Crimean Tatar Mejlis Leader on Trial for Obstructing Putin’s Plans?
As the trial begins in Russian-occupied Crimea of Crimean Tatar leader Akhtem Chiygoz and other Crimean Tatars over a pre-annexation demonstration, important details have been reported regarding the events on Feb 26, 2014 and Russia’s seizure of power the next day. While impossible to verify, the new information might explain Russia’s extraordinary persistence in continuing with a prosecution and trial which not only contravene fundamental principles of law, but are also in breach of Russian legislation.
Refat Chubarov, Head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis [representative assembly] would doubtless himself now be on trial, instead of his deputy Akhtem Chiygoz, had Russia not exiled him from his homeland six months earlier. On Dec 27, he issued a statement about the first hearing into the “court travesty” against Chiygoz, Ali Asanov and Mustafa Degermendzhy and called the proceedings “a cynical challenge to international law and the international community”.
It was Chubarov who, as Head of the Mejlis, was at the forefront of attempts to ensure that the demonstration on Feb 26 remained peaceful. Independent journalists from, among others, Novaya Gazeta and Radio Svoboda, have confirmed and provided video footage showing clearly that Chubarov, Chiygoz and all other members of the Mejlis present actively worked to reduce conflict in a highly volatile situation where around 10 thousand Crimean Tatars and other pro-Ukrainian Crimeans were demonstrating on the same square as a smaller, but still substantial, crowd of pro-Russian demonstrators.
Yes, there were two deaths, but one person died of a heart attack, while the other was crushed in the section of the square where there were only pro-Russian protesters. The prosecution is claiming that 79 people suffered varying injuries “as the result of the unlawful activities of the organizer and participants of the mass riots”. The figure of 79 can easily be found in reports about the demonstration that day. Attempts to link those injuries with the specific men now on trial seem very stretched.
Chubarov insists that Chiygoz, Asanov and Degermendzhy, together with more than 10 thousand other Ukrainian nationals, took part in a Mejlis-initiated peaceful demonstration on Feb 26, 2014.
“The participants in that mass rally succeeded that day in preventing a session of the Crimean parliament , called by its leaders who were by that stage totally under the control of Russian Security Service [FSB] officers illegally present in Crimea. They thus disrupted a scenario carefully planned by the Russian military-political leadership to conceal their criminal plans for seizing Crimea and give the international community the illusion of ‘legality’ for wrenching it from Ukraine”.
Chubarov explains that having ensured that the FSB-initiated extraordinary parliamentary session would not take place, the demonstrators went home. The parliamentary buildings were put under the guard of Ukrainian police officers.
It became clear later, however, that the police management in Crimea ordered the removal of the police guard, and “at around 4 a.m. on Feb 27, 2014, the Crimean parliament was seized by armed men in masks and without insignia.” Chubarov points out that both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian military leadership first categorically denied that the armed soldiers were Russian, but later admitted it.
That afternoon “less than 40 out of the 100 deputies were gathered up through threats, blackmail and bribery, openly carried out by FSB officers. Each had to undergo a humiliating search with mobiles, tablets and cameras taken away from them. In the absence of a quorum, with a ban on the presence of journalists and the broadcasting facilities switched off, but under the machine guns of Russian solders the “decisions” presented to the public as the expression of the will of the parliamentarians began being rubberstamped.”
Information about that ‘parliamentary session’ did, nonetheless, come out. Russian opposition politician Lev Shlosberg recently gave exactly those details, adding only that the decision on a so-called ‘referendum’ was also taken and Sergei Aksyonov, widely known in criminal circles as ‘Goblin’ was ensconced as ‘leader’. Shlosberg suggests that Aksyonov’s reputation probably made him a more, rather than less, acceptable candidate for Moscow as head of the “new subject of the Federation”.
It was Aksyonov, as leader of the fringe Russian Unity party which had just 4 deputies in the Crimean parliament, whose supporters clashed with the larger pro-Ukrainian demonstration on Feb 26,
Eleven months after the failure on Feb 26 to push through a ‘change’ in Crimea’s status without Russian machine guns, Chiygoz was taken into custody on charges of “organizing a mass riot” under Article 212 § 1 of Russia’s Criminal Code. He has been held in detention ever since, as are two men, one a father of four small children.
Russia continued its invasion and annexation of Crimea, confident that it could not be opposed by Ukraine, and would not be seriously opposed by the world. Had Putin’s appetite not led him to attempt the same in eastern Ukraine, his calculation would have been accurate.
