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First Russia came for the journalists. and now it's hiding their trials

29.03.2021
Halya Coynash

Hybrid Deportation. The 25 Crimean Tatar civic journalists and activists arrested on 27 March 2019 or soon afterwards

A contemporary version of Marcin Niemöller’s famous words about the Nazis was seen recently at a protest.  The placard read: “First they came for the journalists. We don’t know what happened after that”.  In occupied Crimea, Russia has not been able to totally conceal its human rights violations, but it is undoubtedly trying. including by imprisoning civic journalists and activists. It has also stepped up menacing ‘warnings’, as well as administrative prosecutions for speaking out in defence of political prisoners.  Since some of those now facing 20-year sentences had previously also been subjected to such harassment, the message is clear.

Russia essentially crushed all independent media within the first year or so of its occupation. This, and the mounting repression, especially against Crimean Tatars, led to the emergence of the civic initiative Crimean Solidarity in 2016.  After the arrest early in 2016 of human rights activist Emir-Usein Kuku and five other men, and the abduction and disappearance of civic activist, Ervin Ibragimov, there could be few illusions about the dangers any of the civic journalists and activists faced.

There had already been several arrests, including of Crimean Solidarity Coordinator and journalist Server Mustafayev when, on 27 March 2019, Russia carried out its most brazen offensive to date.  Armed and often masked enforcement officers burst into a huge number of homes early in the morning and carrying out ‘searches’.  These were essentially only for ‘prohibited literature’, with reports in several homes that the FSB had planted books that they then claimed to have ‘found’.  Tacit confirmation that the FSB had a lot to hide was seen in the fact that not one of the lawyers who arrived to represent the men was allowed to be present, in breach of the men’s rights.

The targeting of men who had spoken out against repression was too overt and the arrests elicited international condemnation.  Human Rights Watch called them “an unprecedented move to intensify pressure on a group largely critical of Russia’s occupation of the Crimean Peninsula” and stated unequivocally that attempts “to portray politically active Crimean Tatars as terrorists” is aimed at silencing them. There was similar criticism from the US State Department ; the EUFreedom House and Civil Rights Defenders, and the Memorial Human Rights Centre was swift to declare all the men political prisoners and denounce the attempt “to crush the Crimean Tatar human rights movement”.

Of the men arrested, four are civic journalists: Osman Arifmemetov;  Remzi Bekirov; Rustem Sheikhaliev and Ruslan Suleymanov.  Bekirov had also recently become an accredited correspondent for Grani.ru, one of the only publications in Russia that writes openly about political persecution in occupied Crimea.

All of the men are charged only with ‘involvement’ in the Hizb ut-Tahrir movement, a peaceful Muslim party which is legal in Ukraine and which is not known to have carried out acts of terrorism anywhere in the world. Russia has never provided any grounds for its highly secretive 2003 Supreme Court ruling that declared Hizb ut-Tahrir ‘terrorist’, yet this inexplicable ruling is now being used as justification for huge sentences on supposed ‘terrorism charges’.  Some of the men are facing the more serious charge of ‘organizing’ a Hizb ut-Tahrir group (Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code).  There is no proof that such a group even existed, yet the men face sentences of around 20 years or even life imprisonment. The other 20 activists and journalists are charged under Article 205.5 § 2 of ‘involvement’, with this still carrying a potential sentence of 10-20 years. In at least one of the cases, that of Rayim Aivazov, the FSB recently changed the charge to the more serious Article 205.5 § 1 – just as they threatened to do when he retracted a ‘confession’ that they had extracted from him through torture.

The aggressor state, which invaded and annexed Crimea is also charging all 25 Ukrainian citizens with “planning a violent seizure of power and change in Russia’s constitutional order” (Article 278).  Here too, there are no grounds for the charges.

The ‘evidence’ in the case includes the supposed testimony of secret witnesses whose claims cannot be verified; taped conversations about religion, etc. and ‘assessments’ of such conversations by FSB-loyal ‘experts’ who can claim that a word, common in Crimean Tatar, is ‘proof’ of the charges against the men. 

Russia reacted to international condemnation in March 2019 by initially hiding the men, with the first 23 swiftly taken to Russia for some time.

It was learned in September 2020 that the men were to be split up for five absolutely identical ‘trials’.  There has been at least one trial of 19 political prisoners in Russia and it seems likely that the logistical difficulties were not the only reason. Lawyer Emil Kurbedinov recently suggested that both the FSB and the courts get ‘better statistics’ out of such clones.  They can claim to have concluded five ‘terrorism’ cases, and not just one, albeit with many defendants.

