How Russia fights religious ‘dissidents’ in occupied Crimea
Russia’s imprisonment of Muslim Aliev and 18 other Crimean Muslims on invented ‘terrorism’ charges may be less overtly political than the trial of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and other opponents of annexation. The aim, however, seems just as clearly to crush dissent, with those now in detention also facing horrifically long prison sentences without having committed any crime.
Back in early 2014, Moscow sought to woo Crimean Tatar leaders with various promises. A few individuals opted to collaborate, however the Crimean Tatar Mejlis or representative assembly, and its leaders, remained implacably opposed.
Within a matter of months, the Mufti of Crimea Emirali Ablaev had also chosen loyalty to Moscow, and has even been caught cooperating with the FSB in the mounting prosecutions of Muslims whom the Mufiat also clearly views as ‘dissident’. It is likely that at least some of the 19 Crimean Muslims now facing fabricated ‘terrorism’ charges were targeted because of their independence from the Muftiat.
46-year-old Crimean Tatar Muslim Aliev has worked for many years at two or more jobs, both to provide for his four children and to pay for vital medical treatment that his daughter has needed throughout her life. He is also, however, the informal leader of a local Muslim community. The latter had come into conflict with the Muftiat on a number of occasions, and his family is convinced that this is the reason that he was arrested on February 11, 2016. His is one of the two cases, together with that of human rights activist Emir-Usein Kuku, that Amnesty International highlighted in its report on Crimea.
Nadzhiye Alieva says that armed men burst into their home in Verkhnya Kutuzovka at around 6.30 a.m. Four men with machine guns pushed him to the floor with his hands behind his back. Nadzhiye came running when she heard her husband demanding to know what they were doing, saying that he wasn’t showing any resistance and asking them to not frighten the children. 7-year-old Seidali and his 13-year-old brother Ilyas were in the room.
The search was carried out with flagrant infringements. The officers had brought the supposed witnesses with them, and did not allow the Alievs to be present. They also refused to wait for their lawyer to arrive.
They were supposedly looking for drugs, weapons and ammunition. They found none of this though that didn’t stop them arresting Aliev. Nadzhiye tried to follow what they were doing, and recalls that one of the men asked another whether the Koran is a terrorist book. “No, don’t take it. They’re allowed that”, he heard and flung the Koran on the floor.
“I went up to them, and said “I understand that for you nothing is sacred, but let me at least put the Koran on the table”, she recalls. They told her that wasn’t allowed. She had the feeling, she says, that they were deliberately trying to provoke them.
They removed religious literature, children’s books and colouring-in books, disks with cartoons, an old laptop, tablet and phones. Muslim Aliev was taken away in handcuffs, and remains in custody. Even Nadzhiye has not been able to see him once since then. The investigator refuses to allow visits since Aliev is not “cooperating”.
His sons and two daughters – 20-year-old Gulsum and 15-year-old Salime – have only been able to see him, if at all, by coming to the court when he’s brought for the formal extension of detention. The smaller children are not allowed into the courtroom, and there has been a worrying move over the past month to holding all such hearings behind closed doors.
Nadzhiye once stood her ground, demanding to know on what grounds they were refusing to allow the children from at least seeing their father in court. The investigator told her she was a strange mother, and that she should think about the psychological effect on the children.
She retorted that it was they who should have thought of that when they woke children up with machine guns. Seidali has been particularly traumatized. He retreated into himself for a long time, and still refuses to sleep in that room.
Gulsum has become extremely active in Crimean Solidarity, the civic group that arose in response to the ever-increasing number of political prisoners.
Nadzhiye says that her husband has never been frightened to express his position, and fears that it was his active civic stand that got in somebody’s way. It could, she suspects, have been the Mufti with whom the community had earlier had conflict, when the Mufti tried to put his person as Imam in the local mosque.
Sergei Legostov, Aliev’s lawyer, says that the only ‘evidence’ against Aliev and the five other men from near Yalta, is part of a linguistic-religious ‘expert assessment’ of a recorded conversation “in the kitchen” where the men were discussing the situation in Russia, Ukraine, the fate of Crimea, the place of Islam in both countries and various religious postulates.
On the basis of this excerpt, Muslim Aliev is accused of organizing a Hizb ut-Tahrir group, and the other men of taking part in it.
Russia is breaching its international commitments by applying Russian law in occupied Crimea, but in this case the lawlessness is especially cynical, since the pan-Islamist Hizb ut-Tahrir organization is legal in Ukraine and most other countries. Russia declared it ‘terrorist’ in 2003 without ever providing a reason, and now uses arrests on charges of mere ‘involvement’ to imprison people for long periods. There is no evidence of any illegal activities by Hizb ut-Tahrir anywhere in the world, and there is also no proof that the men are in fact involved in the organization. Being a devout Muslim appears to be enough, especially where your civic or human rights activities are deemed ‘inconvenient’.
As the appointed ‘organizer’, Aliev faces a sentence of 17 years or longer. Human rights activist Emir-Usein Kuku; Vadim Siruk; Envir Bekirov; Arsen Dzhepparov and Refat Alimov are ‘only’ accused of involvement, though also face hefty sentences.
In January 2017, the prosecution suddenly laid new charges of “attempting violent seizure of power in Russia’ with this carrying a near-guaranteed 8-year increase in sentence (from 20 years to life).
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