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17.12.2019 | Halya Coynash
Human Rights Abuses in Russian-occupied Crimea

Crimean Tatar veteran: My grandfather was tried on the same charges as my son

Seiran Saliyev (in blue) singing a Crimean Tatar song about Bakhchysarai. From left Timur Ibragimov, Memet Belyalov, behind Saliyev are Edem Smailov, Ernes Ametov, far back Server Mustafayev, then Server Zekeryaev and Marlen Asanov. Photo Crimean Solidarity
   

Crimean Tatar political prisoner Seiran Saliyev is facing identical charges in a Russian court to those once used by the Soviet regime to imprison his great-grandfather.  Zodiye Saliyeva, veteran of the Crimean Tatar national movement, was at the ‘trial’ of her son and seven other Crimean Tatar activists on 16 December.  She explained that her grandfather, after being stripped of everything he had, refused to go into a collective farm, with this treated as “seeking to overthrow the state”.  Decades later, in Russian-occupied Crimea, her son was also accused of trying to ‘overthrow the regime’.  This, the Russian prosecutor alleges, he and the other seven Crimean Tatars were seeking to do without any arms and without any specific plan of action. 

Terrorism charges to silence activists

The charges against all eight men – of ‘terrorism’ and ‘seeking to violently overthrow the state’ – may sound alarming, but should not.  They are based solely on the unproven allegation that the men are ‘involved’ in the peaceful Hizb ut-Tahrir party which is legal in Ukraine and is not known to have committed any act of terrorism anywhere in the world.  Russia in turn is the only country that calls Hizb ut-Tahrir terrorist, and the secret Supreme Court ruling from 2003 declaring it as such is believed to have been aimed at providing Russia with an excuse to send Uzbek refugees back to Uzbekistan where they faced religious persecution.

Russia is now using ‘terrorism’ charges over such hypothetical ‘involvement’ as a weapon against civic activists and journalists in occupied Crimea.  The arrests of the eight men now on trial were the first of ongoing serious attacks on the Crimean Solidarity initiative which arose out of the need to help political prisoners and their families, as well as to provide information about mounting repression.

Six men: Ernes Ametov; Marlen (Suleyman) Asanov; Memet Belyalov; Timur Ibragimov; Seiran Saliyev and Server Zekiryaev -  were arrested on 11 October 2017 after armed searches that traumatized the men’s children and found nothing but some religious literature.  On 21 May, 2018, more armed searches were carried out, with Server Mustafayev, Coordinator of Crimean Solidarity, and  Edem Smailov (who had also been involved in Crimean Solidarity activities) arrested and charged with ‘involvement’ in the same ‘case’ as the other six men.

Initially, the FSB designated only Asanov as ‘organizer of a Hizb ut-Tahrir group’, with the charge under Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code carrying a potential life sentence.  The other men were all charged with ‘involvement in such an alleged ‘group’ (Article 205.5 § 2, with the sentences up to 20 years).

There has never seemed to be any good reason why one person gets the much more serious charge, not another, or why others are suddenly designated ‘organizers’.  This was what happened in February 2019 when it was announced that Belyalov and Ibragimov were now also facing the ‘organizer’ charge.

Shortly afterwards, all eight men were also charged (under Article 278) with ‘planning to violently seize power’.  As mentioned, there was no attempt to explain how the eight men were supposed to have planned to do this.  Russian prosecutors simply claim that this follows from Hizb ut-Tahrir ideology. It does not, and, in fact, the Russian Memorial Human Rights Centre has observed that the extra charge is often laid where political prisoners refuse to ‘cooperate with the investigators’.  Not one of the Crimeans arrested has agreed to ‘cooperate’ (by accepting the charges or giving false testimony against others).

Absurd indictment

There have now been six hearings in the trial which began on 15 November in the military court in Rostov (Russia) used in the majority of political trials against Ukrainians. During the first hearing, prosecutor Yevgeny Kolpikov read out the indictment.  This made it clear that the men are all essentially accused either of organizing three supposed meetings where Hizb ut-Tahrir texts were supposedly discussed, or of taking part in them.  It is extremely unlikely that the men were, in fact, doing anything but discussing the tenets of their Muslim faith, however the FSB has its own ‘experts’ who can be relied upon to find supposed proof of Hizb ut-Tahrir involvement wherever required.

