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10 minutes per ‘trial’ in Russia’s conveyor belt of repression against Crimean Tatars
A Russian court on 29 July imposed fines on 18 Crimean Tatar activists for supposed ‘infringements of the procedure for holding a meeting, rally, picket, etc’ These were conveyor belt hearings, and, if at first, the Tagansky District Court in Moscow scheduled 10 minutes per ‘defendant’, by late afternoon, a fine was imposed in just 23 seconds. There was, indeed, nothing to consider since the activists had committed no offence back on 11 July, and had simply gathered outside Russia’s Supreme Court in solidarity with four Crimean Tatar political prisoners.
Crimean Solidarity reports that ‘judge’ Yulia Mikhailovna Smolina rejected all applications to have the prosecutor or witnesses present in the courtroom. She did nonetheless, go through a farcical pretence of retreating for seconds each time to the ‘consultation room’, only to return and stamp another identical ruling. In each case, the fine was 20 thousand roubles [nearly 300 euros] with this the largest possible fine for paragraph 5 of Article 20,2 of the Russian code of administrative offences.
46 Crimean Tatars were detained outside the Supreme Court on 11 July, with the court hearings against all the others due in August. They had initially held placards, and were wearing T-shirts reading: “Our children are not terrorists”; “The fight against terrorism in Crimea is a fight against dissidents” and “Stop persecution on ethnic and religious lines in Crimea”, but put the posters away within a minute or so, after being told to by the police. The arrests came the day after seven Crimean Tatars, many of them veterans of the Crimean Tatar national movement, were detained. They were among around 20 activists, most in their fifties and sixties, who gathered in a line along Red Square with the same placards against Russia’s religious and political persecution of Crimean Tatars.
That picket on Red Square came almost exactly 32 years since activists from the Crimean Tatar national movement had held a large demonstration on Red Square demanding the right to return to their native Crimea after 43 years in enforced exile. That protest had been vital in gaining international publicity for the plight of the Crimean Tatars in the Soviet Union.
The current Russian regime has reacted as aggressively or more than its Soviet predecessors to Crimean Tatar solidarity, and this is by no means the first time that activists have been detained for behaviour that even under Russia’s draconian laws is legal. It is now also quite openly using totally unwarranted ‘terrorism’ charges against activists and civic journalists from the civic initiative Crimean Solidarity, which was formed to support political prisoners and their families, and to inform about the mounting repression in occupied Crimea.
The peaceful pickets on 10-11 July were in support of four Crimean Tatar political prisoners from Bakhchysarai whose appeal was being ‘heard’ on 11 July in the Supreme Court.
The latter refused to quash the manifestly unwarranted sentences, and only knocked three months off both the 17-year sentence passed on Enver Mamutov and the 9-year sentences received by Rustem Abiltarov; Zevri Abseitov and Remzi Memetov.
The four men, all of whom have children, were arrested on 12 May 2016 after an early morning ‘operation’ in which armed and masked men burst into homes where small children are sleeping, find nothing in any way illegal, yet force the children’s fathers to the ground, handcuff them and take them away. This was the third such wave of arrests on so-called ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’ charges, although the second to reach sentence stage after the flagrant corruption and rigging in the ‘trial’ of human rights activist Emir-Usein Kuku and five other men caused a temporary delay in that case.
The men were all accused of ‘involvement’ in the peaceful pan-Islamist Hizb ut-Tahrir organization which is legal in Ukraine and which is not known to have committed any acts of terrorism or violence anywhere in the world. The Russian Supreme Court ruling in 2003 which declared it a ‘terrorist’ organization was deliberately kept secret until it was too late to challenge it, and Russia has never adequately explained the ruling which it has been using since 2014 to sentence Russians and Ukrainians from occupied Crimea to huge sentences.
In concocting these cases, which are known to bring the FSB promotion or other benefits, at least one person is designated the role of ‘organizer’ of a Hizb ut-Tahrir group, while others are accused of ‘involvement’ in that group. Since not one of the prosecutions in occupied Crimea has been based on any proof that such a Hizb ut-Tahrir group existed, the choice of Mamutov as ‘organizer’ in this case was largely arbitrary. The difference, however, in sentence is massive. Mamutov was charged under Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code), and even with the three month reduction, has been sentenced to 16 years and nine months. The other men were charged under Article 205.5 § 2.
All four men were declared political prisoners by the Memorial Human Rights Centre back on 18 September 2018. Memorial has long pointed to the flaws in Russia’s Hizb ut-Tahrir cases, and the lack of any grounds at all for supposed ‘terrorism’ charges. In the case of all Crimean Muslims, it also notes that Russia is violating international law by prosecuting men according to Russian law on occupying territory, with the situation particularly shocking since Hizb ut-Tahrir is perfectly legal in Ukraine.
The fines imposed on 29 July are high enough to be a burden for many families, and members of the Crimean Tatar community have already initiated a marathon to help raise the amount. Throughout the day, more and more people began taking place in an informal flash mob under the slogan: Единство дороже штрафов , with the version in English reading: Unity is more precious than money.
The 18 Crimean Tatars fined on 29 July