2 young Crimean Tatars face 10-year sentences on fictitious ’terrorism’ charges
Refat Alimov Arsen Dzhepparov
Two young Crimean Tatars have been remanded in custody and are in real danger of being sentenced to prison terms of up to 10 years. They have committed no crime, but are charged with involvement in a ‘terrorist organization’, which is how Russia views the Muslim Hizb ut-Tahrir. That organization has also never committed any crime, however Russia’s Supreme Court once decided it was ‘terrorist’, without providing any evidence, and now an arrest almost certainly turns into a very long sentence.
The two young men – Refat Alimov and Arsen Dzheparov – are both in their early twenties and from Krasnokamenka in Greater Yalta. They were taken away after OMON riot police turned up in the morning of April 18, and carried out a search lasting a couple of hours.
De facto prosecutor Natalya Poklonskaya was swift in claiming to TASS that the young men were members of “a local cell of Hizb ut-Tahrir which had existed and was permitted back from Ukrainian times”. The young men’s families say that the two have no connection with this organization which is legal in Ukraine and most countries.
The court hearings on a detention order were held on Tuesday. The court ignored the fact that Alimov has a kidney stone condition and remanded both young men for two months. It is unfortunately likely that the detention will be extended until the ‘trial’.
The officers are reported to have behaved in the same brutal fashion as during previous searches. This was especially true of the search of Dzhepparov’s home. Arsen’s sister Susanna reports that her brother has been pestered by the FSB for many weeks and that they attempted to ‘recruit’ him. Dzhepparov was supposed to provide denunciations against others, and he refused.
These new arrests come two months after OMON carried out armed searches in a large number of homes in different parts of Crimea, and arrested four men, including Emir-Huseyn Kuku, a well-known Crimean human rights activist. Alimov’s mother is a fairly distant relative of one of the four - Enver Bekirov, who is from the same village.
The new arrests were quite likely timed to coincide with the announcement that the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, or representative assembly, was being ‘suspended’ on the grounds of alleged, and unproven, ‘extremism’. These developments are being accompanied by a major campaign in the Russian and Russian-controlled Crimean media aimed at discrediting Crimean Tatar leaders and presenting Crimean Tatars as ‘extremist’.
This is a panIslamist organization which is described in the Chatham House study Transnational Islam in Russia and Crimea as tending “to avoid violent means and instead may focus on social work, education and dialogue initiatives”.
The organization is banned only in Russia, Uzbekistan and some Arab countries. It was declared a ‘terrorist organization’ in Russia through a 2003 Supreme Court. No grounds were provided, with just half a page in which the court writes that the organization calls for the creation of Khalifat, carries out active propaganda, and is banned in Uzbekistan and some Arab countries. The mention here of Uzbekistan is no accident. Vitaly Portnikov from the Memorial Human Rights Centre believes that the organization may have been criminalized in order to make extradition to Uzbekistan easier. The latter was hunting even moderate Muslims as enemies of the notorious Karimov regime, and the collaboration between Uzbek and Russian security services kept attracting unwanted publicity.
There has not been one single case where any members of Hizb ut-Tahrir have been implicated in actual organization of terrorist acts. Despite this, conviction and very long sentences, are effectively guaranteed. Legislation in 2012 increased the sentences which are now often over 15 years, and a new bill could increase these still further.
In Crimea, four men - Nuri Primov; Ferat Saifullayev; Rustem Vaitov; and Ruslan Zeitullayev - have been in custody now since January 2015.
Four other men are now in custody and complain of appalling conditions, with cockroaches and bedbugs in the overcrowded remand prison, and no contact with their families.
27-year-old Vadim Siruk is a convert to Islam who may well have been arrested to enable the occupation authorities to deny that they were targeting only Crimean Tatars. He was arrested, together with Emir-Huseyn Kuku; Enver Bekirov and Muslim Aliev on Feb 11. All four men are Muslims, but it is not at all clear that they belong to Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Emir-Huseyn Kuku is the son of a veteran of the Crimean Tatar national movement and a member of the Crimean Contact Group on Human Rights, monitoring the human rights situation in the Yalta region. He has faced constant harassment since Russia’s annexation, though never over Hizb ut-Tahrir. Kuku has two children – a son who is just 9, and a 4-year-old daughter.
Muslim Aliev has four children, two of them with heart conditions. Aliev in fact became a practising Muslim when his daughter fell gravely ill. He is the only breadwinner in the family, and has been working at several jobs to pay for the medical treatment needed. 53-year-old Enver Bekirov has three children, two of whom are still underage. His wife sees no explanation except that he is an active member of the local Muslim community.
There are now two other Muslims facing extremely long sentences for non-existent ‘terrorism’.
Nor is this likely to be the end to arrests. According to Ihor Semivolos from the Centre for Eastern Studies, there were around 200 active members of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Crimea before Russia’s occupation, and around one thousand supporters in all. The leaders left after annexation, but many supporters remained. Semivolos warns that all of them are in danger of arrest.
In fact, however, it is likely that the number of people who are in danger is much greater, since involvement in the organization does not even appear to be required.
It should be stressed that Memorial HRC recognizes all those convicted of ‘terrorism’ for membership of Hizb ut-Tahrir to be political prisoners.