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05.03.2020 | Halya Coynash
Human Rights Abuses in Russian-occupied Crimea

Russian court expels Crimean Tatar defendants from court for asserting their rights

The defence in front of the empty box after all the defendants were sent out 4.03.2020 Photo Grati
   

The latest hearing in the “trial” of eight Crimean Tatar political prisoners took place on 4 March without any of the defendants present, after the court in Rostov (Russia) had them removed, claiming that they were infringing the rules for a court hearings. In fact, they were simply exercising their right to ask questions of a ‘secret witness’ whose highly questionable ‘testimony’ is being used to imprison the men for many years.  Before removing the defendants themselves, presiding judge Rizvan Zubairov dismissed question after question from the defendants themselves, or their lawyers.  It was evident that the questions were aimed at demonstrating how unreliable the witness was, and there was no valid reason for not allowing them. 

According to lawyer Lilya Hemedzhy, one of the defendants – Memet Belyalov – had been removed from the court the previous day, until the end of the questioning of this particular ‘secret witness’.  Russia regularly uses such ‘secret witnesses’ to repeat the prosecution’s claims, and since the defence is not informed of the individuals’ identity, there is no way, except through questioning, of demonstrating how flawed the person’s testimony is.   That, however, was obstructed by the presiding judge, , who consistently dismissed all such inconvenient questions, sometimes claiming that the questions were repetitive, but often without any explanation. The same had happened during the questioning of FSB officer Nikolai Artykbayev, effectively making a farce out of the court proceedings.  

By evening this was made especially clear since all of the men had, one by one, been removed from the court, essentially because of their determination to ask the witness hard-hitting questions. If a person is claiming to know that the men were all members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, the peaceful organization which is legal in Ukraine, but which Russia has chosen to call ‘terrorist’, it is clearly relevant if he can’t say where and when he met them, if his testimony is full of contradictions.

Some questions were allowed, such as those asked by Marlen Asanov, who is facing a 20-year sentence without any crime, about supposed methods to recruit members of Hizb ut-Tahrir.  The witness had claimed that people received gifts, money.  When asked direct questions, it transpired that he had been told this “by friends”, and “could not remember” any identifiable, and therefore verifiable, detail.

The same is essentially true of all such ‘testimony’, yet the court only ever intervenes to prop up the prosecution by dismissing questions  - or removing those defendants who insist on asking them.

Server Mustafayev, Crimean Solidarity co-founder, civic journalist and Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, asked the witness:

“You said that there was a plan to show resistance.  What was this plan?

- To counter the law enforcement bodies.

In what way were we supposed to show resistance?

- I explained, everybody was supposed to show resistance, each as they could.

Is this your supposition?

- I was instructed.

By whom?

- I can’t remember.

Were there cases of resistance?

- No.”

It was at this moment, which did not fit the prosecution’s claims, that the judge interrupted the questioning, claiming to think that there was a child in the courtroom (there wasn’t).

Six men, almost all of them civic activists and/or journalists from the civic initiative Crimean Solidarity, were arrested on 11 October 2017 after armed searches that found nothing but some religious literature.  Initially only Marlen Asanov was  designated the role of ‘organizer’ of a Hizb ut-Tahrir ‘cell’ (under Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code), with this carrying a sentence of up to life imprisonment. The other five men:  Ernest Ametov;  Memet Belyalov; Timur Ibragimov; Seiran Saliyev and Server Zekiryaev were charged with ‘involvement’ in this  (under Article 205.5 § 2 – from 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment). In February 2019, for no obvious reason, the FSB decided to lay the harsher charges against Belyalov and Ibragimov as well.

Further confirmation that this was an attack on Crimean Solidarity came on 21 May 2018 with the arrest of Server Mustafayev and Edem Smailov, both of whom are charged with ‘involvement’ in a Hizb ut-Tahrir group.

All eight men were informed on 22 February 2019 of an additional charge – under Article 278 of Russia’s criminal code (‘planning a violent seizure of power’).  This new charge is not based on any evidence about the men and simply follows from the Supreme Court’s unexplained ruling in 2003 finding Hizb ut-Tahrir ‘terrorist’.. 

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’. In not one of the ever-mounting  prosecutions in occupied Crimea on trumped-up ‘terrorism’ charges based on unproven involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir have any of the men arrested agreed to ‘cooperate’ with the investigators.  It has now become standard for the country which invaded and annexed Crimea, to accuse these totally peaceful Ukrainian Muslims of planning a violent seizure of power.

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 Saliev

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

Saliev, 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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