Activists: Detention of 55 Was Sham

A triumphant announcement by security officials that 55 members of a banned Islamic group had been detained was a sham designed to show that Russia is fighting terrorism, a human rights group said Tuesday.

Only two people have been charged as a result of the raid on a bakery that employs immigrants from Central Asia, and the detainees' alleged membership in any extremist organizations is far from certain, the Memorial human rights group said.

The Federal Security Service announced earlier this month that its agents, working with police, had detained 55 members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a secretive Islamic organization banned in Russia and several Central Asian countries. In a statement, the FSB called Hizb-ut-Tahrir a "terrorist organization," although the party renounces violence.

In reality, police rounded up workers at the bakery, wrote down their names and passport numbers and then let most of them go, said Vitaly Ponomaryov, head of Memorial's Central Asia program. About eight people were brought to a police station, and all but two were released within days, he said, citing conversations with those who were freed.

The remaining two, Kyrgyz citizen Alisher Musayev and Tajik citizen Akram Dzhalolov, are accused of illegally possessing explosives and ammunition. Both deny their guilt.

"In essence, the people who are unable to protect us from real terrorism fabricate cases in order to get themselves more stars on their uniforms and build their careers," Ponomaryov said at a news conference.

A duty officer at the FSB said she had no information about the case.

However, the FSB's official June 9 statement implies that Musayev and Dzhalolov were the only ones charged. The statement identifies only Musayev and Dzhalolov by name, calls them the "leaders of the cell," and describes the explosives and ammunition allegedly found in their possession. It says the two are under investigation.

The FSB said authorities also found Dzhalolov and Musayev in possession of Hizb-ut-Tahrir pamphlets. The pair's lawyer Vladimir Chumak said additional charges of inflaming ethnic hatred could be brought against them in connection to the pamphlets.

Chumak said both his clients deny their guilt and any connection to Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

"This is the first time they've ever heard of the organization," he said in a telephone interview.

Chumak also suggested the explosives and ammunition may have been planted. For example, police asked Dzhalolov, who lived on the bakery's premises, to point out his bed. They then led him away and brought him back 15 minutes later to show him what they claimed to have found, Chumak said.

Hizb-ut-Tahrir, or the Liberation Party, aims to unite all Muslims under a caliphate ruled by Islamic sharia law. It emerged in the Middle East and spread to Central Asia in the 1990s.