Crimean Tatar Civic Activists arrested in new offensive against Crimea Solidarity
Russia has ignored even the Holy Month of Ramadan and carried out new armed searches and arrests in occupied Crimea, with one of the targets Server Mustafaev, a highly-respected civic activist and coordinator of the Crimea Solidarity movement. This is the latest attack on men who are actively reporting on rights violations in occupied Crimea and helping the families of political prisoners. Reports about these arrests have coincided in the Russian media with claims of a bizarre ‘plot’, involving a Ukrainian recently abducted while entering Crimea and aimed at discrediting the Mejlis, or self-governing body, of the Crimean Tatar people.
Vans with masked men turned up early in the morning of 21 May at the Bakhchysarai homes of Server Mustafaev and Edem Smailov, who is also active in Crimea Solidarity. Mustafaev’s lawyer Emil Kurbedinov was prevented from being present, which is a flagrant violation of Mustafaev’s right to defence. There were elderly people in the Mustafaev home, as well as his four small children. It is difficult to conceive the trauma inflicted on children when men with automatic rifles burst into their homes, force their fathers to the floor and take them away. Mustafaev’s third very small son Yusuf came out on to the street where people had come to show support, saying that they’d taken his Babashka (Daddy) away. He was shaking and crying hysterically.
Smailov’s three children were reportedly blocked off by the armed officers and their mother not admitted into her own home. Smailov’s lawyer Aider Azamatov was also kept out during the search, with his demand that the investigator came out and explained the reason for this ignored.
Both men were then taken away, seemingly to the FSB headquarters in Simferopol.
Mustafaev was one of the first Crimean Tatars to begin streaming the constant searches and arrests online. He and other activists immediately pass on information about searches and come to peacefully show solidarity. This is clearly not to the Russian occupation regime’s liking. They first began rounding up men who were simply standing outside, with obedient ‘judges’ then jailing them for up to 10 or 15 days. When this overt intimidation failed to deter activists, much more draconian forms of repression began. Since October 2017, several active members of Crimea Solidarity, Including civil journalist Nariman Memedeminov; Suleyman (Marlen)Asanov, Seiran Saliev and Timur Ibragimov have been arrested and are facing huge sentences on concocted charges.
For the moment such terror tactics are not working. A large number of people, including veterans of the Crimean Tatar national movement and other respected members of the community, came as soon as they learned of the searches, and stood or sat waiting near the men’s homes.
Reports appeared in the Russian media well before the searches had ended, The first assiduously avoided mentioning that both men are Crimean Tatar and claimed that two “Crimeans” had been detained on suspicion of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir. This peaceful pan-Islamist movement is legal in Ukraine, and is not known to have committed an act of terrorism anywhere in the world. Russia declared it ‘terrorist’ in 2003, keeping the ruling secret until it was too late for Hizb ut-Tahrir or human rights organizations to challenge it, and never provided a good reason for its decision. Such charges are regularly used by the FSB to conduct mass prosecutions, with men receiving sentences of up to life imprisonment merely on the unproven charge that they ‘organized’ or were ‘involved’ in a Hizb ut-Tahrir group (under Article 205.5 § 1 and 205.5 § 2 of Russia’s criminal code, respectively).
It should be stressed that the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre declares all those convicted on such charges to be political prisoners. It has been particularly blunt in its condemnation of such cases in Crimea where Russia, as occupying power, has no right to impose its legislation, with this especially cynical given that Hizb ut-Tahrir is legal in Ukraine.
It has since became clear that Server Mustafaev and Edem Smailov are to be charged in the same ‘case’ as the six Crimean Tatars arrested on 11 October 2017. As mentioned, three of the men arrested then – Suleyman (Marlen) Asanov; Timur Ibragimov and Seiran Saliev – were very actively involved in Crimea Solidarity. The searches and arrests then were accompanied by the mass detention of people who tried to stream or photograph the proceedings.
In all such ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir prosecutions’, the FSB designates one person as ‘organizer’ with the others accused of ‘involvement’. In this case, Asanov has been assigned the more serious charge, under Article 205.5 § 1, which can carry a sentence of up to life imprisonment. Asanov recently received Ukraine’s Volunteer of the Year Award The other men also face effectively indefinite imprisonment and sentences of from 10 to 20 years. No proof of criminal behaviour is required, nor indeed any proof at all, since ‘secret witnesses’ are regularly used in these fatally flawed ‘trials’ which help the FSB maintain good ‘terrorism’ statistics and receive promotion.
The second report on 21 May claiming that the FSB had “uncovered an extremist group” appears to be unrelated, however the propaganda value of reporting them in swift succession was doubtless deliberate.
It is asserted that this ‘extremist group’ was formed by an adviser to Mustafa Dzhemilev whom the Russian state-funded RIA Novosti identifies only as a Ukrainian MP, though he is also the world-renowned veteran leader of the Crimean Tatar national movement. This adviser was allegedly taking orders from Refat Chubarov, who took over as Head of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people after Mustafa Dzhemilev stepped down.
This adviser, named as Erol Veliev is supposed to have formed the group in Kharkiv together with “boxers A. Steshenko and A. Tretyakov”. Oleksandr (Alexander in Russian) Steshenko, according to this ‘plot’ was supposedly “exposed” as he tried to enter Crimea to carry out ‘provocation’ on the eve of the anniversary of a Russian presidential decree on ‘rehabilitation’ of various ethnic groups in Crimea. This is not an anniversary that has particularly impinged on anybody’s life, but they probably thought this sounded good.
The ‘extremists’ are also supposed to have set fire to the home of the Mufti of Crimea Emirali Ablaev, one of the few prominent Crimean Tatars who chose to collaborate with the Russian occupation regime. This alleged arson attack – with the use of a Molotov cocktail - is said to have taken place in January 2018.
The report claims that the men were promised 500 USD for each such ‘action’. It is noticeable that criminal proceedings have been announced only with respect to Veliev and Tretyakov who have been declared on the wanted list. No mention is given of charges against Steshenko whose abduction was reported here a month ago. It seems likely that any ‘confessions’ made by this young Kharkiv man were tortured out of him.
Russia is ignoring a direct order from the UN’s International Court of Justice at the Hague to withdraw its extraordinary ban on the Mejlis, which is the self-governing body of the main indigenous people of Crimea. It is also facing a legal suit brought by Ukraine over its discrimination of both Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians in Crimea.
Instead of complying with its international commitments, Russia is spending money and using propaganda methods to try to deny that the Crimean Tatars are an indigenous people and to discredit the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people. The attempts are futile, but this is not, tragically, stopping the persecution. The number of children whose fathers have been taken from them now stands at 113.