’Judge’ in Soviet-style trial of Crimean Tatar leader is wanted by Ukraine for treason
The first hearing on ‘the merits’ of the case against Crimean Tatar Mejlis leader Ilmi Umerov took place in Simferopol on June 7, without any trace of merits visible. It was clear that the prosecution had amassed a vast amount of irrelevant documents and witness testimony so as to conceal the lack of any evidence, while attempting to present the semblance of a trial. ‘Witnesses’ were called in, for example, to be asked whether Umerov had gone to Kyiv in March 2016, although Umerov has not denied that he was in Kyiv and gave the interview in question. He has also never retracted any of the statements made in that interview, and has consistently reiterated that Crimea is Ukrainian.
Neither Umerov, nor his lawyers are in doubt that a ‘guilty’ verdict was predetermined from the moment the criminal proceedings were initiated. Having abetted the prosecutor in removing Russian defence lawyer Nikolai Polozov, the judge on Wednesday rather unexpectedly overruled the prosecutor’s objections and allowed former Soviet dissident and human rights activist Alexander Podrabinek to take part as an informal defence counsel. Commenting on the first day, Podrabinek noted the prosecution’s use of ‘litter’ rather than proof, and called the trial a resurrection of the tradition of Soviet criminal law and political repression. “It is evident, firstly, from the indictment that Ilmi Umerov is on trial for expressing his opinion and, secondly, that the course of the proceedings has, to put it very mildly serious failings.”
There are countless irregularities, but one is especially telling. The indictment read out on Wednesay included supposed phrases from the translation of an interview Umerov gave on March 19, 2016 in Crimean Tatar.
Umerov objected, stating that the prosecution was based on a translation which was in fact a free text by the translator and not a transcript of his words. It is a flagrant infringement, he added, that this supposed translation is being called a transcript, and that there is no actual transcript in the case file of Umerov’s words as they were spoken in Crimean Tatar.
Umerov’s daughter Ayshe reports that the hearings have been scheduled for every Wednesday afternoon. The ‘judge’ is Andrei Kulishov, who is reportedly wanted by Ukraine for breach of his oath and suspected of treason. The ‘prosecutor’ is Oleg Sarginov, who also changed sides after Russia’s invasion.
59-year-old Ilmi Umerov was initially detained on May 12 and charged in connection with an interview given in Crimean Tatar to TV ATR on March 19, 2016. In that interview he stated that Russia must be made to leave Crimea and Donbas, which is exactly the position taken by the UN General Assembly, the EU, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and most countries.
Russia, however, is claiming that this interview contained “public calls to action aimed at violating Russia’s territorial integrity’. This is under Article 280.1, a new article introduced within months of Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea, carrying a mandatory 5-year term of imprisonment..
Umerov has a number of extremely serious medical conditions which prevented Russia from remanding him in custody, as they have the Deputy Head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, Akhtem Chiygoz. This did not stop them resorting to punitive psychiatry in August 2016 (Punitive Psychiatry against Crimean Tatar leader for insisting Russia must leave Crimea). He has also been placed on Russia’s list of so-called terrorists and extremists’, together with most other Ukrainian political prisoners whom Russia is illegally holding in Crimea or Russia.