Crimean Tatar rights lawyer Emil Kurbedinov wins major human rights award
Emil Kurbedinov, a tireless advocate for all those facing politically motivated persecution in occupied Crimea, has become Front Line Defenders’ 2017 Laureate of the Human Rights Defenders at Risk Award. The honour is truly well-deserved, although Emil himself considers it recognition of the work done by all lawyers and human rights defenders in Crimea. “This award is to all those people who go to the courts, who continue the struggle. This is our shared award”.
It would be hard to over-state the vital role Emil Kurbedinov has played since Russia’s invasion of Crimea. He is acting for defendants in virtually all of the ever-increasing number of politically motivated prosecutions in Crimea, and, as Human Rights Defenders notes, “provides emergency response and documentation of rights violations during raids and searches of activists’ homes.”.
On January 26 this year, Kurbedinov was detained while he and fellow rights lawyer Edem Semedlyaev were driving to the home of a Crimean Tatar activist, Seiran Saliev, where a search was underway.
The actions that followed were of breath-taking lawlessness. Armed and masked spetsnaz officers turned up at Kurbedinov’s home. They refused at first to allow a lawyer in and also tried to prevent Kurbedinov’s mother from taking his small son and daughter away. A search was also carried out of the offices that Kurbedinov and Semedlyaev share, and computers containing confidential documents about their clients were removed.
Kurbedinov was first taken to the so-called Centre for Countering Extremism, and then to a ‘court hearing’ where judge Tatyana Belnichuk sentenced him to 10 days’ imprisonment for a video clip (of a peaceful meeting of an organization which is legal in Ukraine) posted on a social network page on June 6, 2013, almost a year before Russia’s invasion.
The wife of one political prisoner wrote that it was Emil they all turn to in the first instance, and by imprisoning him, the occupation regime were depriving many of defence.
Kurbedinov has faced many threats before and understands that the commitment he and his colleagues show to highlighting the cases they are involved in angers the Russian enforcement officers. It is publicity that the FSB really hates, and it is that which makes people like Kurbedinov “enemy No. 1”.
He said recently that those whom Russia brought into Crimea to impose the same repressive methods as those used, for example, in Tatarstan, have run up against major difficulties. They failed to understand the mentality of the Crimean Tatar people. Attempts to set in force the same ‘conveyor belt repression’ of Muslims on charges of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization which is legal in Ukraine and other countries, but which Russia has banned, have failed badly. During the first such ‘trial’, for example, they brought in many Crimean Tatars as prosecution witnesses. Almost all refused to testify against the defendants, with one stating openly that he had signed a piece of paper because he was threatened with the same imprisonment if he didn’t.
Kurbedinov stresses that all of these cases, whether on ‘terrorism’ or ‘extremism’ charges, are aimed at persecuting and silencing those who oppose Russia’s occupation of Crimea.
There are people who face searches, etc. but are too frightened to speak of it, but he does not believe that everything has been intimidated. The main thing, he stresses, is not the number of people, but the fact that there are people who are not silent, and that the Crimean Tatar have put aside old grievances and united for a common cause.
Writing from Dublin on Friday, Emil once against stressed:
“This is an award for those who have come out in defence of persecuted Crimean Tatars, Crimean Muslims, civic activists and the political prisoners themselves.
How much work there is ahead of us, yet how happy I am that I am not alone…
Details about Human Rights Defenders and the other finalists can be found here.