Russia escalates attack on human rights lawyers in occupied Crimea
Russian-controlled enforcement officers burst into the offices of human rights lawyers in occupied Crimea on 6 November, and handed prominent Crimean Tatar lawyer Emil Kurbedinov a ‘warning of the inadmissibility of extremism’. The surreal document was identical to that handed to two of Kurbedinov’s colleagues and a civic activist on 27 October, when the officers disrupted a meeting of the Crimean Solidarity initiative. The warning could, supposedly, not be issued at that meeting since Kurbedinov was away on a work-related trip, though it is possible that this was simply a pretext for staging a second visitation.
Edem Semedlyaev says that four men effectively burst in, without any warning, with ‘prosecutor’ Valentin Chuprina accompanied by three men in masks. The masks have become a standard part of the frequent searches, arrests, etc. under Russian occupation, but were rather absurd since the lawyers knew all the men from the so-called Centre for Countering Extremism.
Semedlyaev had already condemned such overt pressure on lawyers working on politically motivated cases back on 27 October, and both he and Kurbedinov will be lodging appeals against these ‘warnings’.
Chuprina read out this opus, and then left with his masked companions. So too did Kurbedinov, who has been tirelessly defending political prisoners over the last four years and needed to be at a court hearing. Although Kurbedinov’s ‘warning’ has not yet been made public, it is reportedly identical to that which was issued to Semedlyaev, their colleague Lilia Hemedzhy and Crimean Solidarity Coordinator Dilyar Memetov Those documents claimed that the ‘prosecutor had received information that Crimean Tatar activists supporting Hizb ut-Tahrir, the peaceful pan-Islamic organization which Russia calls ‘terrorist’, are planning “mass protests under the guise of single-person pickets” in support of people suspected of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Nikolai Polozov, a Russian colleague, was not alone in assuming that this supposed ‘information’ had in fact been thought up by the ‘anti-extremist’ officers themselves as a pretext. He was blisteringv in his criticism of the manner in which these officers waste taxpayers’ money thinking up such nonsense and wandering around, delivering ‘warnings’. And then they’re surprised how it happened (on 17 October) that a young man could shoot 21 students and teachers in a Kerch colleague.
“It could happen because the enforcement bodies, instead of their immediate tasks, plan out acts of repression against Crimean Tatars; fabricate criminal prosecutions and invent pretexts for such warnings against lawyers who don’t follow the line.” Lawyers like Kurbedinov and Semedlyaev who spend their days defending the victims of this repressive machine.
Semedlyaev points out that the ‘warnings’ received provide no legal grounds for detaining a person, but are aimed solely at demonstrating that they are under surveillance all the time.
No proof was provided and would need to be if Russian-controlled enforcement officers wanted to do more than run around with warnings based on fictitious ‘information’.
The warning does not even make sense. Russia’s legislation is immensely repressive, however single-person pickets are legal on Russian and on Russian-occupied territory, and the term “mass protests under the guise of single-person pickets” makes no sense. Even if a series of such pickets had indeed been organized, it is questionable whether this would change their legal status.
The Russian occupation regime has, however, long flouted its own legislation and prosecuted people for single-person pickets, and is lying about the nature of those pickets. On 14 October 2014, in response to the arrests of six Crimean Tatars, most of whom were active in the civic initiative Crimean Solidarity, over a hundred single-person pickets were held throughout Crimea with people holding placards with messages such as: “Our children are not terrorists!”; “Give children their fathers back, Crimean Tatars are not terrorists!” and “Fabricating criminal cases – it’s this that’s TERROR”. 49 people were detained that day, but eventually released which would not have happened had any committed an offence according to Russian legislation.
Despite this, over the following months at least 86 of the picketers were prosecuted and fined hefty amounts for supposed infringements of the rules for holding a picket. The argument applied is that since there were many such pickets, then together they constituted an ‘unauthorized public event’. As Ilmi Umerov, Crimean Tatar leader and himself a victim of political persecution, noted: “It turns out that if there are several INNOCENT people, then they’re GUILTY. This is the logic of occupiers and bandits. The law is meaningless.”
The hunt for the so-called ‘organizers’ of the pickets began almost immediately, with a number of people summoned for questioning. Officers turned up at people’s homes, leaving protocols (illegally) drawn up in the people’s absence.
The raid on 27 October was the second such attack on meetings of Crimean Solidarity, which are typically attended by the families, including young children, of political prisoners. The aim is very clearly to instil fear among all those present. On that second occasion, for example, the masked men from the ‘Centre for countering extremism’ hovered around, very openly photographing people, while the ‘prosecutor’s office’ officials accosted Hemedzhy, Semedlyaev and Memetov, who is the son of political prisoner, Remzi Memetov.
All of these measures are attacks on Crimean Solidarity and on lawyers who work to defend political prisoners.
Kurbedinov has come under attack since 26 January 2016 when he was detained, and his home searched. He was then sentenced, by a Russian-controlled ‘court’’ to a ten-day term of imprisonment, supposedly over a video he had posted, quite legally, back in 2013.
Kurbedinov’s arrest had come immediately after the effective abduction of Polozov as part of totally illegal moves to prevent the latter from defending Crimean Tatar Mejlis leader Ilmi Umerov.
Crimean Solidarity was launched in 2016 after the arrests of human rights activist Emir-Usein Kuku and three other Crimean Muslims. The monthly meetings are attended by people of quite different ages – the parents, wives and children of political prisoners; lawyers; journalists and other members of the community. Russia is very clearly unnerved by such solidarity and is applying different forms of repression against it, including arrests on trumped-up charges that are likely to result in 10-20 year sentences See: Russia fights Crimean Solidarity with long prison sentences and shattered childhoods