Russia brazenly flouts UN Hague Court and jails Crimean Tatar leader Ilmi Umerov
In a shock move on September 27, a Russian-controlled ‘court’ in occupied Crimea sentenced 60-year-old Ilmi Umerov, who has multiple serious illnesses, to two years’ imprisonment. Given the suspended sentence of journalist Mykola Semena on analogous charges just one week ago, the conclusion seems clear that the harsher sentence in this case is because Ilmi Umerov is Crimean Tatar. This new sentence of a Crimean Tatar Meljis or representative assembly leader has also come just over two weeks after Akhtem Chiygoz, Deputy Leader of the Mejlis, was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment on legally nihilistic charges concerning a pre-annexation demonstration.
Both Umerov and Semena had been charged with making so-called ‘public calls to action aimed at violating Russia’s territorial integrity” for calling Crimea Ukraine and opposing Russia’s occupation. There were no such ‘public calls’, even according to Russian legislation, in Semena’s article posted as an opinion piece, and the interview given by Umerov on March 19, 2016. Both had certainly upheld Russia’s correct territorial borders which do not include annexed Crimea, but they had specifically spoken of the need for only peaceful methods to reinstate those borders.
Nobody was seriously expecting that Umerov would be acquitted, despite the grotesque absurdity of the charges and the defence’s presentation of proof that they were based on words that Umerov had not uttered. The de facto prosecutor had, however, demanded a three and a half suspended sentence. Neither ‘prosecutor’ nor ‘judge’ are more than puppets in such political cases, and it is Moscow that is behind the decision to pass a two-year real sentence instead. The verdict will be appealed, and therefore concentrated international protest and diplomatic pressure on Russia are vital.
Ilmi Umerov suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, diabetes and hypertension, and there have been warnings from Crimean Tatar Mejlis leader Refat Chubarov, lawyer Nikolai Polozov and others that even the minimum security ‘colony-settlement’ term imposed is an effective death sentence against the Crimean Tatar leader, who would be deprived of decent medical care.
Chubarov calls the sentence against one of the Deputy Heads of the Mejlis “yet another demonstration of the intensifying repression against the Crimean Tatar people carried out by the Russian occupation authorities in Crimea”
The de facto ‘judge’ Andrei Sergeevich Kulishov also prohibited Umerov from engaging in any public activities for two years. Russia knows that it cannot cower Umerov into silence, and there is a very real danger that he would be taken to serve this monstrous sentence outside Crimea, being thus deprived of contact with his family and lawyers.
Umerov ended his final address to the de facto court on September 18 by saying that he would meet all of those implicated in this case at the international courts at the Hague.
Given the sentence against him, it is worth noting that the UN’s International Court of Justice at the Hague has already found grounds for taking preventive measures to stop Russia’s ongoing discrimination against Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians in occupied Crimea. Russia is ignoring the Court’s order to revoke the ban it imposed on the Mejlis, and has now jailed a second Mejlis leader.
Ilmi Umerov hugs one of his grandchildren, who were openly distressed after the verdict was read out.
It was clear from the outset that Ilmi Umerov was on trial for his courage and open opposition to Russia’s occupation of his homeland. Umerov has never concealed his views and did not start modifying his statements after the criminal proceedings were initiated.
Moscow preferred not to openly prosecute somebody for their opinions and came up with Article 280.1 of the Russian criminal code – the so-called ‘public calls’ to violate ‘Russia’s territorial integrity’.
Those, however, needed to be rigged, and it is known that the FSB rejected at least one translation of the interview given by Umerov in Crimean Tatar because the translator did not manufacture the supposed ‘public calls’. It found a shoddy translator (K. Saledinov), and FSB ‘linguist’, Olga Nikolaevna Ivanova, willing to add things that Umerov did not say, and then use these and other words pulled out of context to put him on trial.
Umerov was initially detained on May 12, 2016 , with the indictment asserting that he had, “with intent to carry out activities aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, … deliberately and publicly called on an unlimited number of people to carry out actions aimed at returning the Republic of Crimea under Ukraine’s jurisdiction”.
This is, in fact, what the United Nations General Assembly, the OSCE’s Parliamentary Assembly, the EU and countless other international structures and leaders have called for.
The charges and, now, this sentence are all the more openly repressive in that Umerov did not utter the impugned words and this is very easily proven.
In the interview, Umerov talked of international sanctions and how these should be strengthened. It was the sanctions that would force Russia to leave Crimea and Donbas. The translator added the modal “it’s necessary to”, thus claiming falsely that Umerov had said that Russia must be forced to leave Crimea.
At one of the previous court hearings, the translator K. Saledinov tried to slip the modal verb in and was caught, with Umerov demanding that he state clearly whether he had heard the word or not. Saledinov tried to ignore the question. When it was repeated by the judge, this alleged translator falsely claimed that “that you can put it in, or not put it in”.
As defence lawyer, Mark Feygin, retorted, you can also “sentence somebody to five years, or not sentence them”.
Although Ivanova does not know Crimean Tatar, she was almost certainly aware of the deliberate distortion of the words since she avoids mentioning the crucial fact that her assessment was not based on the original text, but on something that could only very loosely be called a translation.
The defence obtained a review of this ‘assessment’ from the influential Moscow Guild of Linguists. Their report notes that Ivanova’s assessment from August 22, 2016 had not reflected part of the original data, with this placing the objectivity of the assessment in doubt.
The experts also pointed to the flagrant infringement of the requirement to provide a comprehensive assessment and the resulting blurring of concepts. This was demonstrated in the lack of any transcript and reliance in her assessment on a translation.
The Guild of Linguists found no justification in Ivanova’s conclusion that from a linguistic point of view Umerov’s remarks constituted ‘calls to extremist activities’.
Her conclusion that the interview contained ‘public calls to action aimed at violating Russia’s territorial integrity’ was based on two alleged utterances, one of which was simply not there, and the other had been pulled out of context and seriously distorted.
All of this was ignored, first by the de facto prosecutor, then by ‘judge’ Andrei Sergeevych Kulishov, who is already wanted by Ukraine on suspicion of state treason. As Umerov stated in his very powerful final words, these are proceedings where “traitors put patriots on trial”.