Russian human rights organisation Memorial has declared Nikita Zhuravel, the 19-year-old arrested for allegedly burning a Quran in Volgograd in May, a political prisoner.
The detention of Zhuravel, who was subsequently filmed being beaten up by the 15-year-old son of Chechen head Ramzan Kadyrov, Adam, while in detention in Chechnya, had contravened “his rights to a fair trial and protection from torture and inhumane treatment”, Memorial said in a statement. “We demand that criminal proceedings against Zhuravel be stopped and he be released from custody.”
Memorial said that while “burning the Quran in public is a provocation and should be condemned,” it expressed doubt that Zhuravel actually burned the holy book, arguing that he could not be seen doing so in the video he posted.
Nikita Zhuravel. Photo: Memorial
Memorial also cast doubts on the claim that “Zhuravel burned the Quran at the behest of the Ukrainian secret services while simultaneously monitoring military facilities in Russia”, and said that his “confession” was likely extracted under pressure from the security forces.
Regardless of who burned the Quran, Memorial argued, the incident should be treated as a civil offence, not a criminal one, adding that the decision to transfer Zhuravel to pre-trial detention in the Muslim-majority republic of Chechnya had also been against the law.
“Granting unauthorised persons access to Zhuravel in detention and his assault being publicly approved by the Chechen leader are flagrant violations of the law and should be investigated,” the statement said.