student at Moscow State University, is almost certainly linked with his anarchist views. The 6-year sentence handed down on Monday, 18 January 2021 appears to be punishment for his refusal to admit to something he didn’t do.
Azat Miftakhov was detained on 1 February 2019 and has been imprisoned ever since, although on radically different charges.
Initially he was held on suspicion of preparing a home-made explosive, found on 11 January 2018. He was, typically, prevented from seeing a lawyer for the first day and has said that during that period, he was beaten, tortured with a screwdriver, and threatened with rape. Scars from the torture were recorded by civic monitors who saw him soon afterwards. The Memorial Human Rights Centre (HRC) has declared Miftakhov a political prisoner. It notes that 12 people were detained at that time; all except Miftakhov have since been released. Several of the other detainees also complained of being tortured.
Azat Miftakhov, b. 1993 (photo, Avilov)
Even after the court agreed to extend the initial detention on the original charge for a further three days, no evidence was produced to justify the charges. Miftakhov was formally released on 7 February 2019, without the imposition of any other measure of restraint. He was re-arrested immediately on a quite different charge.
The prosecution claim he was one of six people who, on 31 January 2018, were involved in an incident when an office window of the United Russia party in north Moscow was broken. This was originally treated as a trivial incident, notes Memorial HRC. Several months later it was reclassified as “hooliganism by a group of people by prior conspiracy” (Article 213 § 2 of Russia’s Criminal Code) and several anarchists were detained. Here, too, many of them have said that they were tortured into ‘confessing’.
Four people provided confessions and were released from custody. Two have since fled abroad, at least one receiving political asylum in an EU country. Two other defendants Yelena Gorban and Andrei Eiken received suspended sentences.
The prosecution claimed that three people broke the window and threw in a smoke bomb, while three others stood by and watched. According to charges laid over a year later (after the attempt to prosecute Miftakhov on the explosives charge failed) Miftakhov was accused of being one of the onlookers.
The only ‘evidence’ of his participation, which Miftakhov himself denies, was provided by a ‘secret witness’. The latter was unable to recall what the young man was wearing, etc., but claimed to remember his “expressive eyebrows”. The ‘secret witness’, whose testimony can in no way be verified, is supposed to have emerged a full year after the incident. At the time he did report it, he claimed, because his phone battery had died; after that he was ‘too busy’ to remember.
Memorial HRC notes that this third attempt to remand Miftakhov in custody proved successful, although one of the grounds for his arrest was a ticket to Belarus purchased when the young man had already been detained by the police.
The prosecution of Miftakhov, in Memorial’s judgement, is “one of the most open and glaring examples of ‘juridical’ procedures being used to crush civic activities that the authorities don’t like”. It is clear, the Human Rights Centre believes, that he is being persecuted because of civic activism.
It is particularly worrying that, as Miftakhov lawyer Svetlana Sidorkina anticipates, attempts may now be made to resurrect the baseless charge of preparing an explosive device. Memorial HRC considers it proven that torture was used in this case in an attempt to get ‘confessions’ from Miftakhov and others. Even torture, it notes, did not help law-enforcement bodies concoct a plausible case.
A talented mathematician, Azat Fanisovich Miftakhov (b. 1993) is a postgraduate student at Moscow University’s prestigious Faculty of Mechanics and Mathematics. While imprisoned he has written two papers: one has already been published, the other is under consideration by an international journal. A thousand academics, including many from the Russian Academy of Sciences, and Noam Chomsky, have endorsed an appeal in his defence.
The Golovina district court in Moscow sentenced Miftakhov to six years’ imprisonment in a medium security penal colony purely on the evidence of a ‘secret witness’ who claimed to remember him standing and watching while three others broke a window. Two defendants who ‘confessed’ to committing this very minor offence have received suspended sentences.
Miftakhov has long been recognized as a political prisoner, and his release demanded by a huge number of academics, both in Russia and abroad. These calls were ignored. Judge Sergei Bazarov passed sentence virtually as demanded by the prosecutor.
Halya Coynash, “Russia sentences mathematician to six years for refusing to plead guilty”, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, 19 January 2021
“Azat Fanisovich MIFTAKHOV“, Memorial HRC (Moscow)
For the views of another imprisoned anarchist, see interview with Ilya Shakursky, “Now and then the flame dies down, …”, People and Nature, 17 January 2021