Russia holds 100 Ukrainian political prisoners & POWs, but accuses Ukraine of persecuting Crimeans
In 2014, the Speaker of Russia’s parliament accused Ukraine of annexing Crimea. After five years of Russian occupation, Russia’s Human Rights Ombudsperson, Tatyana Moskalkova has claimed that it is Ukraine that is ‘persecuting Crimeans’. Her extraordinary assertion to Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, comes as around 80 Ukrainians are illegally deprived of their liberty in occupied Crimea or Russia, on politically motivated charges or for their faith, as well as 24 POWs.
TASS reports that at the meeting on 5 March, Moskalkova ‘asked’ the High Commissioner “to protect Crimeans from Kyiv’s actions” and claimed that Ukraine “has literally launched a hunt on Crimeans” and that “if they arrive on Ukrainian territory, they are often arrested and tried”.
She also called Ukraine’s ban on Russian males aged between 16 and 60 entering the country ‘unprecedented’. That ban, she chose not to mention, was imposed shortly after Russia’s act of open aggression on 25 November, 2018 when it rammed and shot at Ukrainian naval boats in international waters near Crimea and then seized the 24 crew members. Over 100 days after those events, it is still holding the 24 prisoners of war.
Moskalkova was full of pathos, though short on names or details, about the supposedly large numbers of Russians with “shared families and work’ , whom the ban is not supposed to affect. She was silent about the two and a half thousand people (at least) whom Russia has deported from occupied Crimea since annexation, the vast majority of whom are Ukrainian citizens. Very many of them were living in Crimea when Russia invaded and annexed the peninsula and / or have close relatives in Crimea. .
Unfortunately, the only ‘information’ about the UN High Commissioner’s response to Moskalkova’s allegations comes from the TASS report which claims that Ms Bachelet promised “to see what they can do”. Since TASS also described the process by which Crimea supposedly became part of the Russian Federation without mentioning the seizure of power by Russian soldiers, its reliability as a source of information seems questionable.
Given the hard-hitting resolutions passed by the UN General Assembly; the EU; the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on the abysmal human rights situation in occupied Crimea, it seems unlikely that the UN High Commissioner was convinced by Moskalkova’s assertions.
Lyudmila Denisova, Ukraine’s Human Rights Ombudsperson, reacted with outrage to Moskalkova’s claims and demanded that the latter provide a list of names to back her claims. She added that, unlike Russia, Ukraine does know the names of Ukrainian political prisoners and has repeatedly demanded their release.
It is, unfortunately, not guaranteed that we do know the full scale of repression in Crimea since Russia’s FSB regularly uses torture and other illegal means to force ‘confessions’ out of people it has seized which makes it very difficult to find out much about the cases. At least one young man, Maxim Filatov, is not normally added to the list of political prisoners for lack of information, however his case certainly arouses legitimate concern (details here). Over the last year, four Crimeans who had earlier supported Russia’s annexation received prison sentences which are also very likely politically motivated.
Of the Ukrainians imprisoned on politically motivated charges or for their faith, the vast majority are from Crimea. All prosecutions in occupied Crimea are, by definition, illegal, as Russia is an occupying regime and is prohibited by international law from applying its legislation on occupied territory. It is also seriously abusing its flawed ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism’ legislation against opponents of its annexation of Crimea, as a method of intimidation and also as a form of religious persecution. Since 23 November 2017, the occupation regime has also been arresting members of the Crimean Tatar national movement in what appears to be an attempt to discredit the Mejlis [representative assembly) of the Crimean Tatar people following the UN International Court of Justice’s demand that Russia withdraw its ban on the Mejlis which Russia is ignoring.
Many of the arrests, purportedly on other charges, are part of a general offensive against the Crimean Solidarity civic initiative which arose after the second wave of arrests of Crimean Muslims in February 2016. Lawyers, the families of political prisoners, journalists and others have united to help political prisoners and their families, and to ensure that the ongoing armed searches, arrests, abductions, etc. are known about both in Crimea and beyond.
In a quite separate category, although also deprived of their liberty, are the 24 Ukrainian prisoners of war whom Russia seized on 25 November 2015
Ukrainians held illegally in Russia or occupied Crimea (including those released after serving their sentences, or who are still under suspended sentences)
Ali Asanov (suspended sentence, after years in prison, then house arrest)
Mykola Dadey (released in 2018)
Mustafa Degermendzhy (suspended sentence, after years in prison, then house arrest)
Suleyman Kadyrov (suspended sentence for Facebook post that “Crimea is Ukraine”
Oleksandr Kostenko (released in 2018 after serving a 3.5 year sentence for Maidan)
Mykola Semena (suspended sentence for an article opposing annexation)
Redvan Suleymanov (released after serving his sentence)
Some of the types of persecution
The First ‘Crimean terrorist show trial’ and subsequent ‘Ukrainian saboteur trials’
Five years after Russia’s first attempt to treat opponents of its annexation as ‘terrorists’, Ukrainian Filmmaker Oleg Sentsov; civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko and Oleksiy Chyrniy remain imprisoned.
