Russia lies about its most openly anti-Crimean Tatar trial at the Hague
Russia preferred to remain almost totally silent about its most high-profile trial and prisoners in occupied Crimea during the proceedings at the International Court of Justice in the Hague. Hardly surprising, when Ukraine is accusing it of discriminating against Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians, and the prosecution in question has openly targeted only Crimean Tatars.
There was one mention only, simply packed with lies. In trying to justify the banning of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, or representative assembly, it was asserted that:
“In 2014 the Mejlis continued with its violent tactics, now in new circumstances: first in front of the Supreme Council building on 26 February 2014, where the actions of the Mejlis members and supporters, including Mr. Chiygoz, resulted in 2 people dead and 79 injured.”
Russia has not merely cited this demonstration as an excuse for banning the Mejlis. It has also used it as a pretext for holding the Deputy Head of the Mejlis Akhtem Chiygoz in detention for over two years, as well as two other Crimean Tatars – Ali Asanov and Mustafa Degermendzhy. 3 other Crimean Tatars are on trial, and two men, both Crimean Tatar, have already been convicted.
The Ukrainian Helskink Human Rights Union and other respected human rights groups from four countries have analysed the case and found it wanting in everything but clear political motivation.
Russia has no jurisdiction to prosecute people over events that unquestionably took place on Ukrainian territory and under Ukrainian law. The law, whether Moscow likes it or not, has not retroactive force.
There were two demonstrations that day which largely coincided in time and space. One was organized by the Mejlis, with around 10 thousand Crimean Tatars, Euromaidan activists and other Ukrainians gathering to block any attempt by parliament to push through a change in Crimea’s status. The Russian Unity party, led by Sergei Aksyonov organized a counter-demonstration, with around 4 thousand pro-Russian demonstrators. .
The human rights groups have examined around 14 hours of video footage, photographs and have spoken with people involved in the demonstration. They conclude that the demonstration did not have any elements to justify calling them mass riots. There were no calls to violent action, and any claims that such calls were made have been demolished in court
One of the main reasons for injuries and the two deaths is that the number of police present was manifestly inadequate. 500 officers would probably not be enough for any 14-thousand-strong demonstration in the fairly confined space outside the Crimean parliament, and here there were two demonstrations with sharply polarized positions.
All available evidence, including clear video footage, demonstrates that several pro-Ukrainian demonstrators, including Mustafa Degermendzhy’s father, sustained injuries, yet the Russian investigators have only recorded injuries allegedly incurred by pro-Russian activists. With respect to supposed ‘victims’, Novaya Gazeta reported that the Russian Investigative Committee , clearly short of any evidence, had, 4 days after Chiygoz’s arrest and 11 months after the events, invited Simferopol residents to come forward “even in the absence of bodily injuries”.
The Russian team’s mention of two deaths during the Hague Court proceedings was especially dishonest. These occurred in the pro-Russian part of the demonstration and the husband of Valentina Korneva has stated clearly that he believes pro-Russian activists were behind her death. No Crimean Tatar is charged over the deaths.
In the absence of either jurisdiction or any criminal offences, it is hardly surprising that the men are even unclear what precisely they are accused of having done. The ‘investigators’ have concentrated throughout on putting pressure on other Crimean Tatars to give false testimony against Chiygoz. This has clearly been unsuccessful, and all that they achieved, essentially by threatening the men with long sentences, is that two men have pleaded ‘guilty’ and received suspended sentences.
Asanov, whose fourth child was born after his arrest, and Degermendzhy have almost certainly been held in detention for almost two years because of their refusal to give false testimony and denial of any wrong-doing.
Both Asanov and Degermendzhy were brought to the trial of Chiygoz on March 6. Both men stated that they had been told by the investigator that they would be released if they gave testimony against Chiygoz. They had consistently refused, and then later each was separately taken to the investigator who was sitting with the Mufti of Crimea. Emirali Ablaev. The latter promised his help in getting them released, if they agreed to the investigators’ conditions.
The Mufti was himself present with Chiygoz and other Mejlis leaders at the 26 February demonstration, but has since chosen to collaborate with the Russian occupiers.
Russia is very clearly also trying to sow dissent among Crimean Tatars through such tactics. All that has been achieved, it seems, is that some defendants have agreed to acknowledge ‘guilt’ themselves. Asanov and Degermendzhy have rejected any form of ‘cooperation’.
Neither man saw Chiygoz at all. There is, in fact, video footage (around 3.15 here https://youtube.com/watch?v=brYjd2Paks0 ) which clearly shows Mustafa Degermendzhy early on helping his father, who has severe asthma and was in obvious distress, to leave the demonstration. In court the young man pointed out that there had been another elderly Crimean Tatar in the ambulance – one of the victims the investigators do not wish to know about.
In Asanov’s case, he was twice himself hit or sprayed with tear gas, yet it is he who is accused of trying unsuccessfully to hit the man who had hurtled a plastic bottle that hit him on the head.
Asanov’s lawyer Edem Semedlyaev believes that their trial is being deliberately dragged out. At a hearing on March 9, for example, the court only heard two former police officers. Their written statements were essentially identical, and differed radically from what they said about the events under questioning.
This has repeatedly been the case with the so-called ‘witnesses’ and / or ‘victims’ whom the prosecution has called in the Chiygoz trial. Even the so-called ‘secret witnesses’ give testimony which is confused, physical impossible or contradictory.
Chiygoz’s lawyer Nikolai Polozv has repeatedly noted that on the video footage presented by the prosecution, the only clear signs of anybody deliberately seeking to provoke trouble or cause crushes are from members of the pro-Russian contingent (details here)
There is considerable evidence that Russia was planning to use certain pro-Russian politicians in Crimea to bring about a supposed change in Crimean status without the overt use of Russian soldiers. It failed thanks to the Mejlis and around 10 thousand Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians who gathered with both Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar flags. There was no mass riot that day, and these ‘trials’ bear all the hallmarks of politically-motivated persecution, probably motivated by revenge for having foiled the Kremlin’s plan for seizing Crimea without soldiers and the resulting international condemnation.