Среда обитания

Russian Muslims: Freedom of speech and the Islamic media in Russia. Dmitrii Chernomorchenko: Report - "Image of Islam in Russia", Uppsala, Sweden

The report was prepared by the editor-in-chief of the publication "GolosIslama.RU" by Dmitrii Chernomorkhenko, who took part in the International Scientific Conference "The Image of Islam in Russia", which was held on October 6-8, 2016 in Uppsala, Sweden.

Freedom of speech and the Islamic media in Russia: Muslim Russian-speaking media, social networks and the Internet

Toughening of the political climate in Russia today, one of whose characteristics is curtailing civil liberties, has affected media sector, social networks and the Internet, including the Islamic segment as well. Russia already has witnessed the assault by police special forces on the office of NTV channel, raider seizure and subsequent elimination of the TV6 channel, seizures of several major media, such as Ura.Ru and Lenta.Ru, by pro-Kremlin protégés, machination of Alisher Usmanov, who is businessman close to the Presidential administration, around buyout from Pavel Durov the largest Russian social network VK (Vkontakte). Even the remains of a truly independent media today collate their information policy with the large set of laws, restricting freedom of speech, and adjust to the masses of the informal rules. There even appeared such term as "self-censorship". This process already has moved from media to the social network and popular Internet.

If editorial board or individual user will transgress the allowed line, they can receive unjustified warning for extremism, accusation in justifying terrorism, or lose license. Also the heads of editorial staff, as well its workers, bloggers and social networks users can be openly persecuted. According to Glasnost Defense Foundation for 25 years over 300 journalists were killed in Russia. Particular attention state is paying to Islamic media, either directly or indirectly controlling their information policy.

Islamic media in the information space of Russia still remain very weak, of poor quality, we can say even they are marginal. The total readership of these resources does not exceed 25 000 people per day. But apparently this audience is subject of serious concern for authorities, perhaps because of increased social and political activity of the Muslim community. A prime example of that is a large number of supporters of the political party Hizb ut-Tahrir in Bashkortostan and Tatarstan, that in Russia recognized as a terrorist organization.

On the other hand, the Muslim speakers, experts, people who really represent the Muslim position on topical issues, almost not allowed in the federal media, even when these issues are directly relating to the believers. Mostly those who attracted are imitators among the loyal official clergy, who always favor top-down solutions, such as Mufti of Chuvashia and a member of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation Albir Krganov and others. Thus it happened that in the federal media the Muslim position, for example on Syria, is almost not represented. The anti-Assad sentiment, that dominates in the global world, and sympathy for the moderate opposition in Russia are both considered to be almost extremism.

In 2011 was made raider capture of the only professional Russian-speaking Muslim independent media – website ‘Islam.ru’.  With pressure from the President's administration on the project sponsor, the domain name was transferred to another new team, which completely changed its editorial policy. Speaking at the All-Russian Muslim meeting in 2011, head of the Direction on relations with the Muslim organizations in the Administration of Russian President, Alexei Grishin, actually took responsibility for what happened with Islam.ru. In particular, he said: "There was a portal Islam.ru that was named by all people as "Islam.vru" ((he has in mind islam.lying)). But now Muslim organizations themselves have taken this portal and corrected it. I hope it will soon start working and will be fully and properly reflect what is happening in the Ummah ", - said Grishin.

In the same year there was more friendly takeover of currently the largest Islamic news media IslamNews. In it the change of leadership and the editorial board has not happened, but all of the information policy on the key political issues came to reflect solely the opinion of the President's Administration.

Created in 2011, the Voice of Islam (Golos Islama) continued to operate for almost 5 years, partly due to the fact that all of its journalists are in immigration. In February 2016 the website has been blocked at the request of the General Prosecutor, and despite the fact that in July the court decided to unblock website, Prosecutor's office stepped up pressure and the trial continues. The reason for the blocking were 4 articles, 3 of which reflect the opinion of the world community to Russia's actions in Syria.

Among the so-called "jihadi" resources, number one for 15 years continues to be Kavkaz Center, blocked in Russia. Despite the fact that it broadcasts in 4 languages, from 25 000 of its daily readers 70% are Russian-speaking, of which only 7% live on the territory of Russia. The appearance of a variety of Internet resources under the ISIS brand has not much changed this situation. The analysis shows that failing to collect even 1,000 readers daily, they come under attention of police and intelligence, and then they are blocked for ever, after which their traffic goes down smoothly to 0.

The niche of video broadcasting is perhaps the most underdeveloped. If we would not touch the preaching resources, and will dwell only on the media, then the only television information publication that existed until recent time, was created under the guidance of the Kremlin, Al-RTV channel. This channel has existed for a short time and was closed, I believe in the first place due to the fact that its task was not to cover all Muslim audiences in Russia, but to have a sufficient formal existence, perhaps for some the Kremlin's political goals. Rustam Armfdzhanov, former chief editor of Al-RTV, now runs the pro-Kremlin Crimean Tatar Millett channel. The only Muslim TV program, 'Musulmane' ("Muslims"), that was present on the Federal TV channel, also was closed after 14 years of work. In 2016, two new TV channel has appeared, also broadcasting in the Internet, Alif TV and Nur TV. Both channels do not cover either politically or acute social issues, and focused mainly on the life of Russian Muslims.

