The Memorial human rights center has monitored the situation in the North Caucasus since the start of the first Russian-Chechen War, in 1994. Memorial’s latest report, which covers the past two and a half years in the North Caucasus, concludes that the government is pursuing security at the expense of human rights (Memohrc.org, June 9). Regional police forces have received powers that allow them to strike anyone suspected of sympathizing with or participating in the armed Islamist opposition movement, increasing the likelihood of widespread human rights violations.
Attempts by targeted individuals to appeal to Moscow regarding violations of their rights make them targets of vengeance by those who first violated their rights—the law enforcement officials. This is particularly the case in Dagestan (Chernovik, June 10), where the authorities have been cracking down on Salafists. Suspected Salafists were also arrested in the past, but the number of such arrests has increased. In May, the authorities detained an activist from the Vostochnaya mosque, which is located on Vengerskish Boitsov Street, in Dagestan’s capital Makhachkala, and is known to be a Salafist mosque.
The mosque’s spokesperson, Magomed Magomedov, was arrested (Kavkazsky Uzel, May 12). Apparently, the government did not like the fact that Magomedov gave interviews to Russian TV channels and newspapers. The activist told the media about the detention and forcible fingerprinting of mosque parishioners, rude behavior of the police in the mosque, and the persecution of relatives of mosque parishioners. In particular, Magomedov claimed that the police put pressure on the relatives of the Salafists to stop them from attending the mosque. The police detained Magomedov on May 10 and the next day announced they had found ammunition and illegal drugs in his possession. It is highly unlikely that an outspoken critic of the government had stashes of ammunition or illegal drugs. Nonetheless, he now faces a prison term.
On the morning of June 3, unidentified individuals in plain clothes led away Magomed Suleimanov from his office. For two weeks, Suleimanov’s relatives were unable to determine either his whereabouts or the reason for his arrest. According to his relatives, Suleimanov was registered by the police in 2015 as a parishioner of the Salafist mosque on Kotrova Street in Makhachkala. He may have been targeted for his views and actions opposing government reprisals against Salafists (Kavkazsky Uzel, June 6).
Unknown individuals also snatched a resident of Khasavyurt, Omar Musaev, on June 9. He was even hit by a car as he tried to escape from his kidnappers, but they still snatched him (Regnum, June 14). These successive disappearances are likely not isolated events, but part of a government campaign against Salafists in Dagestan. Although some observers announced that the authorities are trying to crush the Salafist structures of Dagestan, it appears that the government is presently targeting three Salafist mosques. The targets are the mosques on Kotrova Street and Vengerskikh Boitsov Street in Makhachkala, and the Severnaya mosque in Khasavyurt (Lenta.ru, February 1). However, Severnaya is by no means the only mosque in Khasavyurt considered to be Salafist. The targeted mosques are connected to Muslim communities deemed potentially dangerous. For example, the government may suspect them of having the potential to organize against the police or help the rebels. The police take “prophylactic measures” to disrupt such communities, including detaining parishioners and fingerprinting them for the police database.
The aim of the government’s campaign against the Salafist mosques is to expand its control over independent mosques. The authorities refuse to recognize that Salafist ideology spreads because young people are seeking independent religious organizations rather than the official Muslim mosques, which try to impose government ideology on them. Mosques belonging to the official Spiritual Board of Muslims have become propaganda machines that teach their parishioners how to love and believe in the authorities. Shutting down the Salafist mosques, however, will not change their parishioners’ beliefs (Kavkazsky Uzel, February 9), given that mosques are only buildings and closing them down will not affect the ideology of the people who attend them. When the government manages to close down one Salafist mosque or install its representatives there, the mosque parishioners will flock to mosques that are closer to their views on Islam and society. Acts like the March 17 arson attack on a Salafist mosque in the area called Aeroport in the city of Derbent only reinforce the Salafists’ animosity toward the government.
The Dagestani authorities and their supervisors in Moscow must have failed to predict the effects of allowing the Salafist organizations to operate legally—above all, the Ahlu Sunna Association. Legalizing the Salafists helped the government reduce rebel violence in Dagestan. However, the Salafist community grew to tens of thousands of people, and the authorities can no longer control this segment of society in Dagestan. The government tried to outsmart the Salafists, but it turns out that the Salafists have outsmarted the government. Thus, in the near future, the Russian security services, regional police, and the Spiritual Board of Muslims of Dagestan will likely ramp up pressure even more on the republic’s Salafists.