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FSB terrorize, arrest and even jail the elderly in Russian-occupied Crimea

Halya Coynash

An exiled member of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis [representative assembly] has issued an angry statement after his elderly parents became the latest target of the FSB in Russian-occupied Crimea.  The summoning of Eskender Bariev’s 84-year-old father, 79-year-old mother and other close relatives for interrogation comes less than a month after an extraordinary attempt to arrest 83-year-old Vedzhie Kashka led to the death of that internationally renowned veteran of the Crimean Tatar national movement.  Over recent months the Russian occupation authorities have also imprisoned 76-year-old Server Karametov for 10 days after a solitary picket in support of victims of persecution, and imposed huge fines on other people well into retirement age who tried to peacefully express their solidarity . 

Eskender Bariev is one of the members of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis forced to live far from their homes in Crimea.  The Mejlis itself, despite being the self-governing body of the main indigenous people of Crimea, was banned in 2016, and Russia is ignoring an express order from the International Court of Justice to revoke the ban. 

Bariev’s father has had invalid status for 16 years and has suffered three strokes.  Given the FSB’s extensive surveillance of Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians viewed as hostile to Russian occupation, it is impossible that they were not aware of the elderly man’s state of health when they summoned him for questioning, together with Eskender’s mother, parents-in-law, two sisters and wife. 

Eskender Bariev tells them to lay off his family who have nothing to do with his activities and civic position.  He is not in hiding, but publicly, including at international level, expresses his stand and speaks of the human rights violations committed by the occupation regime in Crimea.  He reiterates his opposition to Russia’s temporary occupation of his native Crimea, and his belief that those responsible for the abduction and killing of solitary protester Reshat Ametov; the enforced disappearances of Crimean Tatar activist Ervin Ibragimov and many others; as well as the death of Vedzhie Kashka, should be held to answer for their deeds.  So too should those who carry out the mass armed searches of homes; mosques; religious schools and churches; who use so-called courts to extort huge ‘fines’ from Crimean Tatars.  He separately mentions those who should answer for the imprisonment of political prisoners  and those holding Bekir Degermendzhy, Asan Chapukh and Ruslan Trubach; Oleksandr Kostenko; Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko; Ruslan Zeytullaev, and 50 other political prisoners.

Mounting abductions, disappearances and arrests under Russian occupation prompted many members of the Crimean Tatar community to become engaged in human rights defence and / or acts of solidarity.  A number of them, including human rights defender Emir-Usein Kuku, and many members of the civic initiative Crimea Solidarity, have themselves ended up imprisoned and facing long sentences on trumped-up charges.  Many quite elderly people have also felt unable to remain at home, simply watching and have taken part in protests or come to court hearings to show solidarity. 

76-year-old Server Karametov has been detained twice this year, first while standing alone with remembrance placards on 18 May, the anniversary of the Deportation of the entire Crimean Tatar People in 1944.  On that occasion, he was ‘only’ held in a police station for several hours.

On August 8, 2017, he was accosted by police while standing alone with a placard reading “Putin, our children are not terrorists!” outside the ‘trial’ of political prisoner Akhtem Chiygoz.  He was taken to a police station, and over two gruelling days in ‘court’ first fined 10 thousand roubles and then jailed for 10 days.  ‘Judge’ Marina Vladimirovna Kolotsei chose to believe that the frail man, who has multiple health issues, had ‘shown resistance’ to the police.

Vedzhie Kashka also took part in court hearings and in other ways expressed her solidarity with victims of repression.  She was 80 when first summoned for interrogation, back in 2014. 

She died on November 23, after the FSB tried to arrest her.  This was part of a ‘special operation’, backed by Russia’s propaganda channels, clearly aimed at trying to discredit the Mejlis and highly respected members of the Crimean Tatar community.  The four men arrested, on the same highly dubious charges, included 65-year-old Asan Chapukh and 57-year-old Bekir Degermendzhy.  Both men have serious health conditions which should, even according to Russia’s legislation, preclude their detention.  Chapukh, who has limited control of one side of his body, probably after a semi-stroke, is now on hunger strike in protest.

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