war crimes in Ukraine

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Criminal charges against Crimean Tatar who refused to be silent about savage FSB torture

Halya Coynash
The de facto military prosecutor in Russian-occupied Crimea has refused to initiate criminal proceedings against the FSB officers who abducted and tortured 31-year-old Crimean Tatar Rinat Paralamov.  Two criminal investigations have, however, been launched against the victim who refused to remain silent about the FSB’s treatment of him

The de facto military prosecutor in Russian-occupied Crimea has refused to initiate criminal proceedings against the FSB officers who abducted and tortured 31-year-old Crimean Tatar Rinat Paralamov.  Two criminal investigations have, however, been launched against the victim who refused to remain silent about the FSB’s treatment of him.

Paralamov’s lawyer Emil Kurbedinov spoke of the developments at the latest meeting of the civic initiative Crimean Solidarity on 30 June.  The refusal by the Russian-controlled military prosecutor to initiate proceedings against Paralamov’s FSB torturers was not, it has to be said, unexpected.  The two criminal investigations on explosives charges were less predictable, if only because Paralamov’s torturers had used horrific measures to force him to sign a range of ‘confessions’. 

Kurbedinov stressed that they were gathering all the necessary documentation so as to pass the cases of Paralamov and other abducted Crimeans to international bodies, including to the UN Committee against Torture.

Kurbedinov’s colleague, Lilya Hemedzhy explained that they had already spoken with the UN Special Rapporteur against Torture, Nils Melzer and provided detailed information both about Paralamov’s case, and about Reshat Ametov, the 39-year-old Crimean Tatar who came out in peaceful protest on 1 March 2014 against Russia’s invasion of his homeland.  Ametov was seized by the paramilitaries who helped Russia’s military take control of Crimea.  His horrifically mutilated body was found two weeks later.  There have effectively been no efforts to find Ametov’s killers despite video footage showing the abduction (details here).

The lawyers are preparing documents for Meltzer and hope that he can raise the issue with the Russian Federation.

As reported, Paralamov was seized after men in masks turned up at the family home before 6 a.m. on September 13.  He doesn’t know why they targeted him, but had taken an active part in collecting money to pay the ever-increasing number of fines which the regime is using to try to crush opposition.  He had also never concealed his religious views, nor his attitude to the “given situation on the peninsula”.

The men did not identify themselves, and two of them with insignia indicating the FSB tried o conceal this after a large number of neighbours and friends gathered.  While they gave no indication of who they were, the police who were called silently retreated into the background after speaking with them, and later followed them in leaving. 

The paper the men waved in front of Paralamov  gave permission only for an ‘inspection’, however the men reacted aggressively when he pointed this out.  The family was not given a copy of the ‘inspection’ order, and Paralamov recalls only that it mentioned Viktor Palagin, the notorious Russian FSB General brought into Crimea soon after Russia’s invasion and annexation.

Paralamov refused to sign the document and also demanded that they call different ‘witnesses’, not those whom they had, in breach of the law, brought with them.

He was not informed of any charges, etc., simply forced into their car and taken away, with a bag over his head and in handcuffs.  After this, Paralamov simply disappeared and throughout Wednesday every police and FSB office in Crimea denied any knowledge of his whereabouts.

The search for him intensified on Thursday morning, and a Nizhnegorsk police officer, citing the FSB, told the crowd gathered that Paralamov  was at the FSB in Simferopol being questioned.  It was claimed, most absurdly, that Paralamov had been released at 16.00 on Sept. 13, and had ‘voluntarily’ arrived at the FSB offices the following morning “to add something to his explanation”.

At the Simferopol FSB, however, Kurbedinov was told that Paralamov was not there.  Later they tried to claim that he had not identified himself and they did not know who he was, which was also absurdly implausible, as Kurbedinov is very well-known, and he had all necessary documents, including a letter authorizing him to represent Paralamov.

