Russian prosecutor demands 17 years for Crimean Tatar political prisoner Ruslan Zeytullaev
Looking gaunt and frail after 18 days without food, Ruslan Zeytullaev spoke from court on Friday, thanking all those Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians who have expressed their support, but refusing to end his hunger strike until the verdict is handed down. The end of this predetermined ‘trial’ is, however, close with the Russian prosecutor having once again demanded a 17-year sentence and the verdict expected on April 26.
Zeytullaev has lost a lot of weight and had difficulty walking on Friday, but his spirit is unbroken. In a video posted by journalist Anton Naumlyuk, he said:
“I would like to pass on heartful greetings to my people, to citizens of Ukraine who are supporting me at this difficult time. I want to say that although my strength is waning, I am firm in my conviction and will always remain on the side of the truth. With that truth which from the outset I chose for myself. Today’s situation is the second trial which is trying one way or another to sentence me to a huge term of imprisonment. I am grateful to all those who support me, but I will not stop my hunger strike until I hear the verdict from the judges.
Everything that they accuse me of is a total lie.
The 31-year-old father of three small daughters has been imprisoned since January 2015. He was arrested together with Rustem Vaitov and Nuri Primov, with Ferat Saifullaev also detained a little later. Zeytullaev was accused of organizing and the others of ‘involvement’ in a Hizb ut-Tahrir group.
This pan-Islamist organization is legal in Ukraine and most countries, and there is no evidence that its members have ever committed or advocated acts of terrorism anywhere in the world. Russia declared Hizb ut-Tahrir a ‘terrorist’ organization in 2003, without explaining why and without telling the organization itself and human rights organizations about the judgement until it was too late to lodge an appeal. Russia now regularly sentences Russian Muslims to huge sentences for supposed membership of it.
The arrest of Zeytullaev and the others was the first indication that Russia was planning the same repressive pattern in occupied Crimea. A year later, more Crimean Muslims were arrested, and by now 19 men, most of whom have small children, have either been convicted or are in indefinite definition.
Zeytullaev Primov, Vaitov and Saifullaev were declared political prisoners by the authoritative Memorial Human Rights Centre back in June 2016, and it is only a matter of time before Memorial recognizes the same status for all the Ukrainians held prisoner for unproven involvement in an organization that is legal in Ukraine and totally peaceful.
It should be stressed that, even if there were ‘evidence’ to back Russia’s claims, and there is none, the trial and imprisonment of all of these men are by definition in breach of international law. Russia, as occupying state, has no right to try Crimeans under Russian law.
At the hearing on April 21, the prosecutor Gennady Trukhanov demanded 17 years for Zeytullaev. He is accused now, as he was during the first trial, of “recruiting supporters, organizing and holding Hizb ut-Tahrir meetings, as well as of the study by group members of Hizb ut-Tahrir prohibited literature.
It is thus possible to sentence people to decades in prison for organizing meetings of a peaceful organization, merely because the Supreme Court once decided, without providing grounds, that the said group is ‘terrorist’.
The trial of Ruslan Zeytullaev and the other men was so openly flawed and the charges so clearly pulled out of the air, that judges of the Rostov Military Court refused to accept an ‘organizer’ role and the ensuing 15-17-year sentence for Zeytullaev.
This was not to the FSB’s liking, and it is unfortunately expected that this time the judges know to do what they’re told.
Please write to Ruslan! It is vital that he knows – and Moscow is reminded – that he is not forgotten. Letters or postcards need to be in Russian, and should not contain any discussion of the cases or politics generally. If it is a problem to write in Russian, just copy-pasting the following will be fine.
Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение.
Мы о Вас помним.
[Hello, I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released. You are not forgotten.
Address (Ruslan’s name is at the end, with his year of birth, which is required).
344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.
Зейтуллаеву, Руслану Борисовичу, 1985 г.р.
See Russia invades Crimea then jails Crimean Tatars, other Ukrainians for ‘terrorism’ and more information about particular prisoners imprisoned on so-called Hizb ut-Tahrir charges
April 2016 Arsen Dzhepparov and Refat Alimov