Life sentence for defending political prisoners? Russia begins new trial of three Crimean Tatars
40-year-old Rustem Emiruseinov responded to the mounting repression in occupied Crimea by standing in peaceful protest with a banner reading “Muslims are not terrorists”. The Russian FSB came for him on 14 February 2019, and he is now facing a potential life sentence on the same fabricated and deeply flawed ‘terrorism’ charges as the men he was defending.
Three Crimean Tatars were arrested that day: Emiruseinov; 32-year-old Arsen Akhairov and the youngest of Russia’s political prisoners, 22-year-old Eskender Abdulganiev. Armed and masked men had burst into homes where children were sleeping, and carried out ‘searches’ during which they planted at least one religious book.
The three men, like others arrested in similar cases, are not charged with having committed, or even planned, any recognizable crime. Although Russian and Russian-controlled media regularly present such armed ‘operations’ and arrests as being about fighting ‘terrorism’, the men are charged solely with unproven involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir. This peaceful Muslim organization is legal in Ukraine and most countries and is not known to have committed any acts of terrorism anywhere. Russia is literally the only country in the world to call the organization ‘terrorist’, and the relevant Supreme Court judgement in 2003 was held secret until it was too late for it to be appealed. Vitaly Ponomaryov, from the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre, believes that the judgement was politically motivated and passed to make it easier for Russia to extradite people to Uzbekistan where they faced religious persecution and torture.
Since 2015, Russia has been illegally using such ‘terrorism’ charges against Crimean Tatar and other Ukrainian Muslims in occupied Crimea. Over the last two years, it has increasingly used this as a weapon against Crimean Tatar civic activists and journalists, especially members of the civic initiative Crimean Solidarity, which Emiruseinov was active in. In each such ‘trial’, one or more of the defendants are designated the role of ‘organizer’, while the others are accused of taking part in the Hizb ut-Tahrir group allegedly ‘organized’ by the other defendants. In this case, Emiruseinov is facing the worse charge under Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code (‘organizing’ a group which Russia has claimed is terrorist) with this carrying a sentence of up to life imprisonment. Abkhairov and Abdulganiev face the slightly lesser charge of ‘involvement’ (Article 205.5 § 2) with this carrying a sentence of from 10 to 20 years.
The ‘trial’ of Emiruseinov, Abdulganiev and Abkhairov, like those of other men, is to take place at the Southern District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don (Russia). The men took part (by video link) in the preliminary hearing on 9 January 2020 from the Simferopol SIZO [remand prison] where they have been imprisoned for the last year.
During the hearing, Abdulganiev’s lawyer, Lilya Hemedzhy called the refusal of the SIZO administration to provide her client with urgently needed medical treatment as torture. The court ignored this, and rejected all applications from the defence, as is, unfortunately standard in all these conveyor belt prosecutions.
Rather than receiving medical treatment, all three men are now to be taken to Rostov, with such ‘prisoner transports’ particularly arduous and dangerous, since the men are deprived of any contact with their lawyers and families.
As reported, Emiruseinov is one of the many Crimean Solidarity activists to now be facing absurd ‘terrorism’ charges. He had attended ‘court hearings’ in the cases of political prisoners and also took part in the online flash-mob entitled ‘Muslims are not terrorists’. This followed the series of single-person pickets in October 2017, after 76-year-old Server Karametov was imprisoned for 10 days after standing in defence of political prisoners with a placard reading: ‘Putin, our children are not terrorists!’. When asked by Krym.Realii whether her husband had been involved in Crimean Solidarity, Aliye Emiruseinova asked a counter-question: “Can you tell me how it is possible in Crimea to not be involved in Crimean Solidarity if you have a conscience?”
The Memorial Human Rights Centre considers all three men, as well as Russia’s other ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir trial’ victims’, to be political prisoners. As well as the flawed charges themselves, it points to the fact that Russia, as occupying state, has no right to impose its legislation on Ukrainians in Crimea. During the hearing on 9 January, Emiruseinov not only rejected the charges, but stated that he is a Ukrainian citizen, and referred to the violation of his rights under the Geneva Convention (pertaining to occupied territory). Russia’s ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir cases are tragedies for entire families, especially since fathers or sons are imprisoned (in violation of a European Court of Human Rights judgement) thousands of kilometres from their homes.
Emiruseinov and his wife have a 16-year-old son, Ali, and two daughters, 12-year-old Aishe and 9-year-old Khatidzhe. Abkhairov and his wife, Azize, have two very small children. 22-year-old Abdulganiev does not have a family of his own, but is his parents’ only child, who has now been taken from them.