The lawlessness continued.  In the early afternoon, the FSB simply dumped Paralamov at a coach station. He was rescued from there in a terrible state and taken to hospital. It is an indicator of the regime of terror that the FSB has imposed that the first two hospitals they tried to take Paralamov  to refused to admit him, although he was very clearly in need of hospital care.

He spoke first that evening about the torture he had faced, with more information provided in early November at a first press conference in Kyiv.  

He explained that the men had taken him, still with the bag over his head, to a building, where most of the torture took place.

They began by asking basic questions.  Paralamov, who still had a bag over his head, immediately cited his constitutional right to not answer, and demanded to have a lawyer present.  The men laughed, and then a man, whose voice Paralamov recognized as being one of the men who’d arrived at his home, came up and punched him in the chest, saying that he was his ‘lawyer’.  The next punch was to the back of the neck.

He was told he had two ‘choices’.  Either he lost his health and did what they said, or he did what they said, without any damage to his health.

After that they used electric shocks from which he several times lost consciousness.  At one point they clearly got worried that they had killed him and stopped for a while.  They brought in a woman in a white coat who gave him some kind of injection, then pulled his jaw and said he was pretending when he showed it was painful, saying that he’d been given an injection. 

This so-called doctor then left and the torture continued.  Paralamov  was in obvious distress as he described how they had threatened to rape first him, using barbed wire, then his wife.

It was after this that he agreed to sign their documents.  One was an ‘interrogation’ protocol in which he ‘confessed’ to having found an explosive substance and bullets and hidden them, that he was a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, the peaceful pan-Islamist organization which is legal in Ukraine and most countries, but which Russia has claimed is ‘terrorist’, etc.

They also got him to sign a document saying he had left the FSB at 4 p.m. on 13 September, and ‘voluntarily’ returned to confess the following day after spending the night in a park.  Another document claimed that he had “voluntarily agreed to cooperate with the security service’.

They did not specify what exactly his ‘cooperation’ was to entail, but did get him to speak on a video, both then and the following day in the forest where he supposedly indicated where he had found the secret stock of explosives.

It should be noted that this is very similar to the treatment of at least five Ukrainians  arrested in 2014 whom the FSB claimed were carrying out ‘sabotage’ for the Ukrainian military in Crimea.  Three of the men – Redvan SuleymanovVolodymyr Prysich and Oleksiy Stohniy have since been jailed on charges quite different from what they supposedly ‘confessed to’.  Two other men – Yevhen Panov and Andriy Zakhtei – have given an account of the torture methods used to extract their ‘confessions’ that is very similar to what Paralamov describes.

Lawyer Edem Semedlyaev believes it possible that the FSB might have planned such ‘saboteur’ charges in Paralamov’s case also.

Paralamov  himself was told that he would be put on trial in about six months and would get a three-year suspended sentence.  They said that they would provide their ‘lawyer’ so that he didn’t turn to independent lawyers like Semedlyaev and Emil Kurbedinov.  If he tried to run away, they said, they would pass to the media his ‘agreement’ to collaborate with them.

The FSB again got it wrong.  Paralamov agreed that very evening to publicly talk about this experiences, and has done so since.  His abduction and then the torture were widely reported, as was the detention of Emil Kurbedinov and a number of Crimean Tatar activists who were waiting with Paralamov’s mother the next day as she demanded, without success, to see the head of the FSB.  They were detained after Paralamov  recognized one of his abductors and torturers in a man leaving the building.  It is now known that this was Andriy Volodymyrovych Sushko, a former Ukrainian SBU officer who switched allegiance after Russia’s invasion.

Paralamov’s openness made it impossible for him to remain in Crimea.  He left the peninsula within several days, having only risked spending one night in his own home.  He was in hospital in Kyiv for 15 days, recovering from his ordeal, but needed to wait until his wife and four children were safely out of Crimea before he gave any press conference or interview.

Even without the ‘criminal charges’, there is probably no way back to Crimea while it remains under Russian occupation.  The price is high, but, as Paralamov explained, “if I’m silent, they’ll come for others”.


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