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.

Crimean Tatar political prisoner Bekir Degermendzhy is dangerously ill

Halya Coynash

After causing the death of 83-year-old veteran Crimean Tatar activist Vedzhie Kashka, Russia is endangering the life of 57-year-old Bekir Degermendzhy, arrested as part of a particularly cynical FSB attempt to discredit the Crimean Tatar Mejlis.  Degermendzhy has only now been transferred an emergency care ward after a Russian-controlled court in Crimea ignored his severe asthma, for which he has disability status, and remanded him in custody. 

According to his lawyer Edem Semedlyaev, the doctors say that his condition is extremely serious.  This is hardly surprising since his family and lawyers first sounded the alarm several days ago, and the conditions in the Simferopol SIZO [remand prison] are appalling.  He urgently needs to be provided with proper medical care, with this meaning that the detention order must be lifted.

Bekir Degermendzhy is one of four men in custody after an FSB ‘special operation’ on November 23, which resulted in the death of 83-year-old Vedzhie Kashka, a renowned veteran of the Crimean Tatar national movement. Having been ordered by the International Court of Justice to revoke its ban on the Mejlis and stop persecuting Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians, the FSB appear to have decided to use dirty Soviet tactics.  A Turkish man who had been friendly with Vedzhie Kashka’s granddaughter, had borrowed the family’s savings (7 thousand USD) and refused to return it.  Three highly-respected members of the Crimean Tatar community: Degermendzhy;  Asan Chapukh and Kazim Ametov were trying to help her get her money back.  This, the FSB decided to claim, was an attempt at ‘extortion’.  They tried to detain Vedzhie Kashka, who had recently been very ill and had a heart condition, and used violent methods to arrest the other three men, as well as a fourth – Ruslan Trubach.  

The Russian propaganda media have tried to muffle the fact that the FSB effectively caused the 83-year-old veteran’s death, and have gone into overdrive telling lies about ‘machine guns and drugs’.  It seems clear that this entire operation is about trying to discredit the main indigenous people of Crimea and their representative assembly.  The fact that not one of the people targeted was a member of the central Crimean Tatar Mejlis is of little importance when the media can be told what to say.

Bekir Degermendzhy was active in the Crimean Tatar national movement, and has spent the last three years defending his son, Mustafa, who is one of the Crimean Tatars arrested in a legally absurd and internationally condemned political prosecutions. As well as speaking to the media, he has also addressed both the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and OSCE about his son’s persecution and the human rights situation in Crimea. 

Ironically, it is Bekir Degermendzhy’s asthma that make the charges against his son so especially grotesque.  Both father and son heeded a call from the Crimean Tatar Mejlis [representative assembly] to defend Ukrainian unity on February 26, 2014.  The huge pro-unity demonstration that day prevented Russia from carrying off a coup without the embarrassing use of Russian soldiers.  The latter seized control the following day. 

Although there was a smaller pro-Russian counter-demonstration that day, there were no ‘mass riots’ that day, as Russia has tried to claim.  Even if there had been, the demonstration had still taken place on Ukrainian territory under Ukrainian law, making the subsequent ‘prosecutions’ illegal even according to Russian law.

The main target was the highest-ranking Mejlis leader Akhtem Chiygoz, and it is likely that Mustafa Degermendzhy and Ali Asanov were held in custody for two years and now remain under house arrest for their refusal to give false testimony against Chiygoz.

Bekir Degermendzhy spoke openly about the illegality of the charges and his son’s refusal to collaborate with the FSB.  While obviously wanting Mustafa released, he said that this was how he had brought him up, and he would expect no other behaviour from him.

The charges in Mustafa’s case are especially nonsensical since video footage (around 3.15 here ) clearly shows him helping his father who was in obvious distress from an asthma attack to leave the demonstration.  His father needed medical assistance and Mustafa did not move away from him.

Bekir Degermendzhy has now been targeted.  The charges are grotesque and entirely unprovable, however without public outcry, the men could remain in detention with this directly endangering his life (and probably that of 65-year-old Chapukh, who has also suffered a micro-stroke since his arrest.).

Please help bring this case and the general persecution of Crimean Tatars in Russian-occupied Crimea to the attention of politicians and the media in your country.

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