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Russia: Content Analysis Serves as a Tool of Biased Courts

Magomednabi Magomedov, a Salafist imam, received a five-year prison term from a military court for giving an allegedly unlawful sermon in 2016 in Dagestan. To help with the prosecution, authorities turned to an expert in content analysis, a method of examining texts and speeches for patterns of explicit or implicit meanings. The expert’s findings played a key role in convicting the imam on a charge of attempting to incite terrorism.
 
The problem was that Magomedov’s sermon did not advocate terrorism, but rather stressed the duty of Muslims to peacefully resist the closure of Salafist mosques and other encroachments on religious freedom in Russia. Magomedov’s trial thus highlights the hazards of trying to quantify criminal intent.  
 
Magomedov was the imam at the Vostochnaya Mosque in the Dagestani city of Khasavyurt. His outspokenness earned him powerful enemies in the local administration, and he was sentenced in the fall of last year. In early 2017, Russia’s Supreme Court upheld his conviction, but reduced his sentence by six months.
 

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Bakhtiyor Avezdjanov is a program officer for Columbia Global Freedom of Expression, an initiative seeking to advance understanding of the international and national norms and institutions that protect the free flow of information. Prior to joining Columbia University, he worked with the UNHCR in Sudan, as well as in Kyrgyzstan for Freedom House, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Tian Shan Policy Center at the American University of Central Asia. He has focused on issues concerning free speech, torture prevention, and refugee rights.

Russia: Content Analysis Serves as a Tool of Biased Courts

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