Russia reduces horrific sentences against five Crimean Tatar political prisoners by all of 6 months
Russia’s Supreme Court has taken a mere two hours or so to consider the flawed charges against five Crimean Tatar political prisoners, and the lack of any evidence to back them, before upholding each of the men’s convictions. It is unclear whether the 6-month reductions in the sentences were supposed to make the judges feel better about imprisoning innocent men, or merely part of the pretence that the judges are there to do more than sign documents. Russia is in grave violation of international law over its prosecutions in occupied Crimea and in breach of fundamental human rights in imprisoning men for peacefully practising their faith.
Russia’s attempt on the eve of the 24 December hearing to intimidate Crimean Tatars with warnings of prosecution did not work, and over 60 people arrived in Moscow to demonstrate their solidarity with the five men. The hearing was also attended by the Ukrainian consul, representatives of the US Embassy in Moscow and international observers from the Netherlands and representing the EU. There were also at least two Russian activists. Vera Lavryoshina, for example, held a placard reading “Crimean Tatars are not terrorists”. She explained that, while Russia had not yet totally banned even single-person pickets, she had come to demand that innocent men be released. “There are no terrorists among Crimean Tatars. The terrorists are among those who came to Crimea with weapons and who prevent people living peaceful lives”.
As the authoritative Memorial Human Rights Centre has pointed out, Teymur and Uzeir Abdullaev, Emil Dzemadenov; Rustem Ismailov and Aider Saledinov were all tried and convicted under Russian ‘terrorism’ legislation without having been accused of terrorism and without having been accused of committing a recognizable crime. They were accused only of unproven involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a peaceful Muslim organization which is legal in Ukraine and which has never committed any acts of terrorism anywhere in the world. Russia’s Supreme Court ruling in 2003, declaring Hizb ut-Tahrir ‘terrorist’, was almost certainly taken to enable Russia to deport Muslims back to Uzbekistan where they faced religious persecution. Russia is now using armed searches, arrests and monstrously long sentences against Crimean Tatars as part of its efforts to claim a ‘terrorist threat’ to justify its invasion and annexation of Crimea.
The five Crimean Tatars arrested on 12 October 2016 are from Stroganovka, near Simferopol. All of them are well-educated and are devout Muslims, who have never committed crimes of any kind and who were very much focused on their families, and bringing up their children.
Russia’s ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’ cases are essentially conveyor belt prosecutions, in which at least one person is designated the harsher charge of ‘organizing a Hizb ut-Tahrir cell’ (under Article 205.5 § 1 of the Russian criminal code), while the others are changed with ‘involvement’ in the ‘cell’ (Article 205.5 § 2) . The only real difference appears to be in the length of the sentence. Following the 6-month reductions in the 24 December ruling, 44-year-old Teymur Abdullayev, who was claimed to be the ‘organizer’, has now been sentenced to 16.5 years; Rustem Ismailov – to 13.5 years; Useir Abdullayev to 12.5 years; Emil Dzhemadenov and Aider Saledinov to 11.5 years. All of these are terms of imprisonment in maximum security prisons where the conditions are particularly bad.
The list of Russia’s violations of the men’s rights is huge and includes the fact that the men are effectively facing deportation as did once their grandparents, with the Russian authorities imprisoning them in Russia, thousands of kilometres from their families.
Not only are the men not actually accused of any crimes, but there was also no evidence to prove involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir. The FSB uses loyal ‘experts’ who say what is expected of them, as well as ‘secret witnesses’. Even using such ‘witnesses’ whose testimony could not be verified, the prosecution still came up only with the vaguest of allegations. All were essentially charged with holding conversations on religious subjects, with the dodgy ‘experts’ alleging that a word here, or there ‘proved’ that the men belonged to Hizb ut-Tahrir.
All five men have long been recognized by the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre as political prisoners. Memorial has long condemned Russia’s use of ‘terrorist’ charges which have no foundation, and points also to the grave breach of international law since Russia has no right to apply its repressive legislation on illegally occupied territory.
It is likely that the men will now soon be moved to other prisons, at which point their addresses will be given for letters. In the meantime, please help to spread information about Russia’s appalling crimes against innocent men.