Another political activist imprisoned in Russia
A Moscow court sentenced math student and political activist Azat Miftakhov to six years in prison on highly controversial hooliganism charges. His conviction follows an investigation and trial marred by allegations of torture and the use of unfair “secret witnesses”.
Miftakhov spent almost two years in pre-trial detention before yesterday’s verdict. He and two other political activists were accused of smashing a window and throwing a smoke bomb inside an empty Moscow office of the ruling United Russia party in January 2018. The prosecution called the act of hooliganism aggravated by “political hatred”. The other two defendants received suspended sentences ranging from two to four years.
Police first arrested Miftakhov in February 2019, more than a year after the incident, and initially charged him with manufacturing explosives. He alleges that during his detention, the police beat him to force a confession and threatened to rape him with a cordless drill. Members of the Public Control Commission, an independent control body for places of detention, mentionned they observed marks on his body corresponding to apparent ill-treatment. Another activist detained in connection with the case alleged that police tortured him to extract evidence against Miftakhov.
Several days after his detention, the police dropped the charges against Miftakhov and released him, only for immediately hold back him on another charge in connection with the attack on the United Russia office a year earlier. The prosecution accused Miftakhov of organizing the attack. He denies the allegations and still protests his innocence.
The two other defendants in the case, Yelena Gorban and Andrey Yeykin, confessed to carrying out the attack but refuse Miftakhov’s involvement.
The key evidence against Miftakhov was the testimony of secret witnesses. These are witnesses whose identity has never been revealed to him or his lawyers. One of them allegedly recalled seeing Miftakhov at the time, but did not report it to the police until a year after the incident. Miftakhov’s lawyer told the press that she believes that secret witnesses were used in this case because the prosecution never had any real evidence against him. In September 2020, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in another Russian case that the use of secret witnesses had violated the accused’s right to a fair trial.
Azat Miftakhov’s conviction is clearly unfair and unjust, and the authorities should overturn it immediately and unconditionally.