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12.10.2020 | Halya Coynash
Human Rights Abuses in Russian-occupied Crimea

Crimean Tatar civic journalist Marlen Asanov gets 19-year sentence because he refused to leave occupied Crimea

Marlen (Suleyman) Asanov in court Photo Crimean Solidarity)
   

Crimean Tatar civic journalist and political prisoner, Marlen Asanov was told by a Russian FSB investigator that it was his own fault that he was imprisoned.  They had given him warnings to leave Crimea, the FSB man said, but he had refused to take heed.  He was, in short, no criminal, just a person that the Russian occupation regime didn’t want in Crimea.  On 16 September 2020, Asanov was sentenced by a Russian court to 19 years’ imprisonment.  He was not accused of any actual crime, and the ‘evidence’ presented in court of ‘involvement’ in a peaceful organization which is legal in Ukraine was provided by dodgy ‘secret witnesses’ and ‘experts’ with no professional competence to give such assessments.

Marlen (Suleyman) Asanov (b. 2 March 1977) is by profession a teacher of Crimean Tatar Language and Literature, however in 2002 he created Caravansary ‘Salachik’ [Караван-сарай «Салачик»].  While described in most travel books merely as a restaurant, the Salachik website explains that it is (or was) a Crimean Tatar cultural-ethnographic centre made up of a complex of architectural structures intended for the accommodation and relaxation of travellers (caravaners) and guests.

Asanov was also very active in public life and, even before Russia’s annexation, was known for his philanthropy. He and his wife Ayshe have four children – three sons (Said, Seitmamut and Eskender) and the youngest, a daughter, Safiye. Said, whose childhood came to an abrupt end on 11 October 2017, had always wanted to be an architect.  He is now planning to become a lawyer, to help victims of injustice.

Harassment / persecution.

It is typical that the Russian occupation regime should have targeted both Asanov and the Salachik Crimean Tatar cultural and ethnographic centre.  In announcing on 27 April 2018 that a court, at the request of the prosecutor, had forced it to close, the Salachik administration noted that they had been subjected to systematic searches, checks and other measures since 2014.  The worst of these was on 12 May 2016 during the armed searches and arrests of four Crimean Tatars from Bakhchysarai.

Asanov was charged on that occasion with ‘infringement of public order’ and fined.

This administrative prosecution and the constant searches, etc. were, as the FSB man said, supposed to drive Asanov out of Crimea. 

Instead, he became much more actively involved in helping the families of political prisoners, for which he was named Ukraine’s Volunteer of the Year in 2017. He also allowed Salachik to be used for the monthly meetings of Crimean Solidarity.  This important civic initiative began in April 2016 in response to the mounting persecution in occupied Crimea.  Crimean Solidarity activists both help political prisoners and their families, and seeks to ensure that information about repression is streamed onto the Internet and circulated, including abroad. 

It is probably the role Crimean Solidarity plays in defying Russia’s information blockade that has particularly riled the occupation regime. 

Armed searches and arrests as first major attack on Crimean Solidarity

Literally all the men arrested on 11 October 2017 are either Crimean Solidarity civic journalists (Asanov; Ernes Ametov; Timur Ibragimov and Seiran Saliyev, or activists (Memet Belyalov and Server Zekiryaev ).  Two other men: Crimean Solidarity Coordinator and civic journalist Server Mustafayev and Edem Smailov were arrested later, on 21 May 2018.

Armed and often masked men burst into homes where small children were sleeping and forced men who had never committed any crimes to the ground, before taking them away in handcuffs. 

Charges

While this was very widely understood to be an attack on members of a human rights initiative, Russia has cynically used ‘terrorism’ charges, enabling it to bring sentences that are far higher than those the Soviet regime used against ‘dissidents’.

Asanov and the others were effectively accused only of unproven ‘involvement’ in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a peaceful Muslim organization which is legal in Ukraine.  In declaring all Ukrainian Muslims arrested on such charges to be political prisoners, the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre has repeatedly pointed out that Russia is in breach of international law by applying its own legislation on occupied territory.  It has, however, also noted that Russia is the only country in the world to have called Hizb ut-Tahrir ‘terrorist’ and the Russian Supreme Court did so in 2003 at a hearing which was deliberately kept secret until it was too late to lodge an appeal.  Russia has never explained how an organization that is not known to have committed any acts of terrorism or violence anywhere in the world can be ‘terrorist’. Instead, it is simply using this label to enable huge sentences against men who have committed no crime. 

