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27.12.2019 | Halya Coynash
Human Rights Abuses in Russian-occupied Crimea

Russia moves to hide its political trial of Crimean Tatar civic activists

From left Edem Smailov, Ernest Ametov, Server Mustafayev, Memet Belyalov, Marlen Asanov, Timur Ibragimov, Server Zekeryaev, Seiran Saliyev Photo from the first hearing on 15 November 2019 Crimean Solidarity
   

A court in Rostov has banned any photos, videos or Internet streaming of the trial of eight Crimean Tatar civic activists, with this even extending to before the hearings begin, and during breaks. The ban on the latter is seemingly not absolute, however permission must be specially obtained, and there is no guarantee that it will be granted.  This is a blow for the families of the men, since only a limited number of people are even allowed into the courtroom.  It is also, however, a brazen attempt to restrict information about Russia’s use of terrorism charges to silence peaceful civic activists. 

Presiding judge Rizvan Zubairov read out the decision to impose the ban, stating that it was taken by the president of the court, Mikhail Ptitsyn, at the beginning of the hearing on 23 December.  According to Lutfiye Zudiyeva, one of the coordinators of Crimean Solidarity, this is not the first time that Zubairov has banned videos and photos, but this time the ban essentially covers the entire trial.

Zudiyeva was wary of drawing any conclusions before they had assessed the situation.  She did, however, point out that the problems began after journalists recorded a video address from Server Mustafayev, fellow Crimean Solidarity coordinator, civic journalist and Amnesty International prisoner of conscience.  Mustafayev addressed the Imams and the Crimean Muftiate who are appearing for the prosecution, calling on them to stop their complicity in a crime against their own people.  Seiran Saliyev in his turn was recording singing a Crimean Tatar song, with the other men joining arms around him.  It was after this, Zudiyeva said, that the court began verbally banning videos and photographs even during the breaks.

She believes this new crackdown is also linked with the fact that in this case, all the men have been blunt and very critical of the charges against them.  All of them are strong speakers who come well-prepared for the hearings and who are determined to defend themselves against the absurd charges in court.   

The charges against the men are indeed absurd.  The eight law-abiding men: Ernes Ametov; Marlen (Suleyman) Asanov; Memet Belyalov; Timur Ibragimov; Seiran Saliyev and Server Zekeryaev - are charged under Russia’s ‘terrorism’ legislation in connection with unproven allegations that they are involved in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a peaceful party which is legal in Ukraine and which has never carried out any acts of terrorism anywhere.  Russia is the only country in the world that has declared Hizb ut-Tahrir ‘terrorist’, and its Supreme Court did so in a suspiciously secretive and entirely unexplained ruling from 2003.

Russia has been illegally using such ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’ charges as a weapon of political and religious persecution in occupied Crimea since 2015.  The arrests in October 2017 and May 2018 were, however, the first virtually open attack on civic activists, most of whom are involved in Crimean Solidarity, an initiative to help political prisoners and their families, and to provide information about human rights violations under occupation.

From the very first hearings against the first four victims of such prosecutions, the prosecution tried to intimidate Crimean Tatars who came to the ‘court’ to show their solidarity.  Even administrative prosecutions, with imprisonment for up to 15 days, proved powerless to crush solidarity, and occupation courts in Crimea increasingly began holding detention hearings behind closed doors.  The actual trials, however, were always open, with the restrictions on taking photos and videos only applying to photos, etc. of judges, prosecutors, and others involved in political persecution, not to photos of the defendants and their lawyers.

Western countries and NGOs are increasingly aware that Russia is using fake ‘terrorism’ charges, with sentences of up to 20 years, as a weapon against civic activists and journalists defending political prisoners and helping their families. Confronted by international condemnation, Russia could, in theory, end such fatally flawed and falsified prosecutions.  Instead, however, it is using the courts to impose still further restrictions on men who have been imprisoned essentially for their role in telling the truth about what is going on in Crimea. 

Six of the men were arrested on 11 October 2017, after armed and masked men burst into homes where children were fast asleep and carried out ‘searches’, which found nothing but harmless religious literature. Then on 21 May 2018, they came for Crimean Solidarity coordinator Server Mustafayev and Edem Smailov.

The FSB always designates at least one person for the more serious charge of ‘organizing a Hizb ut-Tahrir group’ (under Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code), with this carrying a sentence of up to life imprisonment.  The others are accused of ‘involvement’ in such an alleged ‘group’ (under Article 205.5 § 2).  Initially only Asanov, Ukraine’s Volunteer of the Year in December 2017, was designated an ‘organizer’, and then much later, for reasons that remain a mystery, Ibragimov and Belyalov were also charged with ‘organizing’, not just ‘involvement’.

All eight men were informed in February 2019 that they were facing another charge – of ‘‘planning to violently seize power’’ under Article 278 of Russia’s criminal code (‘planning a violent seizure of power’).  There is no empirical reason for such charges, and the Russian Memorial Human Rights Centre has pointed to evidence that the FSB applies this extra charge in cases where men refuse to ‘admit guilt’.

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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