war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

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Russia’s trial of Crimean Tatar leader Ilmi Umerov chokes on hilariously inept lies

Halya Coynash
With Russia having first invaded Crimea, then set to putting those who object on trial for ‘separatism’, the ‘acquittal’ of Crimean Tatar Mejlis leader Ilmi Umerov seems most improbable. Moscow will surely find ‘judges’ ready to provide the required sentence. What it cannot achieve is any passable imitation of a trial, with this becoming clearer with every court hearing.

With Russia having first invaded Crimea, then set to putting those who object on trial for ‘separatism’, the ‘acquittal’ of  Crimean Tatar Mejlis leader Ilmi Umerov seems most improbable. Moscow will surely find ‘judges’ ready to provide the required sentence.  What it cannot achieve is any passable imitation of a trial, with this becoming clearer with every court hearing.

These gatherings in a courtroom are taking place once a week, with that on July 5 the fifth to date.  It should have been the most interesting so far, since the questioning was due to take place of the so-called linguist who provided the official ‘expert assessment’ of Umerov’s interview, given in the Crimean Tatar language on March 29, 2016.  It had transpired at the second such hearing that the woman in question, Olga Ivanova had studied to be a translator of English and Chinese, and did not know Crimean Tatar.  It was presumably for that reason that the assessment provided never mentions that the interview was in that language.

There is no transcript of Umerov’s actual words. The investigator may have called the text he gave Ivanova (in Russian) a ‘transcript’, but this does not alter the fact that it was not even a competent translation.  Umerov says that the defence are planning to have a very serious discussion about this document, which is possibly one of the reasons why the “trial has presently got stuck in all kinds of unimportant trivia”.

Last week, it was learned that the prosecutor was being replaced, with no sensible grounds provided.  In a hilarious summary of the fifth hearing, Alexander Podrabinek, a Soviet political prisoner acting as Umerov’s civic defender, explains that if the previous prosecutor Oleg Sardinov had been nothing to speak of, the new person, Yelena Artemenko, was “even more nothing!”  They had thought that the new person had been brought in as substitute for a weakling.  Now they are debating among themselves whether it was to save the case or to demolish it once and for all.  Umerov’s Russian lawyer, Mark Feygin, is inclined to think the latter. 

Podrabinek gives a long list of examples of the woman’s “remarkable illiteracy”, which made even her reading of documents about Umerov’s undoubtedly serious medical conditions comical.

Humour can only win out for so long when a person is reading out page after page without any expression and Podrabinek fell asleep after about 15 minutes.  He says he awoke suddenly from a thought, of potentially vital importance for the health system, of grinding this prosecutor into a soporific mixture that could eliminate all elderly people’s insomnia.  The trouble is that it would be so strong, that overdoses would be hard to avoid.

Ilmi Umerov, on the other hand, spent the woman’s monotonous reading out of all the material waiting for and not finding any mention of what he is supposed to have said.  He is convinced that she was trying to avoid it, and thinks that they have themselves “understood that they made a big mistake when they made their expert assessment not from Crimean Tatar, but from some not very understandable translation”.

This is not the only court travesty now underway in occupied Crimea.  If he and journalist Mykola Semena who is facing the same insane ‘separatism’ charges are at least at liberty, the Deputy Head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis has been held in custody for two and a half years. 

There will, in any case, have to be an end to the procrastination, since it is Umerov’s words that Russia has put him on trial over. Words that he has never denied uttering, and sentiments that he repeats regularly, with this making the prosecution’s calling of ‘witnesses’ who only confirm that Umerov did travel to Kyiv and did give the interview particularly absurd.

59-year-old 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 prison term.  


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