A source close to the family of Ruslan Sayfutdinov, the 24-year-old Tyumen man convicted of fighting alongside Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar in Syria, who died in prison on 7 January, has said that the family have been informed that no action will be taken over his death. Sayfutdinov’s family and rights defenders say they will continue to work within the system to find out the truth.
Sayfutdinov, a former medical student at the Tyumen Medical Academy, died in prison just 11 days before he was due for release on 18 January. Human rights defenders claimed that there were signs of torture on Sayfutdinov’s body and that doctors had not given him the help he needed.
After his death, Sayfutdinov’s mother said that her son had told her that he had been subjected to torture in the Correctional Facility No. 1 in Kurgan Oblast and that employees of the facility had told her son repeatedly since November 2016 that he would not leave the facility alive, since “our country does not need such people.” Rumiya also claimed that for several weeks her son had not been able to eat, and that every time he tried to eat he vomited.
On 9 January, Znak reported that the Kurgan Prosecutor’s Office for the Monitoring of Laws in Regional Correctional Facilities had begun an investigation into the Sayfutdinov’s death in the intensive care unit of the Treatment and Correctional Facility No. 3 of the regional Federal Penitentiary Service in Kurgan. (The facility has been dubbed the “Kurgan Auschwitz” by locals.) According to Znak, an assessment was to be made of the measures that had been taken to provide Sayfutdinov with medical help, and if any violations were found, then measures would be taken by the prosecutor.
But the source close to Sayfutdinov’s family told me on 22 September that a family member had travelled to Kurgan in August and met with the person investigating the case, who informed them that no action would be taken
“For four hours, he proved to [the family member] that 1. they examined and treated [Sayfutdinov] a great deal and very well; 2. that they spent a lot of resources on him; 3. the death was sudden (while in the conclusion, [they wrote] it had been a progressive condition; 4. Well, you’re not going to bring [Sayfutdinov] back, so write that you agree with the examination results. Without waiting for the results of the examination, ‘we can assume what they will be’,” the source close to Sayfutdinov’s family said.
“They informed [the family member] that there would not be a trial,” the source added.
Rights defender Gabdulla Isakaev told me on 29 September that Sayfutdinov’s family would not give up their fight to find out the circumstances of the 24-year-old’s death.
“Ruslan’s mother and I have agreed that we will attempt to go through every authority to to establish all the circumstances and the level of responsibility of the authorities in the young man’s death,” Isakaev said.
Sayfutdinov had been imprisoned on 21 April 2015 after being found guilty under Article 359 of the Penal Code of the Russian Federation (Mercenarism).
Specifically, Sayfutdinov was found guilty of fighting alongside Jaish Muhajireen wal Ansar in Syria from July through December 2013. In December 2013, Sayfutdinov returned to Tyumen, where the local FSB began to investigate him. He was indicted in February 2014.
A medic, not a fighter?
The state alleged that Sayfutdinov had illegally crossed the Turkey-Syria border after traveling to Turkey as a tourist. According to the indictment, he joined JMA and from July to December 2013 actively participated in military action in the Syrian Arab Republic as part of an anti-government force, for which he regularly received remuneration in U.S. dollars.
Also according to the indictment, Sayfutdinov swore bay’ah to the amir of JMA (the indictment has redacted the name of the amir, but at that time it would have been Umar Shishani) and then underwent a month of physical, military and tactical training in a training camp. At the camp, Sayfutdinov underwent firearms training, training in how to undertake guard duty and how to carry out military actions, and received the specialty of “assault trooper.” The indictment alleged that Sayfutdinov had then undertaken guard duties and ribats.
The indictment has (as is standard in Russian criminal cases of this type) redacted key details such as names, dates and locations of the activities that Sayfutdinov allegedly undertook, which is not only extremely frustrating as it makes it difficult for me to assess whether the allegations are accurate. (I am trying to obtain these details).
In his trial, Sayfutdinov maintained that he had not fought but had gone to Syria to provide medical assistance to victims of the war. Apart from this detail, there is no information of his cross examination or anything relating to his defense at all so it is impossible for me to comment on the state’s allegations, or Sayfutdinov’s defense. It is not clear whether his defense rested on the claim that he provided medical assistance to civilians or within JMA as a battlefield medic. (It is entirely possible for someone to have joined JMA to provide medical assistance.)
In any case, under Russian law, the line of defense that Sayfutdinov went to Syria as a medic rather than a fighter makes little difference — if Sayfutdinov was part of Jaish Muhajireen wal Ansar, then from a criminal law perspective it does not matter whether he fought on the battlefield, provided medical assistance or helped in any other way. The key issue is that he was allegedly part of an illegal armed group.
According to the Park72 website, (park72.ru/socium/64144/) Sayfutdinov was born in the village of Proletarovka in Orenburg Oblast, (https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/Proletarovka,+Orenburg+Oblast,+Russia,+email@example.com,53.0878252,10z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x4163be12e6a07d9d:0x4f15e045f56f03ed!8m2!3d53.6047519!4d53.3678878) and lived for a time in Vyngapurovsky in the Yamalo-Nemets Autonomous Okrug, where he graduated high school. He then studied in the Tyumen Medical Academy, but in his third year he reportedly began to study Salafist Islam and left Tyumen in 2012 for the Dagestan where he studied at an Islamic school.