The other aim is doubtless to deflect attention from this persecution of Crimean Tatar civic journalists and activists and from each individual trial.  After the first hearings in just some of the cases, it is evident that it will be difficult to follow each group and near impossible to report on each as these are effectively ‘clones’.  Lawyer Alexei Ladin earlier spoke of how the court proceedings would be extremely difficult.  He noted that it would be unclear what kind of status the defendants in one case would have in the ‘trial’ of the other men.  Since all five ‘trials’ are based on the same flawed ‘expert assessments’ and the same ‘secret witnesses’, discrepancies are inevitable.

This is, in short, a further violation of the men’s right to a fair trial.  The first hearing last week took place with all of the defendants being removed from their own ‘trial’. Farkhod Bazarov was expelled after he spoke in his native, Crimean Tatar, language, after which Rayim Aivazov;; Remzi Bekirov; Riza Izetov and Shaban Umerov also spoke in Crimean Tatar to show their solidarity and were thrown out.  During the first hearing in the trial of journalists Osman Arifmemetov; Rustem Sheikhaliev and Ruslan Suleymanov, and activists Enver Ametov and Yashar Muyedinov, the men were not thrown out for speaking Crimean Tatar, merely ignored, thus infringing their right to an interpreter. 

As lawyer Aider Azamatov put it, “you can’t speak of the observance of any norms of criminal procedure and of human rights.  Here they violate everything that can be violated”. 

The 25 defendants, grouped as per FSB clone trial.

One

Rayim Aivazov  b. 30.01.1994, is a Crimean Solidarity activist.  He and his wife have two small daughters, the younger of whom was born after his arrest.

Farkhod Bazarov, b. 22.08.1986, Crimean Solidarity activist.  He has four children and an elderly mother who is very ill

Remzi Bekirov, b. 20.02.1985, is a historian by profession, but was active as a Crimean Solidarity civic journalist and had become an accredited journalist for Grani.ru.  He has three children. 

Riza Izetov, b. 24.01.1979, is a human rights activist and Crimean Solidarity civic journalist.  His wife was expecting their third child when he was arrested.

Shaban Umerov, b. 22.10.1969, is a Crimean Solidarity activist.  He has three children, and five grandchildren.

Two

Enver Ametov, b. 02.08.1975, actively attended politically motivated ‘court’ hearings.  He has three children – a 15-year-old daughter and two smaller sons.

Osman Arifmemetov, b. 28.08.1985, is a Maths and IT teacher and programmer by profession.  Faced by the mounting repression after 2014, he became one of the main civic journalists reporting for Crimean Solidarity on searches, arrests and court hearings.  He has a daughter, born in 2015, and son (2017).

Yashar Muyedinov, b. 14.04.1968, is a Crimean Solidarity activist.  He has eight children.

Rustem Sheikhaliev, b. 22.06.1979, is a Crimean Solidarity civic journalist. He has three children.

Ruslan Suleymanov, b. 21.04.1983, is a physics teacher and Crimean Solidarity civic journalist.  He has two children (after the tragic death of his youngest child, Musa in July 2020.  Russia hit new depths in not allowing Ruslan to attend his son’s funeral.

Three

Tofik Abdulgaziev, b. 19.06.1981. is a Crimean Solidarity activist, who has done the sound recordings for Crimean Solidarity meetings and for the Crimean Childhood civic initiative formed to help the ever-mounting number of children left without their fathers, and often deeply traumatized by the armed and masked men who burst into their homes.  He and his wife have a son and two daughters, and are also bringing up his wife’s daughter from her first marriage.   

Vladlen Abdulkadyrov. 28/12.1979, is an activist who was involved in organizing parcels of food, etc. for political prisoners.  He has three children.

Izet Abdullayev, b. 22.10.1986, actively attended politically motivated ‘court’ hearings.  He and his wife have two small children, one of whom was born after his arrest.

Medzhit Abdurakhmanov, b. 02.02.1975, is a Crimean Solidarity activist.  He has two children.

Bilyal Adilov, b. 27.05.1970, is a religious figure who has also actively attended politically motivated ‘court’ hearings.  He has eight children.

