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The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Aitahadzhi Khalimov

Jul 24 2020

The Memorial Human Right Center recognized Aitahadzhi Khalimov, a Kazakhstan citizen living in Russia, convicted to 3.5 years in prison for justifying terrorism by keeping video files on his social network page as a political prisoner. Aitahadzhi Khalimov saved three videos with archival footage from the first Chechen war on his VKontakte profile.

Khalimov is an ethnic Chechen whose ancestors were deported to Kazakhstan during Stalin’s repressions, but then returned to their homeland in Chechnya. He was born in 1993 in Chechnya. In 1999, after the death of his father and the beginning of the second war in Chechnya, his mother took children, including Aitahadzhi, to the relatives in Kazakhstan. He spent most of his life in the village of Malaya Saran in the Karaganda region of Kazakhstan.

In October 2019, Aitahadzhi Khalimov and his wife Kamila arrived in Kaliningrad, where he found work and received a temporary residence permit.

On December 24, he was detained and then arrested on charges of justifying and propagandizing terrorism (Part 2 of Article 205.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation).

On June 10, 2020, the 2nd Western District Military Court found Khalimov guilty and sentenced him to three and a half years in a general regime colony.

According to the materials of the case, two young military sailors (surveyor and gun commander) from the Kaliningrad unit almost simultaneously discovered Khalimov’s page on the Vkontakte social network, and on it – three videos about the first Chechen war. They considered the videos as “bearing signs of justifying terrorism” and reported it to the FSB Directorate for the Kaliningrad Region.

The videos were published by other users long before that. They show chronicle military footage from the 90s accompanied by music. One of the phonograms is a song by a popular Chechen singer Khas-Magomed Khadzhimuradov, dedicated to the Caucasian War of the 19th century. The investigation considered it one of the signs of justifying terrorism. The recording was made in 1997 during Khadzhimuradov’s performance at a concert in the Kremlin Palace of Congresses.

The forensic examination concluded that the justification and propaganda of terrorism consists of creating a positive opinion of the Chechen separatists who participated in the war in the mid-90s, while acknowledging that “there are no signs of incitement to any illegal activity in these videos.”

Why the Memorial Human Right Center considers Aitahadzhi Khalimov a political prisoner?

The videos for which Khalimov was persecuted are still in the public domain. The Memorial Human Right Center believes that they do not contain calls for any terrorist actions or reasoning for an extremist ideology.

The Khalimov case bears clear signs of fabrication. A fact of a quick (within a week) and accidental discovery of the video recordings by the military looks doubtful, given that Khalimov did not post them on the social network, but only saved them on his personal page.

The Memorial Human Right Center considers the charge and sentence unfounded, and the prosecution of Khalimov politically motivated, since his right to freedom of expression was violated. The charges against him fit into a strategy of the Russian authorities to suppress free speech in the country and intimidate Russian society. The deprivation of liberty against him was applied in violation of the right to a fair trial.

The Memorial Human Right Center considers Aitahadzhi Khalimov a political prisoner and demands his immediate release.

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