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Mafia methods used to get the ‘right’ court rulings in Russian-occupied Crimea
A moment of strictly limited judicial independence in Russian-occupied Crimea on Jan 25 got forgotten amid the mounted offensive against lawyers defending political prisoners. This was hardly surprising when Emil Kurbedinov, the human rights lawyer who had reported the news, was himself arrested the next day and jailed for 10 days on a charge of quite surreal lawlessness. That ruling was then upheld on Feb 1.
Any celebration over the refusal to extend the detention of Redvan Suleimanov would, in any case, have been premature. With Kurbedinov imprisoned, a state-appointed ‘lawyer’ was brought in, and an inconvenient ruling swiftly reversed. Suleimanov is only one of many victims of persecution whom Kurbedinov is defending, and the offensive against the latter and Russian lawyer Nikolai Polozov is clearly aimed at removing proper lawyers altogether. There are far fewer independent judges, and their rulings are invariably overturned.
Worth recalling, however, Denis Didenko, the Kievsky District Court in Simferopol judge who quite correctly rejected the FSB’s application to extend Suleimanov’s detention. Didenko is also the judge who rejected the illegal FSB application to have Nikolai Polozov questioned as a ‘witness’ in the case of his client Ilmi Umerov. The latter is facing a mandatory 5-year sentence for saying that Russia must leave Crimea, and the FSB are seeking to remove his lawyers – Kurbedinov and Polozov. The FSB simply forced through another court ruling, and then effectively abducted Polozov.
At the hearing on Jan 25, Didenko’s argument was linked only to jurisdiction, but the ruling did mean that Suleimanov would have had to be released by Jan 30. By Jan 28, Kurbedinov had been imprisoned for reposting in 2013 a video clip showing a legal demonstration in Ukrainian Crimea by Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization that remains legal in Ukraine (details here). Another hearing was held in the same Kievsky District Court, with a new judge and without Kurbedinov, and Suleimanov’s detention extended until February 28.
27-year-old Suleimanov was the first Ukrainian to be arrested by the FSB at the end of July 2016. Why is not necessarily clear since his videoed ‘confession’ was broadcast after those of two other Ukrainians – Yevhen Panov and Andriy Zakhtei – and clearly linked to their testimony which both have since said was obtained through torture.
Before the previous detention hearing in December, Kurbedinov noted that back in the Spring of 2014 the Crimean Tatar had been among the Ukrainians who held out for over 20 days, refusing to abandon a Ukrainian military unit surrounded by Russian soldiers. He was arrested over two years later and has become part of a bizarrely implausible FSB attempt to accuse Ukraine of ‘sabotage’ in Ukrainian territory which Russia is illegally occupying.
On August 10, the FSB publicly claimed that there had been major incidents, with weapon fire from mainland Ukraine, during the nights from 6-7 and 7-8 August, with 2 Russians – an FSB officer and a soldier – killed. There are independent reports of some kind of incident during the early hours of Aug 7, though they suggest rather that an FSB officer died in a drunken brawl between Russian border guards and FSB officers. There is nothing at all to back the claims about the second night and supposed shelling from Ukraine. The alleged incidents were preceded by Russian moves to block access to independent Internet websites and coincided with Russia’s deployment in occupied Crimea of a huge amount of military technology.
The only ‘evidence’ was from videoed ‘confessions’, first from Panov, then Zakhtei and then on Aug 12, from Suleimanov. Panov looked obviously beaten, and has since given a harrowing account of torture, as has Zakhtei, making their ‘confessions’ to planning acts of sabotage for Ukrainian military intelligence meaningless.
It was only after Suleimanov was shown on Russian television, that anything was learned of his arrest. Refat Chubarov, head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis [representative assembly] ascertained from family that he had been taken into custody some three weeks earlier, but that his family had not said anything of his arrest, fearing that this could harm him.
He apparently left Crimea after Russia’s annexation, and had been working in construction for around a year before his arrest in Zaporizhye. His parents, however, live in Simferopol, so it seems unlikely that he would have engaged in activities that would have made it impossible for him to visit Crimea.
On the video shown on Aug 12, Suleimanov asserts that he was recruited by Ukrainian military intelligence [HUR] in October last year, and ordered to gather information about the movement of military technology. Later he had supposedly been instructed to find places for hiding explosives at the railway station and airport in Simferopol. This was purportedly in order to move “from small acts to a big Jihad”. The FSB claim that he was arrested at the Simferopol airport.
Suleimanov’s ‘confession’ coincided with an ominous claim from an official in the occupation government that Ukraine was planning “new sabotage” under the guise of acts of resistance by Crimean Tatars.
In fact, since then, and despite the ‘confession’, the story appears to have changed. During the detention hearing on Dec 29, Kurbedinov reported that the FSB were claiming that Suleimanov had caused Russia, and directly the FSB, 4 million roubles in damages.
Then on Jan 18, journalist Anton Naumlyuk reported that the FSB has now accused Suleimanov of complicity in a false report of a terrorist attack on the Simferopol airport with this alleged to have cost 3 million roubles.
There is thus no link with Suleimanov’s ‘confession’ which was the only ‘evidence’ against him, as it is against the other men arrested at the same time.