Initially, it was only Asanov who was charged with the more serious ‘organizer’ role under Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code.  In February 2019, however, the same charge was also brought against Belyalov and Ibragimov.  Given the greater sentences that this entails, the FSB’s reasons for designating a person ‘organizer’ seem frighteningly arbitrary.  The other men were charged with ‘involvement in such an alleged ‘group’ (Article 205.5 § 2).  All eight men were also charged (under Article 278) with ‘planning to violently seize power’.  This additional charge is believed by Memorial HRC to be generally used against people who refuse to ‘cooperate’ with the investigators (which all Crimeans in these cases have refused to do.

‘Evidence’

Essentially none, with virtually the only testimony against the men coming from a Ukrainian turncoat with an interest in proving his ‘loyalty’ to the Russian FSB and two ‘secret witnesses’ whose real identity proved impossible to conceal.  Both of the latter were illegally in Crimea and had reason to fear the consequences if deported to their country of origin.  Their lies could also on many occasions be proven, however in this the defence was systematically obstructed by presiding judge Rizvan Zubairov.

The main ‘material evidence’ came from illicitly taped conversations in a mosque with the FSB using its own, relied-upon, ‘experts’ to claim that this or that word ‘meant’ that the men were members of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Each of the three ‘experts’ lacked any professional competence to make such assessments, as was pointed out by an independent forensic linguist.

Sentences

On 16 September 2020 judges Rizvan Zubairov (presiding); Roman Saprunov; and Maxim Nikitin from the Southern District Military Court in Rostov (Russia) sentenced Marlen Asanov to 19 years’ imprisonment; Memet Belyalov to 18 years; Timur Ibragimov to 17 years; Seiran Saliyev – 16 years; Server Mustafayev - 14 years; Edem Smailov  and Server Zekiryaev to 13years.  The sentences were all in the harshest of Russian prison colonies, and in most cases were to be followed by a year or 18 months’ ‘restriction of liberty’.

No crime, no evidence and sentences handed down by a court of the occupying state which is prohibited by the Geneva Convention from applying its legislation on occupied territory.  The only bright moment was the acquittal of one of the men – Ernes Ametov.  Such acquittals are almost unheard of in Russian courts, however any assumptions about justice from the court should be swiftly abandoned since all eight men should have been acquitted.

The sentences will be appealed against and will certainly be condemned, as has been the men’s imprisonment, by the international community.

PLEASE WRITE TO MARLEN ASANOV AND THE OTHER MEN!

They have all recently been moved to the same ’SIZO’ [remand prison] where they will probably be held until the appeal hearing.  Letters are extremely important, telling them  – and Moscow - they are not forgotten. 

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.

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

Marlen  Asanov

344064, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. ул. Тонельная, 4, СИЗО-5.

Асанову, Марлену Рифатовичу, 1977 г. р

[In English:  344064 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 4 Tonelnaya St, SIZO-5

Asanov, Marlen Rifatovich, b. 1977 ]

Memet Belyalov

344064, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. ул. Тонельная, 4, СИЗО-5.

Белялову, Мемету Решатовичу, 1989 г.р.  

[In English:  344064 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 4 Tonelnaya St, SIZO-5

Belyalov, Memet Reshatovich, b. 1989 ]

Timur Ibragimov

344064, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. ул. Тонельная, 4, СИЗО-5.

Ибрагимову, Тимуру Изетовичу, 1985 г.р.

[In English:  344064 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 4 Tonelnaya St, SIZO-5

Ibragimov, Timur Izetovich, b. 1985 ]

Server Mustafayev

344064, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. ул. Тонельная, 4, СИЗО-5.

Мустафаеву,  Серверу Рустемовичу, 1986 г.р.

[In English:  344064 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 4 Tonelnaya St, SIZO-5

Mustafayev, Server Rustemovich,  b. 1986 ]

Seiran Saliyev

344064, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. ул. Тонельная, 4, СИЗО-5.

Салиеву,  Сейрану Алимовичу, 1985 г.р.

[In English:  344064 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 4 Tonelnaya St, SIZO-5

Saliyev, Seiran Alimovich, b. 1985 ]

Edem Smailov

344064, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. ул. Тонельная, 4, СИЗО-5.

Смаилову,  Эдему Назимовичу, 1968 г.р.

[In English:  344064 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 4 Tonelnaya St, SIZO-5

Smailov, Edem Nazimovich, b. 1968 ]

Server Zekiryaev

344064, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. ул. Тонельная, 4, СИЗО-5.

Зекирьяеву, Серверу Зекиевичу, 1973 г.р.

[In English:  344064 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 4 Tonelnaya St, SIZO-5

Zekiryaev, Server Zekievich, b. 1973 ]


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