• Topics / Human Rights Abuses in Russian-occupied Crimea
Crimean Tatar Political Prisoner Moved to Notorious Prison in Russia
After putting Ruslan Zeytullaev through three ‘trials’ to get the huge sentence needed for FSB paperwork, Russia has now sent the Crimean Tatar political prisoner two and a half thousand kilometres from his wife and three small daughters.
Maximum Security Prison Colony No. 2 in Salavat, Bashkiria has a very bad reputation. There were protests at the prison in 2015 over ill-treatment by the staff and so-called ‘activists from among the prisoners collaborating with the prison administration.
The main problem, however, is the distance. Even if Zeytullaev’s wife, Meryem, is able to make the long, arduous and expensive journey, it will be next to impossible for his daughters and elderly mother to see him.
This is in direct violation of a recent European Court of Human Rights judgement (Polyakova v. Russia and two others), which found that Russia had violated Russian prisoners’ rights by imprisoning them very far from their families.
In effectively all the cases where Russia has imprisoned Ukrainians on politically-motivated charges and/or for their beliefs, the men have been sent much too far away. In the case of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko, the distance seems also aimed at ensuring maximum isolation and distance from foreign journalists and diplomats.
Everything about the detention and ‘trial’ of Zeytullaev and three other Crimean Tatar Muslims from Sevastopol is in breach of international law. The degree of the violations was doubtless one of the reasons why the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre declared Zeytullaev; Ferat Saifullaev; Rustem Vaitov and Nuri Primov political prisoners in July 2016, long before the end of their ‘trial’.
Even if the charges were reasonable, which they are not, Russia would be violating the Fourth Geneva Convention and other treaties by applying Russian law on occupied territory.
Zeytullaev, who is now 32, was arrested together with Rustem Vaitov and Nuri (Yuri) Primov on January 23, 2015, with Ferat Saifullaev taken prisoner in April that year. All were held in custody far from their families, and there were gross irregularities even during the detention hearings. There were overt attempts to intimidate people coming to the detention hearings to show solidarity, with a police officer even wandering around videoing those present. Since then, the occupation regime has made even such hearings on extending detention closed altogether, a brutal blow to the families of the other 15 Crimean Muslims held in indefinite detention.
Vaitov, Primov and Saifullaev were all charged with ‘taking part in a terrorist organization’ under Article 205.5 § 2 of Russia’s criminal code, while Zeytullaev was accused of ‘organizing’ it (Article 205.5 § 1).
The charges pertained solely to the alleged involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a peaceful pan-Islamist organization which is legal in Ukraine (and other countries) and is not known to have committed an act of terrorism or violence anywhere in the world. Russia’s decision in 2003 to declare it ‘terrorist’ was unexplained and taken in secret to avoid it being challenged. Russia now regularly sentences men to huge sentences merely on charges of being members. All those convicted on such charges are recognized by the Memorial Human Rights Centre as political prisoners.
The charges were obviously flawed and based only on a ‘kitchen chat’ (details here), on the testimony of a former SBU officer who switched allegiance to Russia and to a secret and highly questionable ‘witness. The case was so flagrantly flawed that even the first Russian judges from the Rostov Military Court showed a glimmer of integrity. Although they lacked the courage to acquit the men, they sentenced Saifullaev. Vaitov and Primov to the minimum 5 years possible under the article of the criminal code, and reclassified the charge against Zeytullaev to ‘involvement’, sentencing him to ‘only’ seven years.
This, however, did not suit the FSB which has a standard format for its multiple ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir cases’, and needs to have an ‘organizer’. Zeytullaev’s lawyer Emil Kurbedinov, warned shortly after the sentence was challenged as too ‘light’ that the FSB would not tolerate deviation from their storyline. Too many questions were raised about their ‘case’. If there was no leader on this occasion, what would they do about the other three men facing even longer sentences as the supposed organizers of other Hizb ut-Tahrir groups?
The conviction of Zeytullaev was overturned, and the case sent back for a ‘retrial’. This was identical to the first, with all the flaws and lack of evidence, but the second court proved more compliant, though still sentenced Zeytullaev to 12 years, not the original 7 and not the 17 demanded by the prosecution. The prosecutor challenged that ruling as well and on July 27, Russia’s Supreme Court added three years to the sentence.
All four Crimean Tatars convicted so far have one or more children and all are held far from their families.
Please help share information about this case and similar prosecutions (and even longer sentences) faced by 15 other Crimean Muslims. As Saifullaev said in court, they are being punished for their faith.
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 (Yuri) Primov and brief information about the case can be found by pressing the hyperlinks.
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.
453256, Башкортостан, г. Салават, ст. Южный, ФКУ ИК № 2 УФСИН России по Республике. Башкортостан,
Зейтуллаеву, Руслану Борисовичу, 1985 г.р.
Or in English (slightly shortened)
45325 Bashkortostan, Salavat, Prison No. 2,
Zeytullaev, Ruslan Borisovych, born 1985