A Crimean Kafkaesque Trial Hidden from Council of Europe Eyes
Akhtem Chiygoz (Photo: 15Minutes)
The Jan 27 hearing in the trial in Russian-occupied Crimea of Crimean Tatar leader Akhtem Chiygoz and other Crimean Tatars ended within minutes on Wednesday, with the presence in the peninsula of a Council of Europe fact-finding delegation suggested as a likely reason. There certainly is a lot the Russian occupation regime has reason to conceal.
What are the charges and whose ‘public security’ is supposed to have been jeopardized? These were just two of the questions put to the Crimean Supreme Court on Jan 25 by one of the defendants facing a prison sentence over a demonstration held before Russia annexed Crimea. He received no answers and the trial is continuing, with a prosecution which breaches Russian law being run by the de facto Crimean prosecutor Natalya Poklonskaya. There is also maximum security, with the armed guards clearly designed to mislead the public into believing that criminals are on trial, not the highest-ranking Crimean Tatar leader in Crimea, and other Crimean Tatars.
Akhtem Chiygoz, Deputy Head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis is charged in Russian-occupied Crimea with organizing ‘mass riots’ on Feb 26, 2014, the day before Russian soldiers seized control in Crimea. He and two other Crimean Tatar – Mustafa Degermendzhy and Ali Asanov, who are accused of having taken part in the alleged riots, remain in custody despite the lack of any legal grounds for the criminal prosecution or for their detention.
Only Crimean Tatars have been targeted, although there were also a large number of pro-Russian demonstrators outside the parliament buildings on Feb 26, 2014.
The men are on trial under Russian law over an event in Ukraine. This openly breaches Russia’s Criminal Code (Article 12 § 3), which states unequivocally that foreign nationals who committed an offence on the territory of another country can only be prosecuted under Russian law if “the crime was directed against the interests of the Russian Federation or a citizen of the Russian Federation.”.
There is video footage proving that like all other members of the Mejlis present, Chiygoz actively worked to prevent conflict, and no evidence against any of the three men who remain in custody.
Novaya Gazeta reports that Mustafa Degermendzhy stated in court on Jan 25 that he does not understand the charges against him.
“The indictment says that I’m charged with committing a serious crime against public safety, without any specification as to whether the crime was allegedly against the public safety of Russia, or of Ukraine. It also says that between 11 and 17.00 on Feb 26, 2014 I was on the square outside the Crimean parliament where, carrying out the criminal orders of Akhtem Chiygoz, I flagrantly violated public order and did not obey the legitimate demands of police officers.
I’d like to know what specific demands were presented by police officers, which specifically were not carried out, and where is this recorded? I also don’t understand, which specific orders by Chiygoz I allegedly carried out, and where is the proof of any link between the alleged orders and my actions. I would inform the court that I am in no way connected with Chiygoz.
I am also charged with committing crimes against Russian Federation nationals. Please explain which of the people outside the Crimean parliament on Feb 26, 2014 were Russian nationals.
Please explain the essence of the charges against me in detail since I cannot fully exercise my right to defence without knowing the details of the charges.”
Ali Asanov made a similar statement to the court. Chiygoz also reiterated their demand, but added a request to explain the “plan for mass riots” that he had supposedly drawn up, and what it was supposed to entail.
Poklonskaya claimed that the answers would be provided during the trial, and proposed going on to the questioning of ‘witnesses’.
Another crucial application was submitted during the heading. Chiygoz demanded that Poklonskaya be withdrawn from the trial. He cited her interviews given to the media when she referred to Chiygoz as “a common criminal” and “a murderer”.
Two people died during the demonstration on Feb 26, 2014. One seemingly of a heart attack, the other was crushed in the pro-Russian crowd.
None of the men on trial are facing charges linked with those deaths. The other defendants and their lawyers supported Chiygoz’ application, and articles were presented to the court proving that Poklonskaya had indeed hurled such claims around in the media.
Russia’s Criminal Procedure Code states that a prosecutor should be withdrawn if there are grounds for believing that s/he has an interest in a specific outcome of a case. Poklonskaya has publicly asserted Chiygoz’s guilty with the claims having nothing to do with the case material. Chiygoz’s lawyer Nikolai Polozov (who is also in the team representing Nadiya Savchenko) suggested that Poklonskaya is hoping to get promotion from the Russian authorities for her role in this case.
The application was rejected.
The court, under presiding judge Viktor Zinkov, also rejected (and not for the first time) the application from the defence to terminate the prosecution over which Russia according to Russian legislation, as well as international law, has no legal jurisdiction.
The only application that was allowed was Poklonskaya’s – extending the detention of Chiygoz, Asanov and Degermendzhy to March 8.
There were around 10 thousand Crimean Tatars and Maidan supporters who gathered outside the parliament building in Simferopol on Feb 26, 2014, fearing that plans were underway to push through a bill changing Crimea’s status. They were opposed by a smaller, but still considerable, 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 of government buildings, etc.
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!”
There are supposed to be 83 people with ‘victim’ status in this case. It is worth recalling the Novaya Gazeta report 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”.
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:
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).