Sentenced into silence for saying that Crimea is Ukraine & reporting Russian repression
“You can jail a person, but how do you imprison thoughts?” The question was put by Suleyman Kadyrov on 3 May during the appeal hearing against his 2-year suspended sentence for writing on Facebook that Crimea is Ukraine. Kadyrov’s sentence, like the fabricated charges used to imprison civic journalists and activists like Volodymyr Baluch, Nariman Memedeminov and members of Crimea Solidarity, is clearly aimed at silencing dissent and those who report human rights abuse in occupied Crimea
Suleyman Kadyrov was convicted on 1 March 2018 of what was called ‘making public calls to violate Russia’s territorial integrity’ for writing on Facebook that “Crimea is Ukraine. It always was, is and will be”. The 54-year-old Crimean Tatar was the third Ukrainian, after journalist Mykola Semena and Crimean Tatar Mejlis leader Ilmi Umerov, to be sentenced on this charge for stating a fact recognized by all international bodies and democratic states. All these cases are political with the sentences determined at a higher level, nonetheless ‘judge’ Anastasia Shapoval from the Feodosia Court was still in grave breach of her oath in handing down the suspended sentence, together with a two-year ban on any public activities. The same applies to ‘judge’ Yelena Mikhalkova from the Russian-controlled High Court who on 3 May upheld the first ruling.
Kadyrov’s speech to the court back in March was powerful, and he was equally strong when addressing the ‘court’ on 3 May. He stressed that he rejected the charges and that there were no elements of a crime in the indictment.
“You can jail a person, you can even kill him. But how do you imprison thoughts. How do you kill faith? How do you force the others to not think? How do you strip everybody of their humanity? Perhaps only by stealing their soul, their heart and reason, and that is assuredly not in your power”.
Kadyrov was formally charged over a video reposted from ‘Demyan Demyanchenko’, which he accompanied with the commentary: “Suleyman Kadyrov agrees! Crimea is Ukraine. It always was, is and will be! Thanks to the author for the video. I support it”. This was from March 2016, and the first visitation by FSB and other enforcement officers, some with machine guns, came on 5 October 2016.
In April 2017, well before the trial, Kadyrov became the latest Ukrainian to be added to Russia’s ‘List of Terrorists and Extremists’, with this meaning that the bank account from which he received his pension was blocked, as well as numerous other difficulties on an everyday basis.
Like Kadyrov (who resigned from the police force after Russia’s invasion), Volodymyr Balukh has faced persecution essentially for remaining true to his country.
The grossly fabricated charges against the 47-year-old Ukrainian farmer and activist were laid on December 8, 2016, nine days after he nailed a plaque renaming his home No. 18 “Heroes of Nebesna Sotnya St’ in memory of the over 100 Maidan activists who were killed during Euromaidan. He had rejected demands from the head of the local council to remove it. He had already faced a number of other less serious prosecutions which were all very clearly linked with the Ukrainian flag that he refused to remove from the roof of his home.
During a grossly irregular ‘search’ of his home, 90 bullets and several trotyl explosive devices were allegedly ‘found’ in his attic. He had no record of violence and the constant searches and series of administrative prosecutions he had faced since Russia’s invasion of Crimea for his openly pro-Ukrainian position made it inconceivable that he could have held anything illegal in his home.
The implausibility of the charges was just one of several compelling reasons why the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre declared him a political prisoner well before the trial.
He was sentenced (after a farcical ‘retrial’ on technical grounds) on 16 January 2018 to three years and seven months’ imprisonment. He has been on hunger strike in protest at this political persecution since 19 March.
The list of victims of repression is very long, with the number of people like human rights activist Emir-Usein Kuku and members of Crimea Solidarity, an initiative to help political prisoners and their families, rising. There has also been overt pressure on Crimea Solidarity, including an offensive in which dogs and men with machine guns were deployed on 27 January 2018.
These words are being written on 3 May - World Press Freedom Day, a date of relevance to occupied Crimea only in highlighting Russia’s effective crushing of free media and independent journalists over the last four years.
It is, however, an appropriate day for western NGOs defending journalists to give some attention to the imprisonment of Crimean Tatar civic journalist and activist Nariman Memedeminov who was arrested on 22 March 2018 after an armed search of his home that left his daughter and two small sons deeply traumatized.
He remains in custody, facing charges under Article 205.2 § 2 of Russia’s criminal code (‘public calls to carry out terrorist activities’) which are solely over YouTube videos from before annexation. Given Russia’s highly questionable application of ‘terrorism’ legislation and the fact that YouTube had no problem with the videos, it seems likely that they showed events linked with Hizb ut-Tahrir, a pan-Islamist organization which is legal in Ukraine. Russia declared it ‘terrorist’ in secret, so that the organization and human rights organizations could not appeal, and now uses it to sentence totally law-abiding and peaceful Muslims to huge sentences, even life imprisonment.
It is near certain that the real reason for Memedeminov’s arrest was his tireless and critically important work as a civic journalist circulating information about human rights violations in Crimea.