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Russia uses dodgy ‘secret witness’ to fabricate proof in trial of Crimean Tatar political prisoners

20.08.2020
Halya Coynash

The concept of a ‘protected witness’ has a quite different meaning for Russian courts, especially when the aim is to imprison Crimean Tatar political prisoners for up to 20 years without any crime.  Anonymity and physical distance from the court are guaranteed so that the ‘witness’ testimony cannot be verified, and, as was dramatically clear on 19 August, so that the ‘witness’ can be prompted when he doesn’t know what to say.

There are certainly times when a witness may needs protection in order to be able to testify.  There needs to be some evidence, however, that the person could be in danger if their identity became known.  On 19 August, the individual under the pseudonym ‘Rustem Ablayev’ refused to reveal his identity because he “just” didn’t want to.  Since the defence were rightly disputing the need for his secrecy, such an argument was hardly serious, but lo and behold, the prosecutor Yevgeny Kolpikov leapt in, reminding ‘Ablayev’ that he “feared for his safety”.  This was one of multiple prompts from the prosecutor which the court turned a blind eye to despite the defence’s repeated objection that the ‘witness’ seemed to be reading from a script and sometimes turning off the microphone, almost certainly in order to be told the answer. Presiding judge Roman Saprunov, who could hear the incongruities in the man’s testimony just as well as the defence,  merely asked again whether ‘Ablayev’ was reading out his answers and whether he was alone.  Those answers the ‘witness’ could give without needing a prompt.

59-year-old Enver Omerov, his 32-year-old son Riza Omerov and Aider Dzhapparov (39) are recognized by the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre as political prisoners, illegally persecuted by an occupying state for their religious and other views.  The ‘terrorism’ charges against them are based purely on unproven allegations of involvement in ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’.  This peaceful Muslim movement is legal in Ukraine, and Russia is the only country in the world to have declared it ‘terrorist’, although it is not known to have committed acts of terrorism or violence anywhere in the world.

These ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir prosecutions’ have become a weapon against civic activists and journalists in Russian-occupied Crimea, and, to a large extent, against Crimean Tatars.  Only a semblance of ‘evidence’ is required to back the charge of ‘involvement’, with this provided, among other things, by such secret witnesses. These are believed, in some cases, to be FSB officers.  We also know, through men who managed to hold out, that the FSB uses torture and threats of imprisonment to force people to ‘cooperate’ with them, including by giving false testimony.

Since the defendants are not accused of any real crime, all that the ‘secret witness’ has to do is to claim that the men spoke about Hizb ut-Tahrir in front of him and tried to ‘recruit him’. 

It can only be guessed why this individual is providing such services, but he was certainly given the answers to ‘incriminate’ the three men, and must have been aware of the sentences they are facing. 

Whether or not he really was reading a prompt, his memory was suspiciously selective.  He remembered the defendants’ names very well, but not those of three people he claimed also attended ‘meetings’ at the Omerov home.  His knowledge of Islam seemed limited, yet he came out with detailed answers about words that the prosecution links with Hizb ut-Tahrir.

It is clear, even from just reading the transcript, how very unconvincing his testimony was, yet that was clearly of no concern to either the Russian prosecutor, or the judges. 

This is one of the most shocking of Russia’s prosecutions in occupied Crimea, since the FSB have now arrested all the men in one family: Enver Omerov, his only son, Riza, and his son-in-law,  Rustem Ismailov, who is already serving a thirteen and a half year sentence without any crime. 

Enver Omerov was actually arrested during the night from 9-10 June 2019 as he travelled to Rostov with his daughter, Fatma Ismailova, for the latest court hearing in the trial of his son-in-law.   Armed searches were carried out early on 10 June in a large number of homes, with Riza Omerov;  Aider Dzhapparov, and also Eskender Suleymanov from Belogorsk, and four men from Alushta: 39-year-old Eldar Kantemirov; 52-year-old Lenur Khalilov; 54-year-old Ruslan Mesutov and Ruslan Nagaev(55) all arrested and taken away.  All the men remain imprisoned, although Suleymanov has become the 25th Crimean Tatar in Russia’s most notorious attack on activists and journalists from the civic initiative Crimean Solidarity, and the four men from Alushta are also being tried separately. 

These ‘trials’, which are known to provide the FSB with promotion or bonuses, all follow a certain pattern, with one or more of the defendants designated as ‘organizers’ (under Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code) and others accused only of ‘involvement’ (Article 205.5 § 2) .  The distinction generally seems quite arbitrary, however the difference in sentences is massive.  In this case, Enver Omerov and Aider Dzhapparov have been labelled ‘organizers’ and face sentences of up to 20-25 years; Riza Omerov from 10-20 years.

On 27 February 2020, it was learned that all three men were also being charged with planning a violent seizure of power, which, according to the Memorial Human Rights Centre, is a charge that the FSB regularly use against those who refuse to ‘cooperate’ with the investigators by accepting the absurd charges. 

All three men stated in court that they consider the charges politically-motivated, and protested that they were being prosecuted under Russian law. 

The trial is taking place at the same Southern District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don where most political trials of Ukrainians have taken place over the last six years. This time, the presiding judge is Roman Saprunov, together with Rizvan Zubairov and Maxim Nikitin.  The prosecutors so far have been Zaurbek Savoyev and Yevgeny Kolpikov.

The next hearing is scheduled for 2 September.

PLEASE WRITE TO THE MEN!

The letters tell them they are not forgotten, and show Moscow that the ‘trial’ now underway is being followed. 

Letters need to be in Russian, and on ‘safe’ subjects.  If that is a problem, use the sample letter below (copying it by hand), perhaps adding a picture or photo. Do add a return address so that the men can answer.

All three men at the moment are held in the same SIZO [remand prison] in Rostov-on-Don.  The address is below and can be written in either Russian or in English transcription.  The particular addressee’s name and year of birth need to be given.

Sample letter

Привет,

Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение. Простите, что мало пишу – мне трудно писать по-русски, но мы все о Вас помним.

[Hi.  I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released.  I’m sorry that this letter is short – it’s hard for me to write in Russian., but you are not forgotten. ] 

Aider Dzhapparov

344022, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Джаппарову, Айдеру, 1980 г.р.

 [In English:  344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Dzhapparov, Aider, b. 1980 ]

Enver Omerov

344022, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Омерову, Энверу, 1961 г.р.

 [In English:  344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Omerov, Enver, b. 1961 ]

RizaOmerov

344022, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Омерову, Ризе, 1988 г.р.

 [In English:  344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Omerov, Riza, b. 1988 ]

 

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