Videoed ‘confessions’ have also been the mainstay of several fabricated cases where Ukrainians have been seized, forced into ‘confessing’ to planning acts of sabotage for the Ukrainian SBU [Security Service] of Defence Ministry and then ‘tried’ in secret.
At present, the ‘trial’ is underway of two men – retired naval captain Volodymyr Dudka and academic Oleksiy Bessarabov. They refused to ‘confess’ and are now probably facing longer sentences in reprisal for holding out. In this case, the FSB labelled another academic, Dmytro Shtyblikov the ‘mastermind’ of a so-called saboteur plot, and held him effectively incommunicado, without a lawyer of his choice and under intense pressure, until he agreed to admit guilt. His testimony is now being used against the other two men, though there remains not a scrap of evidence to back the charges.
All faiths except the Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate have been under pressure since annexation but until recently it was only certain Muslims who had faced imprisonment. Russia has now unleashed repression against Jehovah’s Witnesses. ‘Extremism’ charges have already been laid against one Crimean, Serhiy Filatov, and it seems a matter of time before the occupation regime begins imprisoning Jehovah’s Witnesses for their faith. It also looked very likely on 3 March that the occupation regime was about to place Archbishop Klyment, Head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine in Crimea under administrative arrest and the pressure against him is mounting.
Alleged ‘involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir’
31 men, most of them Crimean Tatar, are accused of ‘involvement’ in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a peaceful pan-Islamist party which is legal in Ukraine. Russia has not explained its designation of the organization as ‘terrorist’ and there is nothing to suggest that Hizb ut-Tahrir has been behind any acts of terrorism or violence anywhere in the world.
Since the first arrests in 2015, Russia has increasingly used these charges against human rights or civic activists, including people who were playing a major role in Crimea Solidarity, the initiative helping political prisoners and their families. All those convicted merely of alleged involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir are declared political prisoners by the Memorial Human Rights Centre.
Sevastopol Four (‘convicted’ and imprisoned in Russia)
Yalta Six (arrested on 11 February and 18 April 2016)
Bakhchysarai Four (arrested on 12 May 2016 - ‘convicted’, awaiting appeal)
Simferopol Five (arrested on 12 October 2016, now ‘on trial’ in Rostov, Russia)
Bakhchysarai ‘Crimean Solidarity’ arrests
May 10, 2018 Enver Seytosmanov (cousin of Nuri Primov, and seemingly charged in the same ‘case’ as the first four men from Sevastopol)
14 February 2019 Rustem Emiruseinov; Arsen Abkhairov; Eskender Abdulganiev
Four men have so far been arrested, ‘tried’ and convicted of involvement in Tablighi Jamaat, a peaceful movement which is legal in Ukraine, but which Russia has decided to label ‘extremist’
49-year-old Rinat Suleymanov was sentenced on 22 January 2019 to four years’ imprisonment for supposedly ‘organizing an extremist organization’.
65-year-old Talyat Abdurakhmanov; Arsen Kubedinov (44) and Seiran Mustafaev (50) were convicted of ‘involvement in an extremist organization’ and received two and a half-year suspended sentences, with a probation period of two years
Two Ukrainians were convicted on surreal charges linked to implausible and entirely unprovable actions during Euromaidan in Kyiv before Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Oleksandr Kostenko served a three and a half-year sentence to the end
Andriy Kolomiyets has been imprisoned since May 2015 and is serving a 10-year sentence on such absurd ‘Maidan’ charges.
Volodymyr Balukh Imprisoned for five years, essentially for his Ukrainian flag and unwavering loyalty to Ukraine Crimean jailed for a Ukrainian flag sentenced to three more years for refusing to be broken
Death and torture of much older Crimean Tatar political prisoners
Russia’s most brutally cynical prosecutions have involved elderly Crimean Tatars in ill health. In August 2017, 76-year-old Server Karametov was imprisoned for 10 days on a charge of ‘resisting a police officer’.
Then on 23 November, 2017, a major FSB ‘operation’ led to the attempted arrest and death, almost certainly from disproportionate use of force of 83-year-old Vedzhie Kashka, a much revered veteran of the Crimean Tatar national movement, and the arrest on preposterous charges of four respected Crimean Tatars in their fifties and sixties: 65-year-old Asan Chapukh; 58-year-old Bekir Degermendzhy; Kazim Ametov (now 60); and Ruslan Trubach (52).
The recent arrest and imprisonment of 58-year-old Edem Bekirov, an amputee who recently underwent serious heart surgery and suffers from diabetes, is no less cynical.