Crimean Tatar faces huge sentence in Russian FSB’s ‘machine of wholesale persecution’
Nuri Primov and three other recognized Crimean Tatar political prisoners are imprisoned in Russia on the basis of a conversation about their Muslim faith, about Ukraine and Russia. It is likely that similar ‘evidence’ will be provided to jail Primov’s cousin Enver Seytosmanov who has just become the latest victim of Russia’s conveyor belt prosecutions for unproven involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a peaceful pan-Islamist movement which is legal in Ukraine..
An armed search was carried out early on May 10 of the home in a district of Sevastopol that Enver shares with his brother Ernes Seytosmanov. The two men were taken away together with their mother who was visiting them, and it was initially feared that she had also been detained. It seems that the FSB took her to her home where they also carried out a search.
Ernes Seytosmanov was released later on Thursday and was able to provide more information about the events. Six men without any insignia and in balaclavas had turned up at their home. They removed several books, a tablet and a telephone, and took both men away for interrogation. Ernes was later released, and it seems he is to have ‘witness status’
Enver is facing charges of “involvement in the activists of an organization which, in accordance with Russian legislation, has been declared terrorist” (Article 205,5 § 2 of Russia’s criminal code). The 32-year-old was remanded in custody by the Russian-controlled Leninsky District Court in Sevastopol, with the court hearing held, almost certainly without any justification, behind closed doors. Seytosmanov’s lawyer Vahram Shiroyan has said he will appeal the ruling, though, judging from all such cases, this is unlikely to be successful.
This is the first time that only one person has been arrested in these ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir operations’, so it can only be hoped that more arrests will not follow. The FSB [Russian security service] has a set format for such prosecutions with one person designated ‘the organizer’ of a supposed ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir cell’, while three or more other men are charged with ‘involvement’.
As mentioned, Hizb ut-Tahrir is perfectly legal in Ukraine and in most countries. Russia’s Supreme Court declared it ‘terrorist’ in a 2003 judgement which was long kept secret, preventing the organization itself and human rights NGOs from appealing against it.
Russia has never provided any evidence to back the Supreme Court decision, and this, Memorial points out, is one of the reason why it has repeatedly condemned the judgement and considers all those convicted of such charges to be political prisoners. There is absolutely no evidence, anywhere in the world, of any terrorist activities carried out or even advocated by Hizb ut-Tahrir. A Memorial expert, Vitaly Ponomaryov believes that Russia may have declared the organization terrorist to make it easier to extradite people to Uzbekistan where they almost certainly faced religious persecution and torture.
Russia’s calculation with such prosecutions is probably also that the word ‘terrorism’ and the strict secrecy it imposes will deflect attention from such cases, and for far too long after the first arrests on 23 January 2015 of four Crimean Tatars from near Sevastopol - Ruslan Zeytullaev, Rustem Vaitov and Nuri (Yuri) Primov , as well as of Ferat Saifullaev shortly afterwards, that was the case.
Zeytullaev was labelled the ‘organizer’ (under Article 205.5 § 1), the other three men were accused of the lesser charge of involvement.
Counting this new arrest, there are now 26 Crimean Muslims who have already been illegally convicted, are on trial, or held in indefinite definition awaiting trial. They include one human rights activist Emir-Usein Kuku and several civic activists, and there are strong grounds for believing that their work in highlighting human rights abuse and showing solidarity with political prisoners are the reason they were arrested.
In the case of the first four Crimean Muslims, including Seytosmanov’s cousin Nuri Primov , Memorial HRC saw no need to wait until the end of the ‘trial’, since even if the charges had been reasonable, which they were not, Russia would still be in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and other treaties by applying Russian law on occupied territory. Within a month of its illegal annexation of Crimea, Moscow brought in Viktor Palagin, notorious for his use of such ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’ prosecutions in Bashkiria, to head the FSB. His tactics in Russia have run up against problems in Crimea however, with the arrests, the fabricated charges and ‘trials’ given wide publicity and with lawyers insisting on highlighting all irregularities and falsifications.
Emil Kurbedinov, who defended Zeytullaev, explains that the ‘case’ against the four men was based solely on a tape of a meeting arranged by an FSB provocateur, who was later a ‘secret witness’ at the ‘trial’. The individual asked deliberately provocative questions with this ‘kitchen conversation’ which he had secretly taped then used to convict the men. It should be stressed that the questions were not about planned crimes, but about religious and political views. The level of such ‘proof’ can be seen in the fact that the FSB’s ‘linguistic expert’ claimed that the men were members of Hizb ut-Tahrir on the basis of a word used, although this word, originally from Arabic, is common among Crimean Tatars.
There was literally no other evidence at all (more details here). The ‘trial’ had been so shoddy and falsified, that even judges at the Rostov Military Court flouted the FSB and prosecutor’s demand of 17 years for Zeytullaev and 7-8 years for the others. The charges against Zeytullaev were changed from being the supposed organizer, to simply taking part in a Hizb ut-Tahrir group and he was sentenced to 7 years, the other men getting the minimum sentences under the charge – 5 years.
Relief that it had not been worse was, unfortunately, short-lived. As Kurbedinov warned, the FSB could not tolerate deviation from their storyline which requires an ‘organizer’ and several people who are merely ‘involved’ and / or ‘recruited’. The sentence was challenged and then challenged again, until Russia’s Supreme Court came up with a 15-year sentence.
The level of evidence has not improved in subsequent cases, as seen by the ‘trial’ now underway of Kuku and five other Crimean Muslims from the Yalta oblast. The charges have, however, become even worse. Muslim Aliev, who was probably targeted for his civic position and because he is the informal leader of a local Muslim community, is facing a sentence of up to life imprisonment, while the other men could get 10-20 years on the above-mentioned charges. The Memorial Human Rights Centre declared all six men to be political prisoners on 1 March this year.
With particular cynicism, Russia has now begun adding a new charge under Article 278 of Russia’s criminal code (‘violent seizure of power’). All of the men arrested are law-abiding and devout Muslims, and most have small children whose lives have been torn apart for FSB prosecutions. The latter are known to be favoured for improving FSB statistics with minimum questions asked, providing opportunities for easy promotion.
Memorial’s description can only be reiterated: Russia has launched a “machine of wholesale persecution” in occupied Crimea, with Enver Seytosmanov the latest victim.