For almost a year now, Russia’s puppets in Crimea have been targeting Crimean Tatars as part of an openly cynical and lawless “criminal case” over a demonstration which took place on Ukrainian territory and under Ukrainian law. The calculation has presumably been that Crimean Tatars and all Ukrainian nationals under Russian occupation will understand that they can expect no protection from the law, and either leave for mainland Ukraine, or try to keep their heads low. An added assumption has probably been that the world will do nothing.
Frustratingly, as far as international reaction is concerned, they have thus far been right. This is despite the fact that one of the highest-ranking leaders of the Crimean Tatar people is facing a 15-year sentence on fictitious charges relating to something that happened before Russia invaded Crimea.
Akhtem Chiygoz at an earlier hearing
The trial began on Dec 28 of six men: Chiygoz, Asanov and Degermendzhy who are all in custody, and Eskender Emirvaliyev; Eskender Kantemirov and Arsen Yunusov.
The same day, the de facto prosecutor’s office reported that a seventh man - Talyat Yunusov had received a 3.6 year suspended sentence under Article 212 § 2 of the Russian Criminal Code. It claimed that the court had been provided with evidence that Yunusov caused injury to two people during the demonstration on Feb 26, 2014.
With respect to the main ‘trial’, the hearing on Monday was, according to lawyer Emil Kurbedinov, about organizational matters, such as announcing the dates of hearings which were scheduled until the end of March.
The defence lodged several applications, including to release from custody Asanov, who is the sole breadwinner for a family of four small children and father in ill-health and Mustafa Degermendzhy. All were rejected with one important exception. The court allowed Chiygoz, Degermendzhy and Emirvaliyev to each have one civic defender. In Chiygoz’ case this is his wife Elmira Ablyalimova and the other two – their mother. Asanov’s family lives far from Simferopol.
Ali Asanov’s wife and children, the youngest of whom he has not been allowed to even see
One rejected application is worthy of particular note. The judge – Viktor Zinkov – simply ignored the defence’s argument that each of the men’s charges should be terminated on the grounds that the demonstration on Feb 26 2014 had taken place before Russia annexed Crimea and that no events that day could come under Russian jurisdiction. Article 12 § 3 of Russia’s Criminal Code states clearly that a criminal prosecution can only be initiated against foreign nationals who committed an offence on the territory of another country if “the crime was directed against the interests of the Russian Federation or a citizen of the Russian Federation.”
Zinkov also allowed the so-called ‘victims’ in the case to speak. There are apparently 83 with such official status, although only around 20 turned up on Monday. Kurbedinov stresses that the defence will be demanding to question each of these individuals who gave testimony that the defendants had committed unlawful actions against them.
There are compelling grounds for doing so, and not only because of the obvious difficulties with identification in the demonstration which is worth observing here:
Of greater concern is the report earlier that the Russian Investigative Committee was short of ‘victims’ and witnesses, and on February 2, 4 days after Chiygoz’s arrest and 11 months after the events, invited Simferopol residents to come forward “even in the absence of bodily injuries”.
These ‘victims’ served an extra purpose on Feb 28, enabling the court guards to prevent relatives from attending the court hearing since the room was already too full. The press were also prevented from attending. Formal complaints have been sent to the President of the Crimean Supreme Court about obstruction to the constitutional right to open court hearings. According to Chiygoz’s wife, Zinkov banned all photographs and video footage in the courtroom, and closed it to the public.
Mustafa Degermendzhy at an earlier hearing
The next court hearing is due on Jan 15, with the de facto prosecutor Natalya Poklonskaya likely to be representing the prosecution.
Please write to Akhtem Chiygoz, Ali Asanov and Mustafa Degermendzhy !
The Mejlis will pass on all letters to the men and even just a few words will tell them that they are not forgotten. Letters should be sent to the Mejlis office in Kyiv: Представительство Меджлиса крымскотатарского народа в Киеве - 01014, Киев, ул. Седовцев, 22/14 (Ukraine, Predstavitel’stvo Medzhlisa krymskotatarskogo naroda v Kieve – 01014, Kiev, ul. Sedovtsev, 22/14)
Please write the name of each of the men on the letter or card to them (the number at the end is their year of birth; it’s required for passing on letters to people in detention)
ЧИЙГОЗУ Ахтему Зейтуллаевичу, 1964 г.р.
ДЕГЕРМЕНДЖИ Мустафе Бекир огьлы, 1989 г.р.
АСАНОВУ Али Ахмедовичу, 1982 г.р.
If you can write in Russian, please do, but avoid any discussion of the case or politics. If not, the following would be fine:
С Новым годом! Happy New Year! Or just: Здравствуйте! (Hello!)
Желаю здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение.
(I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released).