Imprisoned Crimean Tatar rights activist denied any visits from his family
Human rights activist Emir-Usein Kuku has been held in custody in Russian-occupied Crimea for almost 18 months, and has not been allowed even one visit from his wife. If in the first months after Kuku and five other Ukrainian Muslims, all but one Crimean Tatar, were arrested, their wives and children might hope to see them during detention hearings, even this has now ended. The detained men and their lawyers make the lack of any grounds for their detention clear, and Russia has now taken to holding even those hearings behind closed doors.
It has a great deal to hide. Four Crimean Muslims are imprisoned in Russia and another 15 held in indefinite detention in occupied Crimea on charges linked with unproven involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization which is totally peaceful and legal in Ukraine. In Kuku’s case, there are very strong grounds for believing that his imprisonment is the latest of many forms of persecution for his human rights activities, including an aborted abduction. His children have also been subjected to harassment, and the ‘investigator’ has not once provided a reason for rejecting Meryem Kuku’s requests to see her husband. Kuku’s lawyer, Alexei Ladin, says that this is entirely illegal. After exhausting all avenues within the Russian court system, he will be lodging an application with the European Court of Human Rights.
Ladin told the Crimean Human Rights Group that Kuku has only just received the first of many letters of support sent him. The human rights activists are aware of the same unmotivated refusals to allow meetings and concealment of letters of support in the case of others illegally held in Crimea or Russia.
The situation is especially urgent as the ‘investigators’ are planning to pass the case to the court by July 8, and the men are likely to then be taken to Rostov in Russia where their trial will take place in the same court that sentenced Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko and four Crimean Tatars – Ruslan Zeytullaev; Rustem Vaitov; Ferat Saifullaev and Nuri Primov – to long sentences. All have been recognized as political prisoners by the Memorial Human Rights Centre.
Kuku’s troubles with the Russian occupation regime began long before any mention was heard of charges linked with Hizb ut-Tahrir. The son of a veteran of the Crimean Tatar national movement, Kuku reacted to the armed searches of homes and mosques, and disappearances of young Crimean Tatars within months of Russia’s 2014 invasion by joining the Crimean Contact Group on Human Rights. He was responsible for monitoring rights abuse in the Yalta region.
On April 20, 2015, Kuku was himself, almost certainly, the victim of an attempted abduction. He himself described what happened.
He was set upon by two men who began with blows to the head, and continued beating him. His phone which was in an inside pocket began ringing and one of the assailants tried to grab his bag off him, and get to the phone. At first he assumed that this was a robbery, although the men seemed much more concerned with physically overpowering him. They began beating him harder and telling him to shut up when he managed to shout for help.
It was the shouts that saved him. A person driving past recognized his voice and stopped, then others began running up, demanding to know what was going on.
Kuku, who was being held with his head to the ground, heard the word ‘police’ and demanded that the assailants show their ID. They reacted with foul abuse, and had just begun brandishing guns when a white van drove up. At least four masked men in full military gear with machine guns jumped out and demanded that the crowd disperse. They violently forced Kuku into the van, and drove off, followed by some of those who’d stopped to help Kuku and feared he was being abducted.
In the van they proceeded to beat him, and he heard one of them on the phone tell somebody that they were being followed and needed to change cars. It was clearly the fact that so much attention had been attracted that disturbed them, and they stopped the car and got out, obviously to consult by phone with somebody.
Those consultations resulted in a change of plans. They stopped beating him and announced that they were going to carry out a search of his home. When they got there, Alexander Kompaneitsev, a former Ukrainian SBU officer and turncoat, now working for the Russian FSB, appeared and stated that they were carrying out a ‘search in accordance with a court warrant.
At the time relatively little was reported, though Kuku himself 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.
Kuku refused to be silenced and demanded an investigation. This produced contradictory statements from the FSB officers and probably renewed determination to get rid of Kuku.
On Dec 3, 2015, new charges were announced under Russia’s notorious ‘extremism’ laws. This was over material posted on his Facebook page, with no mention at all of Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Then on Feb 11, Kompaneitsev took part in the arrest of Kuku, Muslim Aliev, Envir Bekirov and Vadim Siruk. In April, two very young men – Refat Alimov and Arsen Dzhepparov were also arrested on the same charges of ‘involvement’ in Hizb ut-Tahrir.
There is no evidence against the men, and all have been placed under immense pressure to give false testimony against their fellow prisoners. All have refused. It is likely that Dzhepparov and Kuku, if not others as well, are in custody for their integrity in refusing to act as FSB informers.
According to Alexander Popkov, lawyer and friend of Kuku’s, Kompaneitsev very early on tried to get Kuku to inform on fellow Muslims, then during the abduction-cum-search on April 20, 2015, he threatened him with the consequences if he refused. He has turned up so far twice in the SIZO [remand prison] and tried, just as unsuccessfully, to get Kuku to ‘collaborate’.
While preventing Kuku’s small children – 10-year-old Bekir and his younger sister, Safiyeke (6) – from even seeing their father, FSB is not averse to terrorizing them as a form of pressure on their parents. As reported here, an FSB officer turned up at Bekir’s school two months after Kuku’s arrest and took him aside. The man told Bekir that his father had “got involved with bad men” and would spend 10-12 years in prison.
It is known that the children of other men detained have also been terrorized in this way, but only the Kuku family dared to officially complain. The de facto authorities claimed to be unable to identify the man, although he had given his full name, and then stepped up the harassment. Their version was that a ‘check’ was needed of why Kuku, who is unwarrantedly held in detention, “was not properly fulfilling his parental duties”.
Kuku and the five other men are shortly to go on trial, with there being no evidence even to prove that the men have any connection with an organization which is legal in Ukraine and most countries and which has never committed any act of terror or violence. They face sentences of at least 10 years, probably much more.
Please help circulate information about this monstrous injustice.