A court in Moscow has sentenced Azat Miftakhov, a postgraduate math student and political activist, to six years in prison on highly controversial hooliganism charges. His conviction follows investigation and a trial marred by allegations of torture, and reliance on unfair “secret witnesses.”
Miftakhov spent nearly two years in pretrial detention before yesterday’s verdict. He and two other political activists were accused of breaking a window and throwing a smoke bomb inside an empty Moscow office of United Russia, the country’s ruling party, in January 2018. The prosecution qualified the act as hooliganism aggravated by ‘political hatred.’ The other two defendants received suspended sentences of between two and four years.
Police first detained Miftakhov in February 2019, more than a year after the incident, and initially accused him of making explosives. He alleges that during his detention, police beat him to force a confession and threatened to rape him with a cordless drill. Members of the Public Monitoring Commission, an independent body which monitors places of detention, said they observed marks on his body consistent with 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, police dropped the case against Miftakhov and released him, only to immediately re-detain him on a different charge in connection with the attack on United Russia’s office a year earlier. The prosecution accused Miftakhov of having organized the attack. He denies the allegations and still protests his innocence.
The other two accused in the case, Yelena Gorban and Andrey Yeykin, confessed to having perpetrated the attack but denied Miftakhov’s involvement.
The key evidence against Miftakhov was testimonies of secret witnesses. These are witnesses whose identity was never disclosed to him or his lawyers. One of them supposedly recalled that he saw Miftakhov at the time but only reported it to police one year after the incident. Miftakhov’s lawyer told the press that she believes 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 a separate Russian case that the use of secret witnesses had violated the defendants’ right to a fair trial.
Azat Miftakhov’s conviction is clearly unjust and unfair, and authorities should immediately and unconditionally overturn it.