Since the fourth hearing, both prosecutor and the defence have been questioning Nikolai Artykbayev, a former Ukrainian Security Service turncoat, now working for the Russian FSB.  He claims to have been gathering information about the eight defendants and other Crimean Muslims since 2016.  The ‘surveillance’ measures included putting bugs in the Mosque where the men worshipped.

In fact, when asked direct questions pertaining to the serious charges against the defendants, he proved to be constantly suffering from amnesia.  Asked by defence lawyers or the men themselves whom they were alleged to have ‘recruited’ in order to overthrow Russia’s constitutional order, Artykbayev couldn’t provide any information, nor could ‘he recall’ whether such information was present in the indictment.  

Despite the obvious relevance of such questions, and the failure of the prosecution witness to answer, the presiding judge Rizvan Zubairov kept objecting, claiming that “the question was put and answer received”.

The judge also prevented other questions, such as whether Artykbayev had ever sworn allegiance to another country.  Since he had sworn allegiance to Ukraine and betrayed it, this was surely of relevance in considering his credibility as a witness. So too was Asanov’s question regarding whether the searches of the men’s homes had been to find weapons needed “to seize power”.  Given the charges against them, the refusal to allow that question suggests that the logical next question was deemed inconvenient.  Not one weapon or any other obvious item required for a violent seizure of power has ever been found.

Inhuman treatment

The men are held in appalling conditions in Rostov SIZO [remand prisons], with the parcels their families send often the only food they can eat.  Family members who have travelled through the night to be at the court hearings are, however, prevented from passing any food to the political prisoners.  At the fifth hearing, it was learned that the men had been given only pork which the prison authorities must have known that the men could not eat. 

The treatment of the men’s families by the court has also been gratuitously cruel.  These court hearings are often the only chance for parents, wives and children to see the men, yet there are constant restrictions on how many people are allowed into the courtroom.  On 16 December, only the judges and the defence were able to hear the lawyers, speaking by video link from Crimea, although there had been ample time to provide a screen.

PLEASE WRITE TO THE MEN!

The letters tell them they are not forgotten, and show Moscow that the ‘trial’ now underway is being followed. 

Letters need to be in Russian, and on ‘safe’ subjects.  If that is a problem, use the sample letter below (copying it by hand), perhaps adding a picture or photo. Do add a return address so that the men can answer.

At the moment all eight political prisoners are in the same SIZO [remand prison] in Rostov-on-Don.  The address is below and can be written in either Russian or in English transcription.  The particular addressee’s name and year of birth need to be given.

Sample letter

Привет,

Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение. Простите, что мало пишу – мне трудно писать по-русски, но мы все о Вас помним.

[Hi.  I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released.  I’m sorry that this letter is short – it’s hard for me to write in Russian., but you are not forgotten. ] 

Addresses

ErnesAmetov

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Аметову, Эрнесу Сейяровичу,  1985 г.р.

 [In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Ametov, Ernes Seyarovich, b. 1985  ]

Marlen Asanov

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Асанову, Марлену Рифатовичу, 1977 г. р

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Asanov, Marlen Rifatovich, b. 1977 ]

Memet Belyalov

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Белялову, Мемету Решатовичу, 1989 г.р.  

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Belyalov, Memet Reshatovich, b. 1989 ]

Timur Ibragimov

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Ибрагимову, Тимуру Изетовичу, 1985 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Ibragimov, Timur Izetovich, b. 1985 ]

Server Mustafayev

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Мустафаеву,  Серверу Рустемовичу, 1986 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Mustafayev, Server Rustemovich,  b. 1986 ]

Seiran Saliyev

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Салиеву,  Сейрану Алимовичу, 1985 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Saliyev, Seiran Alimovich, b. 1985 ]

Edem Smailov

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Смаилову,  Эдему Назимовичу, 1968 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Smailov, Edem Nazimovich, b. 1968 ]

Server Zekiryaev

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Зекирьяеву, Серверу Зекиевичу, 1973 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Zekiryaev, Server Zekievich, b. 1973 ]

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