No let-up in lawlessness: Crimean Tatar leader’s detention again extended
The reduction of Crimean Tatar leader Akhtem Chiygoz’s detention a few days ago has proved, as feared, to not mark any breakthrough and the repression against Crimean Tatars over the so-called ‘Feb 26, 2014 case” continues unabated
Both Chiygoz and Ali Asanov, a father of four, including a baby born in June, have had their terms of detention extended. The charges are absurd by definition, since they pertain to something that happened before annexation, and therefore under Ukrainian rule and law. This is not only nonsensical, but in breach of the Russian legislation which is supposedly in force while Crimea is under Russian occupation.
Chiygoz is the Deputy Head of the Mejlis, or Crimean Tatar representative assembly. After Russia banished the Head of the Mejlis Refat Chubarov and veteran Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemiliev from their homeland soon after annexation, Chiygoz was the highest-ranking Crimean Tatar leader in Crimea. The so-called ‘Feb 26 case’ is widely seen as an offensive specifically against the Mejlis which has consistently demonstrated its opposition to Russian occupation and reported the ever-increasing violations of Crimean Tatar rights.
Following the Supreme Court’s reduction of Chiygoz’s term of detention, the investigators simply lodged another application with a Simferopol court on Aug 14 demanding once again that Chiygoz be remanded in custody till Nov 19. One of the reports suggests that the Simferopol court overturned the Supreme Court ruling.
It would not be the only grotesque aspect of this case.
Not only are the charges bizarre, but there are also no grounds for holding Chiygoz in custody. Nariman Dzhelyal, First Deputy Head of the Mejlis explained that the investigator had churned out all the old ‘arguments’. Chiygoz could supposedly abscond since he is a Ukrainian national; he could continue active political activities (which does not constitute grounds for remanding somebody in custody in either Ukraine or Russia); or could try to influence witnesses or other suspects.
The judge simply went along with this despite the fact that Chiygoz has made it clear on a number of occasions that he will never leave Crimea. He in fact believes that his continued detention is rather punishment for not wanting to leave. At a previous hearing he stated:
“I have a family, children and parents here. My father is 78, my mother 74. We did not return to our homeland in order to then wander around foreign lands and I therefore have no wish to abandon my homeland. Maybe it is this that influenced your decision to isolate me. I haven’t just been arrested, I’ve been isolated. For half a year I have been deprived of any possibility of seeing my son and my parents…
… Whether I am destined to live or to die, it will be in my homeland. I want the prosecutor, the Investigative Committee and the judge to know that I have no intention of leaving”.
Another court on Aug 12 remanded Ali Asanov in custody for a further two months, until October. There are no grounds for this ruling at all, with one of the reasons for holding the father of four in detention is that he denies the charges.
33-year-old Asanov was arrested initially on April 15 and held in a police station in Bakhchysarai where, his family say, they tried to get him to ‘confess’ to causing the death of two people through carelessness, saying that they’d let him go home if he did.
The lawyer whom the Crimean Tatar Rights Committee found was rejected by the Investigative Committee who tried to get Asanov to accept a state lawyer. In a number of cases in Russian-occupied Crimea and in Russia such state lawyers have effectively worked with the investigators, and tried to pressure detainees into ‘confessing’.
Asanov refused and has continued to deny all charges, which is probably the reason that the investigators have demanded his detention despite the fact that he has four small children and a father in ill health. He is the only bread-winner meaning that his ongoing detention is crippling for the family.
In a previous hearing the prosecution claimed that they needed “ to check that Ali Asanov is not implicated in other crimes, including of an extremist nature”.
The chilling lawlessness goes on.
The so-called ’Feb 26, 2014 case’
The charges are over a demonstration which took place on Feb 26, 2014, i.e. the day before Russian soldiers seized control with most if not all participants Ukrainian nationals, and under Ukrainian law. There were around 10 thousand Crimean Tatars and Maidan supporters who gathered outside the parliament building in Simferopol that day because they feared plans were underway to push through a bill changing Crimea’s status. They were opposed by a smaller number of pro-Russian demonstrators led by Sergei Aksyonov, then the leader of a marginal pro-Russian party in the Crimean parliament. Aksyonov was installed as self-proclaimed leader on Feb 27 after Russian soldiers seized control.
Radio Svoboda reported at the time of Chiygoz’s arrest that their video footage clearly showed all representatives of the Mejlis seeking only to calm the crowd and prevent bloodshed. This was also confirmed by a Russian journalist Pavel Kanygin, writing for Novaya Gazeta, and present during the demonstration on Feb 26, 2014 He reports that Refat Chubarov used a megaphone to call for calm after the first scuffles broke out. Later, after the parliamentary session believed to be planning to take control was cancelled, Chubarov and Aksyonov came out together and called for calm and for the demonstrators to disperse. Kanygin adds that the Crimean Tatars heeded this call, not the pro-Russian demonstrators who remained and kept chanting “Russia!” One of the two people who died was reported to have had a heart attack.
There is nothing to indicate that only Crimean Tatars were responsible for any conflict that day, or for the two deaths, yet only they have been targeted. And belatedly.
It was a full then months later that the occupation authorities began ‘investigating’ the event. Novaya Gazeta reported that they were so short of any material, that they invited Simferopol residents who had been subjected to force “even in the absence of bodily injuries” to come forward.