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• Topics / Human Rights Abuses in Russian-occupied Crimea
Russia repeats ‘trial’ of Crimean Tatar political prisoner until judges give the right sentence
After three attempts. Russia’s FSB has obtained nearly the 17-year sentence it demanded against Ruslan Zeytullaev, a 32-year-old father of three and recognized political prisoner. There were never any grounds for his prosecution, with the only difference literally being in the composition of the panel of judges who handed down the sentence. On July 27, three judges from Russia’s Supreme Court left the courtroom for about the time it takes to wash their hands, and changed the second sentence from 12 to 15 years, with this more than doubling the sentence after the first identical trial.
Zeytullaev has declared an indefinite hunger strike, which is of major concern as he is very far from Crimea and from his lawyers who will be unable to monitor his condition. His lawyers, Emil Kurbedinov and Edem Semedlyaev, call the sentence a disgrace and will now be applying to the European Court of Human Rights.
The hearing took place in Moscow, however Zeytullaev was not allowed to be present and addressed the court from the Rostov SIZO (remand prison). He wore a T-shirt with the message: “Order fulfilled”, and one of the messages he held up read: “Repression in the XXI century”. He called on Crimean Tatars to resist the efforts underway (in Russian-occupied Crimea) to divide them, and asked them to not leave, and those who have, to return to their native homeland.
“Do not pay attention to the current reality of searches, arrests, prison sentences and bans. Even if they imprison the entire people, all the rest of the world will see this injustice and our people will become an example to follow, and as a result become stronger”.
He hopes that his family can be proud of him, stressing that he had been a builder and a father bringing up his three small daughters before Russia’s propaganda tried to make a ‘terrorist’ out of him. As he mentioned, the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre has declared Zeytullaev a political prisoner, together with the three other men from Sevastopol arrested with him: Ferat Saifullaev; Rustem Vaitov and Nuri (Yury) Primov.
Zeytullaev told the court:
“I am being tried for terrorism in a case where this is not one word about explosives, terrorists acts, where there were only conversations. The prosecution doesn’t care that this is absurd. The main thing is to read out a text prepared in advance. Since we have spoken so much about terrorism, I would like to say loudly: “No terrorism!”.
Stop this lawlessness. We are Muslims, yes, Crimean Tatars, yes, but not terrorists. Your actions are aimed at crushing different points of view. Well say it honestly, don’t pretend”.
Russia, which is illegally occupying Ukrainian Crimea, is imprisoning Ukrainian Muslims for unproven involvement in an organization - Hizb ut-Tahrir – which is legal in Ukraine and which is not known to have committed any act of terrorism or violence anywhere in the world.
Russia’s Supreme Court declared Hizb ut-Tahrir ‘terrorist’ in 2003 without providing any good reason, and kept the decision secret until it was impossible to lodge an appeal against it. Memorial Human Rights Centre expert, Vitaly Ponomaryov believes that Russia may have declared the organization terrorist to make it easier to extradite people to Uzbekistan where they faced religious persecution and torture. It has since created a ‘conveyor belt of repression’ with men receiving huge sentences, not for any terrorism, but because the FSB and Russian courts decide that they were members of this peaceful organization. Memorial HRC declares all those sentenced merely for involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir political prisoners.
In declaring the four men from Sevastopol political prisoners, Memorial HRC also pointed out that Russia is illegally occupying Crimea and as an occupying state has no right under international conventions to which it is a party to impose its legislation.
No grounds at all
Russia is now illegally holding 19 Ukrainian Muslims, counting the four men convicted, on charges of ‘involvement’ or ‘organizing’ Hizb ut-Tahrir groups. A regime which invaded and is occupying Ukrainian Crimea has even added a new charge – of ‘attempting violent seizure of power in Russia’.
There are no grounds for any of the charges, and no proof even that any of the men held in indefinite detention are members of Hizb ut-Tahrir.
The original trial was so flawed, the lack of evidence so glaring that even the Russian Military Court in Rostov balked at providing the long sentences demanded by the prosecutor. On 7 September 2016, Saifullaev, Vaitov and Primov were sentenced under Article 205.5 § 2 of Russia’s criminal code with involvement in ‘a terrorist organization’. They all received the minimum 5-year sentence (rather than the 7 or 8 years demanded). The court also reduced the charge against Zeytullaev from ‘organizing’ a Hizb ut-Tahrir group, to ‘involvement’ in it, and sentenced him to 7 years.
This was promptly challenged by the prosecutor and at the appeal hearing on Dec 27, 2016, Russia’s Supreme Court rejected the other men’s appeals against their sentences and allowed the prosecutor’s application for a ‘retrial’ of Zeytullaev.
The said ‘retrial’ was essentially a re-run of the first flawed trial, but with the judges aware that a new sentence was ‘required’. This was, unfortunately, provided on April 27, 2017. The second panel of judges at the same Rostov court sentenced Zeytullaev to 12 years, which was still five years less than the sentence demanded by the prosecutor. Now Russia’s Supreme Court has provided almost that sentence.
As well as the illegality of the charges themselves, and the lack of any evidence against Hizb ut-Tahrir, the attempts at ‘evidence’ against Zeytullaev and the other three men were extraordinarily shoddy, and openly focuses on the men’s expressed views, including about Russia’s occupation of Crimea.
Almost all the prosecution’s ‘witnesses’ testified in the men’s favour. In one or two cases, they also revealed the threat of imprisonment or similar that the ‘investigators’ used to obtain testimony.
One of the main ‘prosecution witnesses’ was a former Ukrainian Security Officer – Alexander Kozhemyaka - who changed sides after Russia’s invasion and is now in the FSB. He is known to have had his own, corruption-based, realizes for a vendetta against Zeytullaev and Saifullaev from back in 2012.
There was also testimony of a secret witness, who could not even be cross-examined properly. There were long delays while the man was clearly being told what to say, yet even then he came up with totally contradictory statements. He could not remember the place or time, for example, but did remember every incriminating word that they were supposed to have spoken.
The only material ‘evidence’ was a video in which the men discussed the political situation in Crimea, before and after it came under Russian control. The discussion was deliberately provoked and illicitly videoed by an FSB informer.
Zeytullaev is surely correct that this trial and those coming of other Ukrainian Muslims is targeted at crushing dissent, and allowing only those religious and political views that the occupying regime will tolerate. This is a disastrous ruling, both for Ruslan and his family, and for the other men facing similar charges.
Please help to inform politicians in other countries and the media about these prosecution, and demand that international human rights organizations also become involved.
And PLEASE WRITE TO RUSLAN!
It is vital that he knows – and Moscow is reminded – that he is not forgotten. 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, maybe with a picture or photograph. Addresses for Ferat Saifullaev; Rustem Vaitov and Nuri (Yury) Primov and brief information about the case can be found by pressing the hyperlinks on their names at the beginning.
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.
Address (Ruslan’s name is at the end, with his year of birth, which is required).
344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.
Зейтуллаеву, Руслану Борисовичу, 1985 г.р.