Key prosecution witness blasts Russia’s politically motivated sentence of Crimean Tatar leader
Even an alleged ‘aggrieved party’ in Russia’s widely condemned ‘trial’ of Crimean Tatar Mejlis leader Akhtem Chiygoz has labelled the case ‘political’ and called for the 8-year prison term handed down to be changed to a suspended sentence. Vladimir Kosarev was injured during the pre-annexation demonstration over which Russia, without any jurisdiction, ‘tried’ Chiygoz. During earlier questioning in court, he rejected attempts to blame the Crimean Tatars and other pro-Ukrainian demonstrators for his injuries, and he has now addressed similar objections to Russia’s Supreme Court which will be hearing the appeal against the sentence.
Akhtem Chiygoz is the highest-ranking leader of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis or representative assembly in Crimea, since Russia banned Mejlis Chairperson Refat Chubarov from his homeland within months of its invasion and annexation. He was arrested on January 29, 2015 and charged with organizing a demonstration on February 26, 2014 on Ukrainian territory and under Ukrainian law. Not only did Russia have no jurisdiction, but it also had no grounds for any such charges. There was no ‘mass riot’ that day, and the demonstration was not organized by Chiygoz.
Some of this is noted in the statement from Kosarev, made public by Chiygoz’ lawyer Nikolai Polozov. Kosarev writes that “Chiygoz was not the organizer of the disturbances, as asserted from the outset by a representative of the Crimean Prosecutor’s Office, but a person carrying out directives from a superior. In view of the fact that he took no personal part in any physical attacks or beatings, his liability is reduced to a minimum. He does not deserve the sentence passed. The fact that Akhtem Chiygoz took responsibility upon himself, and did not once mention Refat Chubarov, and has courageously spent two and a half years in SIZO [remand prison] taking somebody else’s guilt upon himself, only speaks in his favour. “ He therefore asks for the sentence to be made suspended.
Kosarev’s suggestion that Chubarov bears any responsibility for the supposed ‘disturbances’ can also be subjected to criticism. Much more important, however, is the substance of his statement about Chiygoz and the fact that it has come from a person who is not in political opposition to the Russian occupation regime.
The ‘trial’ of Chiygoz and five other Crimean Tatars on charges linked with a demonstration over which Russia has no jurisdiction was not just lawless. It was also openly anti-Crimea, with the so-called ‘investigators’ making no effort to speak with Crimean Tatars who sustained injuries that day and the prosecutor not even trying to conceal his racist views.
The charges against all of the men were woolly and incomprehensible, and based on highly dubious testimony of alleged ‘victims’. Novaya Gazeta reported in late February 2015 just how the ‘investigators’ had looked for such ‘witnesses’ On February 2, 4 days after Chiygoz’s arrest and 11 months after the events, they invited Simferopol residents to come forward “even in the absence of bodily injuries”. The consequent lack of any credibility in the testimony provide was one of the multiple reasons why Chiygoz, Ali Asanov and Mustafa Degermendzhy were recognized as political prisoners by the authoritative Memorial Human Rights Centre . In fact, just days before the sentencing of Chiygoz, the prosecutor in the parallel trial of Asanov, Degermendzhy and three others proposed “removing 83 victims” (out of 86!) and one of the charges.
Alexander Dombrovsky, the de facto prosecutor, had made his racist attitude clear back on 20 August 2016 while questioning Kosarev. He asked him to confirm that “the demonstrators were divided into two groups – Crimean Tatars and residents of Crimea”.
Chiygoz was outraged, calling this “a demonstration of deep chauvinism and incitement to inter-ethnic enmity”. He was backed by the defence and ignored by the court.
As mentioned, Kosarev did not provide any evidence against Chiygoz. The prosecution had tried to claim without any evidence that the crushing that day which resulted in one person’s death was due to action from the pro-Ukrainian (mainly Crimean Tatar) demonstrators.
Kosarev denied this totally, as he did any specific forms of violence against him. His injury had not been caused by the pro-Ukrainian demonstrators, he said.
There were two deaths that day, but both were in the area where pro-Russian demonstrators were gathered and one died of a heart attack. With respect to the death of Valentina Korneva, her husband has specifically stated that he does not think the men on trial had anything to do with it, and that it was probably paid thugs brought to the demonstration in two coaches by the pro-Russian side.
Although the deaths were constantly mentioned to give the impression of real crimes, not one of the men was charged in connection with them.
There is considerable evidence that Russia was planning to use certain pro-Russian politicians in Crimea to bring about a supposed change in Crimean status on February 26, 2014, without the overt use of Russian soldiers. It failed thanks to the Mejlis and around 10 thousand Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians who gathered under both Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar flags. There was no mass riot that day, and these ‘trials’ bear all the hallmarks of politically-motivated persecution, probably motivated by revenge for having foiled the Kremlin’s plan for seizing Crimea without soldiers and the resulting international condemnation (details here and here).