By: Soufiane Cherkaoui, Pace International Law Review, Senior Associate
With news of the recent suicide bombing in a Muslim region of southern Russia (Ingushetia), security forces are expected to employ heavy-handed tactics against any persons suspected of complicity. As of this writing, the Ingush President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov is in grave condition after having suffered serious injuries. The attack brings to the forefront the tension between the Russian Federation’s growing Muslim community and the central authority.
While Russia recognizes Islam as one of its four official religions, officials have grown wary of more pronounced separatist sentiment. Indeed, Russia’s Muslims are said to threaten the territorial integrity of the Russian federation. For the Kremlin, Islam – particularly its militant brand – has become a destabilizing force.
At present, the number of Muslims is estimated to comprise ten to sixteen percent of Russia’s population. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, thousands of mosques have been rebuilt and reopened. This Islamic revivalism has been accompanied by a marked backlash. Authorities have exercised pressure on those Muslim groups challenging the government. Members of Hizbut Tahrir, for instance, have been subjected to disparate forms of persecution. While some are unsettled by the group’s puritanical ideology, Hizbut Tahrir is allowed to operate in the United States and Europe.
Falling back on the state’s broad police powers, the Kremlin accuses those suspected of belonging to Hizbut Tahrir of subversive tactics. The accused are afforded little protection in the way of due process rights. While the pretext for the arrests is fomenting unrest, the defendants are persecuted against because of the ideas they espouse. With the influx of foreign influences, these ideas have grown more conservative. While the government insists that this shift towards conservatism presents a real danger to the country’s stability, outside observers counter that the members of Hizbut Tahrir suffer persecution for their acts of proselytizing.
In this regard, the authorities have sought to intimidate free-thinking members of the Muslim community. The widely televised trials of Hizbut Tahrir members are intended to break the backbone of the secessionist movement. Confessions made before the makeshift tribunals are often obtained by coercion or torture at the hands of security forces. It remains to be seen to what extent the attempt on the Ingush president’s life will further widen the rift between the Muslim community and the Kremlin.