Staunton, July 26 – A rising in a prison in the southern Siberian republic of Khakassia has advanced specifically Islamic demands, a reflection of the fact that half of those incarcerated there are Muslims but a first in the string of prison risings that have broken out in the Russian Federation over the last several years.
The rising in Khakassia over the weekend, Oleg Moskvin writes in “Vzglyad,” was “the most massive this year. The Muslim prisoners demanded that they be permitted to pray at any time [rather than just when the authorities allow it], but the internal order of the colony does not allow for such an arrangement” (vz.ru/incidents/2016/7/25/823434.html).
This is the first such instance of that kind of demand “in recent times,” the journalist says, noting that some see this as the result of the spread of Islamist radicalism within the Russian prison system but others as merely a product of the fact that so many of those now in prison are Muslims and use their faith to put pressure on their jailors.
In this particular rising, 242 prisoners took part (roughly half of the prison population there’, with “more than a 100” barricading themselves in a prison block. The authorities negotiated for six hours but having failed to reach an agreement employed force, later saying that there was as a result only property damage but no casualties on either side.
According to the officials, the rising was organized by five inmates who had recently arrived in the camp, one from Moscow and another four from Gorno-Altay and Khakassia. Although they were not further identified, the five and those who followed them were clearly informed by Islam as they shouted “Allah Akbar” in the course of the rising.
Given this, some Russian commentators were inclined to see this as a manifestation of the spread of Islamist extremism in the Russian prison system, but the jailors themselves dismissed that notion saying that although many involved were Muslims, almost all of them were sent to prison not for extremism but for “purely criminal” violations like theft and fraud.
Moskvin says that only 800 of the 644,000 in Russian prisons are there for extremism crimes, but the real number of extremists is certainly larger because the authorities want to put away those they view as extremists under ordinary charges both to discredit those so convicted and to make their official crime statistics look good.
At the present time, according to the Russian penal administration, there are 61 mosques and more than 200 prayer rooms for Muslims in the prisons and camps of that country. They service approximately 1000 Muslim communities. The difference between these two numbers, 261 and almost 1,000, is critical.
The former are groups affiliated with the official Muslim spiritual directorates (MSDs), viewed as representative of “traditional” Russian Islam, and considered fully under the control of the authorities. The latter includes many who differ on all three points and therefore may represent a larger problem.