There at the moment three main groups of Muslim media covering the political issues. First, it is the independent media, as mentioned above. The second is the Islamic media, clearly verifying its information policy with the Kremlin's course, and if the vision of a topic is at odds with government policy, the issue simply is not covered in this group of media. The third group was created by structures affiliated with the Kremlin, and in spite of the Sharia rules and regulations, it spread only state propaganda about all internal and external affairs of Russia. It is on this third group I will focus more as on the most interesting, from my point of view.

The specificity of the Muslim media is that the aim of their work is not simply the satisfaction of the public's right for information, but the use of journalism as a tool to fulfill own mission in the world and to promote its values. This group of Kremlin information resources, which I pointed above, is today primarily a tool to influence the political sentiments of the Muslim community of Russia. These media are directly influenced by the Department of relations with religious Organizations in the Presidential Administration and the Federal Security Service (FSB). To the similar media resources I would add today the "Islam and Society" (Islam i Obshestvo), IslamReview, the current version of Islam.ru, etc.

All so-called "Islamic media", that included in the third group, publish mandatory materials of so-called "experts", who are extremely critical of any form of independent Islamic activity, and who are related to the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, created by the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation. This structure is headed by General of the Foreign Intelligence Retired Leonid Reshetnikov, under whom are developing ideas influencing the policy of relations between the state and the Muslim community in Russia. This institute has a large pool of close and controlled religious and community leaders, experts and scholars, as well as organizations, financed by state fund after his approval.

Media Managers in the third group are not necessarily Muslims, and the media themselves can position themselves even as a secular, but devoted exclusively to Islamic issues, including the dogmatic sense, which in itself is absurd. A striking example of such media is the information resource "Islam and Society" headed by Alexei Grishin, a former adviser to the Russian President on domestic policy and the head of the "Fund of support of Islamic culture, science and education".

The main mission of these resources in the Muslim information space is the publication of materials and interviews with so-called "experts" and "analysts" implementing anti-Islamic and explicitly Islamophobic sentiments in society, through the federal media, under the guise of the fight against Islamic radicalism, extremism and jihadism, as well as propaganda and justification Russia's foreign policy actions on the world stage. Through these media they are introduced to the Muslim community, more gently and very specifically presenting their ideas to the Islamized audience.

A vivid ideologue of concept of vision of internal policy of relations between the state and the Muslim community, whose work and thoughts aggressively promoted in all information resources, including the third media group, is the director of the Human rights center of the World Russian People's Council in the Russian Orthodox Church, the Deputy Chairman of the Expert Council for State Religious Expertise of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation, a geographer by education, scholar of religion and Islamic studies, religious historian, doctor of historical sciences, professor of the Moscow state linguistic University, Roman Silantyev. He does not work in RISS, nevertheless their positions are very similar, and all promotional activities in the media, they always held together. Despite such a long list of his scientific regalia, in short the whole point of his scientific promise in widely published reports in the media, is as follows:

So, all the Russian Muslims are divided into 2 groups. The first group of Muslims is part of the structure of Central Spiritual Administration of Muslims or any friendly to it spiritual boards, formed in Soviet times. The second group of Muslims, according to the scientist expert Silantyev, a group whose ideology is spreading in Russia by Western (European) security services, all included in this group are the extremists. Silantyev in his works summarizes this group in one term "Wahhabis", and includes to this term the followers of all known communities and Muslim organizations, operating legally in almost all countries of the world, such as the Salafis, the Muslim Brotherhood, members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, the readers of Said Nursi's books, Tablighi Jamaat, and so on. All these groups represented by Silantyev as anti-social, extremist and sometimes terrorist. To fight this group inside Russian Muslim community Silantyev offers a simple, but in his opinion, effective method. In his commentary to the NAKANUNE.RU on his report "Map of ethnic and religios threats", he reported that the total number of" Wahhabis" in Russia exceeds 5% of the total number of Muslims, that is about 700 thousand. He said (quote) "we need to stop thinking that we can make solution by peaceful means and tools. We just have to destroy them. We should not be ashamed; it is necessary to kill the Wahhabis."

Any alternative view in the media concerning the activities of Islamic organizations, Silantyev equated with terrorism. For example, concerning media resource 'Golos Islama' (Voice of Islam) Roman Silantyev in his interview to resource NG RELIGION, said that "brothers Chernomorchenko currently supports the work of the Turkish Anti-Russian and pro-terrorist website "Golos Islama" (Voice of Islam). 

Most Russian media eagerly provide an opportunity for Silantyev and the whole pool of «experts” of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies to promote the ideology of intolerance to any social, public and political activity of the Muslim community, and in order to cover only the Muslim audience were created the media like the above-mentioned "Islam and Society", as well as information resources controlled by various Muslim Administrations, that are under FSB control since Soviet times, and pseudo-Islamic organizations affiliated with the administration of the Russian president.

Автор: Hamza Dmitrii Chernomorchenko
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