Russia imprisons Crimeans in inhuman conditions for their faith or pro-Ukrainian stand
46-year-old Volodymyr Balukh is suffering from heart problems and high blood pressure after 6 months in a filthy and overcrowded Crimean SIZO [remand unit]. The recognized political prisoner’s very life could be in danger, and he is just one of at least 28 men held on fabricated charges in conditions which are prohibited under international conventions as inhuman and degrading.
Concerns have long been expressed about the conditions in the Simferopol SIZO, where Russia is currently holding Crimean Tatar leader Akhtem Chiygoz, Balukh, a pro-Ukrainian activist; 15 Crimean Muslims accused of involvement in a peaceful organization which is legal in Ukraine and most countries, and at least ten Ukrainians charged with fictitious and constantly changing ‘sabotage’ plots.
There is grave overcrowding and the men have to take turns to sleep on the available bunks.
The Crimean Human Rights Group points out that in summer the temperature in Simferopol can reach 40 degrees Celsius. The cells that the men are held in are small, with only slightly more than 2 m² per person, against the sanitary norm of 4 m².
Relatives explain that there is a total lack of any free or personal space, and the cells at the moment are unbearably hot and stuffy. The men have to wash their underwear, etc. directly in the cell with this also raising the level of humidity. There is extremely poor lighting, which is damaging their eyesight, and an almost total lack of fresh air and exercise. The daily ‘walk’ is in a semi-open area smaller than the size of the cells, which is under the roof so that you can’t even see the sky.
The men have a ‘toilet’ in the cell, cordoned off only by a plastic sheet, meaning that there is a permanent stench. Even without that, the conditions are grossly unsanitary, and the men are plagued with cockroaches, fleas, mosquitos and ants.
The food is virtually inedible. There have earlier been reports also of Muslims knowingly being given food which their faith prohibits them from eating. The prisoners basically eat only what their families can get to them, but this needs to be shared with all the prisoners in their cell. Many have faced a dramatic weight loss as a consequence.
Worth remembering also the strain on the men’s families, who spend hours gathering, packing and delivering parcels to the SIZO, so that they comply with all kinds of restrictions on what can be provided and how. The same applies to medication, which in many cases is needed because prisoners with chronic medical complaints and / or issues arising from the bad conditions are refused medical treatment.
All of this constitutes inhuman and degrading treatment which is prohibited under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights and other such documents which Russia has committed itself to observe.
Such conditions would be bad enough for a day or two, yet many of the men have been held for well-over a year, or even, in Chiygoz’s case, over two years.
Volodymyr Balukh’s health has seriously deteriorated. As well as excessively high blood pressure and heart issues, he has also complained of bad headaches, and his lawyer is demanding that he receive a proper medical examination.
There have been concerns recently about the health of Arsen Dzhepparov and Refat Alimov, the youngest of the prisoners. If Alimov’s condition pre-dated his detention, the abscess which has left the young man deaf in one ear and in considerable pain, are directly linked with his ongoing imprisonment.
While there is genuine overcrowding, it is likely that the conditions in the SIZO are deliberately bad. Dzhepparov, Alimov, human rights activist Emir-Usein Kuku and others are under permanent pressure to give false testimony against the other men.
They need such pressure, since the charges in all cases are grotesque.
Akhtem Chiygoz has been imprisoned since January 2015 on charges linked with a legal and basically peaceful pre-annexation demonstration over which Russia has no jurisdiction (details here)
Volodymyr Balukh has been imprisoned since December 2016 on charges so obviously falsified that human rights groups declared him a political prisoner almost immediately. Balukh had a Ukrainian flag on his roof, and had renamed his home in honour of the victims of Euromaidan a week prior to his arrest (details here)
15 Crimean Muslims are accused, without any evidence, of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir which is legal in Ukraine and most countries. Russia has labelled it ‘terrorist’ without providing any explanation and there is no evidence of the organization haven’t committed any act of violence anywhere in the world. Four Crimean Tatars have been convicted of such charges after gravely flawed ‘trials’ and are illegally held in Russian prisoners. The four convicted have, like Chiygoz and Balukh, been declared political prisoners and it is only a question of time before the other 15 are also given this status.
Ten Ukrainians , at least two of whom are not from Crimea, are accused of taking part in ‘sabotage plots’ supposedly organized by the Ukrainian Military. There is no evidence at all, and the two men either convicted or now on trial faced charges different to the ‘crimes’ that the men ‘confessed to’ for Russian television. At least three of them stated as soon as they received proper lawyers that they had given ‘testimony’ under torture (details here).