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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Five Crimean Tatars on trial for unspecified crimes in a country the ‘prosecutor’ can’t identify

Halya Coynash

A ‘prosecutor’ in Russian-occupied Crimea has proven unable to tell five Crimean Tatars on trial which country they are alleged to have acted illegally in, and how they did so.   This is not the first time that the prosecutor has been stumped for an answer, though that has not prevented two of the men -  Ali Asanov and Mustafa Degermendzhy -  being held either in custody or under house arrest for almost three years. 

The five men – Asanov; Degermendzhy; Eskender Emirvaliev; Eskender Kantemirov and Talyat Yunusov -  are charged with ‘involvement’ in a huge demonstration in support of Ukrainian unity that took place on February 26, 2014.  This was the day before Russian soldiers without insignia seized control in Crimea, and even according to Russian legislation, the demonstration took place on Ukrainian territory under Ukrainian law. 

Russia, nonetheless, has claimed that the demonstration was a ‘mass riot’ and applied its legislation, with Crimean Tatar Mejlis leader Akhtem Chiygoz charged with ‘organizing a mass riot’ and the other men of taking part in it.  

Chiygoz had been in detention for over two and a half years when sentenced in September 2017 to eight years’ imprisonment.  He, Asanov and Degermendzhy had long been recognized political prisoners and there was international condemnation of the sentence.

Chiygoz was unexpectedly released into exile on October 25, 2017, with him and Ilmi Umerov probably exchanged in a deal with Turkey who released two suspected Russian state killers.

Neither Mejlis leader had signed any request for a ‘pardon’, and the Kremlin has refused to provide the relevant decree, however Chiygoz’s formal ‘conviction’ is now being used as an argument in the trial of the other five men. 

It is essentially the only argument, since there is not only no evidence against any of the men, but no real clarity as to what it is they are supposed to have done.  In fact three days before the sentencing of Chiygoz, the prosecutor in the parallel trial of Asanov, Degermendzhy and the others proposed “removing 83 victims” (out of 86!) and one of the charges.

In court on January 18, Mustafa Degermendzhy demanded clarification as to the updated charge against him.  Which country had the alleged crime taken place?  At what time, and in which specific place was he supposed to have committed a crime?  Whose orders were they saying that he was following, and which laws is he alleged to have breached?

It was not the first time that Degermendzhy has put such questions without receiving any sensible answers, and this was no exception.  The ‘prosecutor’ was unable to answer and asserted only that ‘a detailed specification is not required for presenting charges”. 

Details may not be needed at the moment of lodging charges, but this ‘trial’ has been floundering badly for almost two years, and there clearly are no answers to these most crucial of questions. 

The men are alleged to have disobeyed police orders, though none has been given specific details as to when this took place, and all are adamant that they neither received, nor disobeyed, any police orders.  Any such orders would, of course, have been issued by one Ukrainian to another Ukrainian and not even remotely within Russia’s jurisdiction.

Worth noting Eskender Kantemirov’s explanation of his brief conflict with an alleged ‘victim’ – Sergei Berbenets.  Kantemirov explains that the latter was in ‘Cossack uniform’ and made insulting racist comments to him.  He became angry, grabbed the man’s cap and flung it in his face. In Talyat Yunusov’s case, a brief conflict with Alexei Ivkin had arisen because the latter refused to make a corridor between the pro-unity demonstrators and a smaller, but still significant, crowd of pro-Russian supporters. 

It was reported back in February 2015 that the FSB had effectively advertised for ‘witnesses’, asserting that evidence of injuries was not required. The 86 first obtained, of whom 83 were only discarded more than a year into the ’trial’, were often people directly linked with the regime imposed by Russian soldiers, and their testimony was openly dubious.  The Memorial Human Rights Centre, in declaring Chiygoz, Asanov and Degermendzhy political prisoners, pointed out how questionable all such ‘testimony’ had been. 

It was repeatedly demonstrated during the trial of Chiygoz that the ‘prosecution’ was overtly anti-Crimean Tatar and had ignored numerous examples where pro-Russian activists had used violence and deliberately provoked trouble. 

There is considerable evidence that Russia was planning to use certain pro-Russian politicians in Crimea to bring about a supposed change in Crimean status on February 26, 2014, without the overt use of Russian soldiers.  The trials of Chiygoz and the other men bear all the hallmarks of politically-motivated persecution, probably motivated by revenge for having foiled the Kremlin’s plan for seizing Crimea without soldiers and the resulting international condemnation (details here and here). 


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