How Russia Terrorizes Children & Destroys Lives in Occupied Crimea
Safiyeka and Bekir Kuku, Seidali Aliev (screenshots from the video)
Safiyeka and Bekir Kuku have not seen their father since armed officers burst into their home in Yalta on Feb 11 and took Emir-Useyn Kuku away. It is not the first time their father, a lawyer and human rights activist has been detained and interrogated since Russia invaded and annexed Crimea. This time, however, the children’s Babashka has not come home, and is facing monstrous ‘terrorism’ charges.
Kuku is one of four Crimean Muslims taken away on Feb 11 and charged with supposed involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, an entirely peaceful pan-Islamist organization which is legal in Ukraine and most countries, but banned and labelled as ‘terrorist’ in Russia and Uzbekistan. Russia has not explained why it declared Hizb ut-Tahrir a terrorist organization, and Vitaly Ponomaryov from the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre believes that it may have been to facilitate illegally returning Muslims to Uzbekistan where they faced torture and religious persecution. Certainly Memorial HRC considers all those imprisoned for alleged involvement in the organization to be political prisoners.
The system of repression is terrifyingly efficient. Russia holds men in detention, then tries them behind closed doors, with the ‘proof’ provided by a person, allowed to remain anonymous, who claims that the defendant tried to ‘recruit’ them. Long sentences, up to life imprisonment, are effectively guaranteed (more details here).
The use of this weapon of repression began in January 2015 with the arrest of the first four Crimean Muslims - Nuri Primov; Ferat Saifullayev; Rustem Vaitov; and Ruslan Zeitullayev. In February Kuku was arrested, together with Muslim Aliev, Envir Bekirov and Vadim Siruk. In both cases, there is one man who is Muslim but not Crimean Tatar, and it seems likely that they were arrested ‘for the statistics’, to deny charges that this is an offensive against Crimean Tatars. Two very young Crimean Tatars – Arsen Dzhepparov and Refat Alimov - have now also been arrested.
Emir’s wife, Meryem Kuku-Aschi brought her small daughter Safiyeka and slightly older son Bekir to the court on April 28 for the detention hearing. The children had hoped to see their father, but were not allowed into the courtroom, where the court ignored all the arguments, including those linked with the European Convention on Human Rights, and extended the men’s detention until June 8.
Abdullakh Yakubov spoke with the children, and with Seidali, the very shy son of Muslim Aliev in the corridor.
9-year-old Bekir tried to answer when asked what Babashka is accused of. In one place it is poignantly clear that somebody has tried to explain in terms that he can comprehend, and through the entire video how distressing and frightening it has all been.
“Earlier, on 20 April 2015, they accused Babashka of writing against the FSB on social networks. They questioned him, then returned him. Then on 11 February 2016 on Thursday early in the morning when it was still dark there was a “Bum – bum” banging on the door. Then when they came in, they threw people on the ground, like in karate, and they put handcuffs on straight away. Then they shouted for everybody to get up, the children too. They said to take the whole bed apart where Babashka sleeps. They said there might be a weapon. They accuse Babashka and claim that he was in Hizb ut-Tahrir and that he’s a terrorist. But ‘Muslim’ means ‘obeying God’ and terrorist means somebody who spreads terror. How could it be that a Muslim who is obedient to God could make people frightened?”
Emir-Huseyn Kuku was born in 1976 in the Krasnodar region of Russia. His father was a veteran of the Crimean Tatar national movement, and their home was always a centre for people seeking help. The family returned to Crimea in 1993.
It was after young Crimean Tatars began disappearing a few months after Russia’s annexation of Crimea that Kuku became actively involved in defending people’s rights. He joined the Crimean Contact Group on Human Rights and monitored the situation for the Yalta region.
Kuku had indeed first been detained in April 2015, The FSB then removed both his and his wife’s laptops, a telephone and seven religious books not on Russia’s list of prohibited literature. He later posted photos of the marks from beating he had received, and said that if he disappeared, they should look for him at the Yalta FSB office.
Then in December 2015 he was charged over material posted on his Facebook page. There were around 42 texts, with many of them posts, or reposts, on religious subjects.
“In the first instance they were interested in an address to Crimean Muslims, videos, including foreign ones with translations addressing Muslims of Crimea with words of support, sympathy and calls to be patient because we find ourselves in such a position.
At that stage, the charges seemed likely to be of ‘inciting interethnic enmity’. The FSB apparently also objected to simple reposts, without any added commentary, of news on political issues.
There was no mention then of Hizb ut-Tahrir which is clearly being used as a means of terrorizing Crimean Muslims and preparing the grounds for further repression through fabricated ‘terrorism’ charges.