MOLDOVA: Police Question Muslim Leaders Over Summer Camp.

Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 31 July 2002

Three leading Muslims were detained on 27 July and questioned for nearly five hours at the headquarters of the Interior Ministry in the Moldovan capital Chisinau over a summer camp to study Islam held early in July. "They gave no reasons for why they were questioning us," Talgat Masaev, leader of the Spiritual Council of Muslims of Moldova, told Keston from Chisinau on 31 July. "I was not beaten but the other two were severely beaten - for no reason. The officers behaved like bandits." He said he had been warned not to tell anyone about the interrogation, otherwise he would be "dealt with". Major Veaceslav Banzari, of the criminal police department for work with foreigners, was accompanied at the interrogation by another officer, an official of the department confirmed to Keston on 31 July. However, Keston was unable to reach Major Banzari in the office that day.

The 3,000-strong Muslim community in Moldova - which has been denied official registration repeatedly since 1999 and which has challenged this denial of registration at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (see KNS 24 June 2002) - used to have three places where they met for Friday prayers in Chisinau. However, two of those have been closed down in recent months, Masaev reported. The third was raided by police on 26 July during prayers, with police taking the identity details of all those present.

The same day, Masaev was summoned to the Interior Ministry, where he was questioned alone for an hour. Many of the questions were about the Calauza Muslim charitable association, of which he is a member but not the leader. They pressured him to give up contact with the association and to halt his attempts to register the Muslim community. At the ministry, Masaev also saw the director of the Floricica recreation facility, where the summer camp had been held. Calauza's leader Rustam Ahsamov was also questioned on 26 July about its activities.

The following day, he and Ahsamov, both Moldovan citizens, were detained for questioning, together with Haisan Abdel-Rasul, a citizen of Sudan, and taken to the Interior Ministry. "They searched us, held us in one office for all that time, filmed us on video, insulted us and questioned us, but never explained why," Masaev complained. He said many of the questions focused on the summer camp, organised by the Calauza association and held from 7 to 16 July. The camp was attended by adult Muslims from Moldova, Moscow and two Islamic scholars from Saudi Arabia. "I explained to them that we studied Islam, the Koran and the hadiths [sayings traditionally attributed to the Prophet Muhammad]," Masaev reported. "The camp had absolutely nothing to do with terrorism, violence or weapons." He insisted that the Saudi Arabian visitors had valid visas and were registered locally. They were also question on whether the Calauza association had any contacts with "Islamic terrorist networks" and the Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden. "I asked them what crimes they were investigating, but they declined to respond."

Masaev reported that the Interior Ministry also appears to have begun summoning other Muslims for questioning. "I learnt that one had been called in for questioning yesterday [30 July], and it's possible there have been others." Sergei Ostaf, a lawyer and member of the Chisinau-based Moldovan Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, told Keston on 28 July that two other members of Calauza had already been questioned.

The Interior Ministry officers declined to give the three Muslims any explanation for the detentions and questioning, merely declaring that the detention was under Article 43 of the Criminal Procedure Code and the Law on the Police. Ostaf pointed out that Article 43 covers solely the role of the defence lawyer from the time of accusation or the moment of interrogation. No defence lawyers were present. He also pointed out that the Interior Ministry did not present any legal documents summoning the three for interrogation.

The Interior Ministry official confirmed to Keston that both Masaev and Ahsamov are Moldovan citizens, but declined to explain why the department which investigates crimes committed by foreigners needed to question them.

Masaev said that in the wake of this month's amendments to the country's religion law (see KNS 31 July 2002), he would be lodging a further request with the State Service for the Affairs of Cults for it to reconsider the earlier rejected registration application. "It is easier now that the State Service is in charge of registration," he told Keston. "But everything depends on the attitude of the bureaucrats - unless they get an instruction from above they won't register us." (END)