Russia resurrects Soviet repression, punitive psychiatry in occupied Crimea
25 years since the coup which led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has returned to the punitive psychiatry, politically motivated trials of dissidents, rights violations and virulent propaganda of Soviet times. Nowhere is this seen more dramatically than in Ukrainian Crimea, invaded and annexed in early 2014.
Ilmi Umerov, Deputy Head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis [representative assembly] was on August 18 forcibly taken from the cardiac unit where he was under observation to Psychiatric Hospital No. 1 in Simferopol. He is to be held there against his will for 28 days. His medication was taken away from him and initially even his lawyer was not allowed to see him, though visits have now been allowed.
His health is a matter of the gravest concern, with his daughter reporting on Aug 24 that his blood pressure, blood sugar level and other readings are all disturbing. Umerov is diabetic and the clinic staff are ignoring pleas from family to at least enable him to have meals three times a day. The current situation where there is a 17-hour gap between his evening meal and breakfast / lunch is dangerous in his condition.
There are literally no grounds for the court order forcing the assessment since Umerov is facing prosecution for saying what all democratic countries have stated repeatedly since Russia invaded Crimea in February 2014, and then continued its military aggression in eastern Ukraine.
Russia must be forced to leave Crimea and Donbas.
It is for saying this in a TV interview that Umerov has been charged with ‘public calls to action aimed at violating Russian territorial integrity’, which could result in a 5-year prison sentence. It is correspondingly for those words that the 59-year-old Umerov, who is in ill health, is being forced to undergo ‘tests’ while effectively imprisoned in a psychiatric clinic.
The ‘trial’ is continuing of Crimean Tatar Mejlis [representative assembly] Deputy Head Akhtem Chiygoz, as well as of five other Crimean Tatars.
All are charged in connection with a pre-annexation demonstration on Feb 26, 2014, over which Russia can have no jurisdiction. The prosecution is, in fact, in violation of Russia’s own criminal code, yet Chiygoz, Ali Asanov and Mustafa Degermendzhy have been in custody for well over a year and face long prison sentences.
There are no real charges. Even if the prosecution were legally possible, Chiygoz is accused of ‘organizing mass riots’, although all video evidence shows him and other Mejlis leaders working throughout the demonstration to calm protesters. The others are accused of ‘involvement’, with no clear indication of what this is supposed to mean.
The FSB invited ‘witnesses’ to come forward even if they had no proof of injuries, and thus assembled a number of pro-Russian demonstrators who can still not testify to anything, but that they allegedly got a bruise or two. In declaring Chiygoz, Asanov and Degermendzhy political prisoners, the Memorial Human Rights Centre pointed to all the above, and stated that the testimony of most of these alleged ‘witnesses’ was more than suspect.
Since then, the occupation regime has split the trials, without any justification, and is preventing the defendants from attending their own ‘trials’ in person.
The fact that the lawyers cannot consult with their clients directly is probably designed to drag the trials out indefinitely, with three men, one of whom is the father of four small children thus imprisoned without trial.
Four Crimean Muslims are on trial in Rostov (Russia) and ten others are in effectively indefinite custody in Crimea. All are charged with involvement in a pan-Islamist movement called Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is legal in Ukraine and virtually all countries. Russia has declared it a ‘terrorist’ organization without providing any justification, yet has for 13 years been sentencing Russian Muslims to huge sentences.
It has now brought this lawless practice to Crimea. There are strong grounds for believing that in at least some of the cases, men have been arrested for their human rights activists and generally their civic position. In the case of rights defender Emir-Huseyn Kuku, there are serious grounds for believing that he was arrested after an attempt to abduct him went wrong.
Renowned Crimean filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko and Oleksiy Chirniy remain in Russia captivity serving long sentences for a supposed ‘terrorist plot’ in May 2014. They and Gennady Afanasyev (who was recently released) all opposed Russia’s invasion of Crimea, and Russian human rights groups are in no doubt that the men are political prisoners, prosecuted for their opposition to annexation.
Sentsov and Kolchenko are serving huge sentences – 20 and 10 years’, respectively, for their courage in refusing to provide the ‘confessions’ required.
Two former Euromaidan activists Oleksandr Kostenko and Andriy Kolomiyets were literally tried and convicted by Crimean ‘courts’ under occupation on absurd and inherently unprovable charges relating to Euromaidan in Kyiv before Russia’s invasion of Crimea.
The message is chillingly clear: any Ukrainian should think very carefully about visiting Crimea (or Russia, where Kolomiyets was arrested).
A 52-year-old businesswoman Larisa Kitaiska, who left Crimea after Russia’s invasion, was detained a month ago while visiting Yalta. Although she is not in custody, she has been prohibited from leaving Crimea and is facing criminal charges for supposed ‘anti-Russian’ posts on Facebook.
Journalist Mykola Semena faces a possible 5-year sentence. Like Umerov, he is accused of ‘public calls to action aimed at violating Russian territorial integrity’.
Their cases highlight the frightening degree of surveillance under Russian occupation, as well as the encouragement of denunciations.
Most of the victims have been Crimean Tatar. Ervin Ibragimov, a 30-year-old Crimean Tatar activist and member of the World Congress of Crimean Tatars, was abducted on May 24, 2016 and has not been seen since. The behaviour of the de facto authorities was suspicious, while the attempts to deny his and other abductions by the de facto prosecutor and certain French MP collaborators an absolute disgrace.
The overwhelming majority of Crimean Tatars, the main indigenous people of Crimea and their self-governing body – the Crimean Tatar Mejlis – opposed Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea. It is they who have suffered most since Russia’s invasion. That repression can only increase after the outlawing in April this year of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, a move described by Oliver Loode, a member of the UN Forum on Indigenous Issues as “an attack against the people, in this case Crimean Tatars.”.
As in Soviet times, those that the regime cannot crush, it removes.
72-year-old Mustafa Dzhemiliev was just 6 months old when Stalin ordered the Deportation of the entire Crimean Tatar people. He spend 15 years in the Soviet labour camps for upholding human rights and the right of the Crimean Tatars to return home. He has been banned from entering Crimea for 5 years, as has the Head of the Mejlis Refat Chubarov. Crimean rights activist Sinaver Kadyrov was ‘deported’ from his native Crimea.
Russia has moved to stifle all free press in occupied Crimea and is actively blocking Internet sites from Ukraine. While Russia’s propaganda drive worldwide is different and much more insidious than the old Soviet style, in occupied Crimea the old version is actively promoted, including during visits by Putin’s favourite motorbike gang – the Night Wolves, one of the biggest recipients of state grants in Russia. It requires stamina, but the video of a concert with lavish Russian-state in occupied Sevastopol a week ago should be viewed in its frightening Soviet entirety.
If it can be asserted that Russians themselves have allowed a former KGB officer and his cronies to turn their country around, the situation in Crimea is quite different. Russia first invaded and occupied a part of Ukraine, and is now dragging it back into the worst Soviet days, with the West still simply watching passively.