Four

Dzhemil Gafarov, b. 31.05.1962, actively attended all politically motivated ‘court’ hearings.  Gafarov suffers from fourth stage chronic kidney disease, which is only a step away from kidney failure, and even by Russian standards there is no excuse for his continued imprisonment.

Servet Gaziev, 15.04.1960, actively attended all politically motivated ‘court’ hearings

Alim Karimov, b. 08.04.1994, is a Crimean Solidarity activist.  He and his wife have one son, Isa, who was just four months old when his father was arrested.

Seyran Murtaza, b. 27.11.1983, actively attended all politically motivated ‘court’ hearings. He has two children.

Erfan Osmanov, b. 03.09.1982, actively attended all politically motivated ‘court’ hearings.  He has two children.

Five

Akim Bekirov, b. 18.10.1968 is a civic activist who was involved in organizing parcels of food, etc. for political prisoners, and in organizing IT security.  His wife was expecting their second child when he was arrested 

Seitveli Seitabdiev, b.16.03.1994, is a Crimean Solidarity activist. He has two children.

Rustem Seitkhalilov, b. 18.01.1984, is a Crimean Solidarity activist.  He has three children.

Eskender Suleymanov,  Crimean Solidarity activist (arrested on 10 June 2019)

Asan Yanikov, b. 11.09.1986, is a civic activist involved in organizing food parcels for political prisoners.

(The four ‘wanted’ men are: Ruslan Bulgakov; Eldar Ibragimov; Edem Yayachikov and Ruslan Zaurov)

PLEASE WRITE TO AT LEAST ONE OF 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.

The addresses below 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. ] 

The following gives the addresses in English.  Only five men are in a different SIZO [remand prison].  In all cases, the men’s year of birth is needed.

Group One

Rayim Aivazov

344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Aivazov, Rayim Khalilovych, b. 1994

Farkhod Bazarov

344064, Russia, Rostov on the Don, 4 Tonnelnaya St., SIZO-5

Bazarov, Farkhod Egamberdievych, b. 1986

Remzi Bekirov

344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Bekirov, Remzi Rustemovych, b. 1985

Riza Izetov

344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Izetov, Riza Mustafayevych, b. 1979

Shaban Umerov

344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Umerov, Shaban Izetovych, b. 1969

Two

Enver Ametov

344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Ametov, Enver Efindiyarovych, b. 1975

Osman Arifmemetov

344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Arifmemetov, Osman Feratovych, b. 1985

Yashar Muyedinov

344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Muyedinov, Yashar Seifetdinovych, b. 1968

Rustem Sheikhaliev

344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Sheikhaliev, Rustem Dinarovych, b. 1979

Ruslan Suleymanov

344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Suleymanov, Ruslan Serverovych, b. 1983

Three

Tofik Abdulgaziev,

344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Abdulgaziev, Tofik Sultanovych, b. 1982

Vladlen Abdulkadyrov

344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Abdulkadyrov, Vladlen Vasilyevych, b. 1979

Izet Abdullayev

344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Abdullayev, Izet Mustafayevych, b. 1986

Medzhit Abdurakhmanov

344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Abdurakhmanov, Medzhit Anafiyevych, b. 1975

Bilyal Adilov

344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Adilov, Bilyal Abdurakhmanovych, b. 1970

Four

Dzhemil Gafarov

344064, Russia, Rostov on the Don, 4 Tonnelnaya St., SIZO-5

Gafarov, Dzhemal Abdullayevych, b. 1962

Servet Gaziev

344064, Russia, Rostov on the Don, 4 Tonnelnaya St., SIZO-5

Gaziev, Servet Abdurayimovych, b. 1960

Alim Karimov

344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Karimov, Alim Egamberdievych, b. 1994

Seiran Murtaza

344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Murtaza, Seiran Kemadinovych, b. 1983

Erfan Osmanov

344064, Russia, Rostov on the Don, 4 Tonnelnaya St., SIZO-5

Osmanov, Erfan Serverovych, b. 1982

Five

Akim Bekirov

344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Bekirov, Akim Ekremovych, b. 1988

Seitveli Seitabdiev

344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Seitabdiev, Seitveli Eskenderovych, b. 1994

Rustem Seitkhalilov

344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Seitkhalilov, Rustem Narimanovych,  b. 1984

Eskender Suleymanov

344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Suleymanov, Eskender Serverovych, b. 1973

Asan Yanikov

344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Yanikov, Asan Aliyevych, b. 1986

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