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• Topics / Human Rights Abuses in Russian-occupied Crimea
Russian TV uses Crimean Tatar political prisoner to claim Ukraine is "funding terrorism"
The Crimean Ukrainians imprisoned in occupied Crimea or Russia on fabricated ‘terrorist’ charges are increasingly used as part of Russia’s propaganda war against Ukraine. Russian television channels can be relied upon to use fake video footage to turn any armed search and arrest of Crimean Tatar activists, for example, into the seizure of dangerous ‘terrorists’. Some of the news ‘stories’ are devoid of any information content, with the only aim being to make false claims about the prisoner himself and Ukraine. REN-TV recently came up with such a ‘feature’ on recognized political prisoner Nuri Primov and a visit from the Ukrainian consul.
40-year-old Primov is one of four Crimean Tatars from Sevastopol convicted on entirely unproven charges of involvement in the pan-Islamist Hizb ut-Tahrir organization which has never committed acts of terrorism anywhere in the world and is legal in Ukraine and most countries. Russia banned it as ‘terrorist’ without ever properly explaining why, and is now breaching international law by prosecuting Ukrainians on these charges under Russian law in occupied Crimea and imprisoning them in Russia. It also breached all principles of a fair trial since the men were convicted despite the lack of any evidence that they were in fact members of Hizb ut-Tahrir.
All of the above grounds and more were cited by the Memorial Human Rights Centre when it recognized Primov, Ferat Saifullaev; Rustem Vaitov and Ruslan Zeytullaev as political prisoners. Their release has been demanded by the European Parliament and others international bodies.
Russian viewers, however, get an entirely different picture. The REN-TV report is titled ‘Ukrainian diplomats transfer money to terrorists planning attacks in Crimea’ and tries to make a sinister story out of an entirely normal visit by a Ukrainian consul to a Ukrainian prisoner. The journalist’s commentary is littered with mistakes but clearly aimed at pushing the false message that Hizb ut-Tahrir is a terrorist organization “used in Ukraine for all kinds of anti-Russian actions, including those of a terrorist nature”, with the so-called ‘terrorists’ financed by Ukraine.
REN-TV did not just see a consul by chance and decide to film the visit. This entire program had clearly been coordinated with, at very least, the prison administration, who went along with an absolutely normal question about money for ordinary expenses being made into an illicit ‘plot’. The fact that the consul Viktor Pletnikov wanted to speak with Primov without guards or television cameras is also the norm, but is made into something sinister.
The lies were undoubtedly deliberate, and would not have been noticed by the viewers. The title, for example, is most pernicious not because of the nonsense about transferring an extremely modest amount on money, but because of the false claim that any of the men were planning attacks. Russia’s repressive legislation enables the conviction of people simply for alleged ‘involvement’ in an organization which it has banned without any good reason, and this is precisely what happened.
Typically, the channel spoke with Roman Silantyev, a supposed ‘experts’ who has been sharing Islamophobic views to the Russian media since before Russia’s invasion of Crimea. It is he who makes the unsubstantiated claims about Ukraine’s ‘use’ of Hizb ut-Tahrir.
It is unclear whether Primov agreed to speak with the channel or was forced. In any case, the reporter was forced to resort to further insinuations since Primov made it clear that he did not accept the charges and that any banned literature was of an educational nature. He says that any world Khalifat is something for the distant future, and hopes when released to help Ukraine, including by making all efforts to return Crimea.
There have been numerous such attempts to defame Ukrainian political prisoners. Where the charges are clearly absurd, such as those against Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko, all kinds of measures were applied. The situation is broadly similar here.
Primov, Saifullaev and Vaitov were all sentenced in September 2016 to 5-year terms of imprisonment, the minimum that Russian judges who lacked the courage to acquit them could impose. The same court changed the charge against Ruslan Zeytullaev from ‘organizing’ a supposed Hizb ut-Tahrir group, to taking part in it, and also passed a sentence much longer than that demanded by the prosecutor. This was challenged, almost certainly for the Russian FSB’s paperwork, and Zeytullaev was sentenced on April 26, 2017 to 12 years. Even this has been challenged, with the FSB clearly determined to get the 17-year sentence initially demanded.
There was literally no evidence against the men, and the only real ‘charge’ pertaining to a kitchen discussion on the level of what is an ideal world order. Russia resorted to a secret witness who was clearly sitting in a room with a person prompting him, and yet still gave muddled and contradictory testimony.
The men’s lawyers have applied for them to be moved closer to their families in Crimea. This is in full accordance with a recent judgement from the European Court of Human Rights, however Russia has not thus far chosen to obey even its own laws in such cases.
All four men have children who have not seen their fathers now for over two years.
PLEASE WRITE TO ALL FOUR MEN
It is vital for them to feel that they are not forgotten, but it is also critical that Russia understands that it is being followed. Letters or postcards need to be in Russian, and should not contain any discussion of the cases or politics generally. If it is a problem to write in Russian, just copy-pasting the following will be fine.
Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение.
Мы о Вас помним.
[Hello, I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released. You are not forgotten.
425408, Республика Марий Эл, Советский район, посёлок Ясный, Ясная улица, 3. ИК-5. Примову Юрию Владимировичу, 1976 г.р
640008, г. Курган, ул. Часовая 2-я, 40, Ваитову Рустему Мамутовичу, 1986 г. р.
344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.
Зейтуллаеву, Руслану Борисовичу, 1985 г.р.
612740, Кировская область, г. Омутнинск, ул. Трудовых резервов, 125. ИК-17, Сайфуллаеву Ферату Рефатовичу, 1983 г.р.