Crimean Tatar jailed for 17 years for “planning to overthrow Russia” by practising his faith
A Russian court on 16 April upheld the 17-year sentence against recognized Crimean Tatar political prisoner Enver Seytosmanov. Judge Anatoly Solin was unperturbed by the lack of any evidence to back surreal charges, which included “planning to violently overthrow the regime”, although no weapons had been found, or even anything in writing to indicate such an intention.
The ‘court hearing’ took place by video link between Seytosmanov from the SIZO [prison] in Rostov-on-Don [Russia], the military court of appeal in Vlasikha [also Russia] and Seytosmanov’s lawyer, Emil Kurbedinov in Simferopol [Crimea]. It was held behind closed doors, meaning that relatives, the Ukrainian Consul Taras Malyshevsky and representatives of human rights organizations were unable to attend. Seytosmanov himself wore a T-shirt with the words “Crimean Tatars are again under fire”. Crimean Tatars have indeed been the main victims of Russian persecution under occupation, and the charges against him are widely used by the Russian FSB as a weapon to crush the Crimean Tatar human rights movement.
Kurbedinov noted after the hearing that a separate military court of appeal had been created in 2019 with the supposed intention of making the court system cleaner and more transparent. The ruling on 16 April, however, demonstrated only the purely political nature of Russian courts with ‘judge’ Solin not reducing the appalling sentence at all. No consideration was given for either Seytosmanov’s chronic illnesses, nor the fact that the prosecution is in breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention. This prohibits an occupying power from applying its legislation on occupied territory and is regularly cited by the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre when recognizing Seytosmanov and all other Crimean Tatar and other Ukrainian Muslims facing similar charges as political prisoners.
33-year-old Seytosmanov was detained on 10 May 2018, together with his brother Ernes, after an armed search of their home in occupied Sevastopol. Only Enver was charged with ‘involvement’ in the peaceful pan-Islamist Hizb ut-Tahrir movement and remanded in custody. Hizb ut-Tahrir is legal in Ukraine and most countries, and is not known to have committed any acts of terrorism anywhere in the world. The Russian Supreme Court kept its ruling that the movement is ‘terrorist’ secret until it was too late to challenge it and has never provided any grounds. Memorial HRC has repeatedly condemned these false ‘terrorism’ cases, and Memorial expert, Vitaly Ponomaryov believes that Russia may have declared the organization terrorist to make it easier to extradite people to Uzbekistan where they faced religious persecution and torture.
Even the timing of Seytosmanov’s arrest was suspect. The charges pertained to Russia’s first fatally flawed ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’ prosecution of four Crimean Tatars from Sevastopol, including Seytosmanov’s cousin, Nuri (Yuri) Primov. Three of the men: Primov, Ruslan Zeytullaev and Rustem Vaitov had been arrested on 23 January 2015, the fourth – Ferat Saifullaev – two and a half months later.
In January 2015, the FSB had also subjected the Seytosmanov brothers to an armed search, though on that occasion, their target was Ernes Seytosmanov, and no arrest was made. It is unclear why, over three years later, the FSB should have decided to come after Enver Seytosmanov, but it was categorically not some new and compelling ‘evidence’. Nor was it any testimony from the four men already imprisoned, all of whom refused to provide false testimony. Zeytullaev had been positively threatened with new criminal charges for not ‘cooperating’,
During the hearing on 4 December 2019, one of Seytosmanov’s lawyers, Sergei Legostov pointed to some of the alleged proof that prosecutor Igor Nadolinsky had presented as justification for demanding a 17-year sentence. This had included information from telephone operators indicating that Seytosmanov had spoken with his cousin, as well as Vaitov and Zeytullaev. How this constituted evidence was hard to understand, and, if anything, it was evidence against the prosecutor’s claims. In April 2019, the prosecution increased the charges against Seytosmanov to ‘organizing a Hizb ut-Tahrir group’ under Article 205,5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code. This carried a significantly greater sentence than the ‘involvement’ in such a group that he was originally charged with, 11 months earlier (Article 205,5 § 2) . How, if Seytosmanov was supposed to be the ‘organizer’, was it possible that he had had absolutely no contact with the fourth person, Saifullaev?
The prosecution has also lied about when Seytosmanov first appeared in the area (in December 2015, shortly before the others were arrested), in order to coordinate the charges with those against the four men sentenced in 2016. Legostov also pointed to another absolutely critical discrepancy. The prosecution had claimed that Seytosmanov had joined a Hizb ut-Tahrir group organized by Zeytullaev back in November 2014, yet in April 2019 the charge against him was changed to having ‘organized’ the group. What, in that case, was he alleged to have ‘organized’?
An additional charge, under Article 278 of Russia’s criminal code, was added, with this punishing for something termed “action aimed at the violent seizure of power … or aimed at violently changing the constitutional order of the Russian Federation”. Memorial HRC has pointed out that in Russia this extra charge has often been used against defendants who refuse to ‘cooperate’ with the investigators (by admitting to the absurd charges). In occupied Crimea, not one of the political prisoners has agreed to such ‘cooperation’, and the charge is now being added all the time. The absurdity is extreme since no weapons or explosives were found in Seytosmanov’s homes, and neither he, nor any other defendant in such cases, has been accused of any recognizable crime.
The main person who testified against Seytosmanov was a ‘secret witness’ whose testimony could not be verified. During cross examination in court (with this ‘Mr Smirnov’ hidden away from sight), the defence established that he could not name a single person whom he alleged had told him about Seytosmanov’s involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir. ‘Smirnov’ had also claimed that Seytosmanov “prayed differently”, though when challenged, it became clear that he had no idea about any Muslim prayers.
Another ‘witness for the prosecution’, Ruslan Bekirov, stated in court on 21 August 2019 that FSB officers had used physical and psychological pressure to force him into giving false testimony. He also found the courage to lodge a formal complaint, and on 16 October, Kurbedinov announced that he had received a response to this complaint from the Military-Investigative Committee acknowledging “indications of a crime” in the actions of the FSB officers. The response has also been added to the case material.
All of this was ignored by presiding judge Sergei Mikhailovich Gorelov; Alexander Vasilyevich Generalov and Nikolai Sergeevich Gulko from the Southern District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don who on 5 December 2019 passed the 17-year year maximum security imprisonment sentence demanded of them.
PLEASE WRITE TO ENVER SEYTOSMANOV!
His address will soon be changing, but there would be time to get at least one letter to him. Any letter or card tells him that he is not forgotten, and also send an important message to the Kremlin that they are under scrutiny.. They do, unfortunately, need to be in Russian, and on ‘safe’ subjects. If that is a problem, use the crib letter below, perhaps adding a picture or photo. It is good to enclose thin paper and an envelope, giving your address clearly in case he is able to reply.
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. ]
Russian Federation, 344022, Rostov-on-Don, Maxim Gorki St., SIZO-1
Seytosmanov, Enver Kyazimovich, b. 10.11.1986