If Crimea is Ukraine, then take real measures to defend Crimean Tatar political prisoners
With Russia’s most famous Ukrainian hostages released, Russian President Vladimir Putin may well be feeling pleased with himself. The two exchanges were achieved at great cost to Ukraine, and brought an end to tiresome demands from media NGOs and the international community for the release of Oleg Sentsov, Roman Sushchenko and Stanislav Aseyev. Nine Crimean Tatar civic journalists are also imprisoned, as well as a huge number of civic activists, but few remember their names, or those of the other Ukrainian political prisoners held in occupied Crimea and Russia. Numbers of political prisoners are mentioned, together with assurances from Ukraine’s leaders that none are forgotten, but numbers do not translate into international campaigns for the men’s release and pressure on Moscow.
That anonymity is tantamount to betrayal, as a major factor in Russia’s persecution of Crimean Tatars has been their unwavering identification with Ukraine, and the role many have played in highlighting rights violations. When Russia seized 24 Ukrainian seamen on 25 November 2018, it was Crimean Tatars who first rallied around to provide their imprisoned compatriots with warm clothes, food, etc, even taking supplies to Moscow where the men had been illegally moved. When Archbishop Klyment was detained in Simferopol on 3 March 2019, it was Crimean Tatar journalist Remzi Bekirov who ensured that information was swiftly streamed onto the Internet. Two weeks later, Bekirov himself was arrested, together with 23 other Crimean Tatar activists. All are now imprisoned in appalling conditions and facing huge sentences on fabricated charges which directly violate all Russia’s commitments under international law.
Crimean Solidarity, a human rights initiative that many of the political prisoners were involved in, recently began a campaign entitled “Become their voice” [Стань их голосом»]. People of all ages, who know a particular political prisoner well, make videos in which they speak of the person and express their support, either in Crimean Tatar or in Russian.
If Crimean Tatar and other Ukrainian political prisoners are to be released, Ukrainians in mainland Ukraine and people in other countries need to become their voice. We all know it’s possible, since that is precisely what so many people all around the world did for Oleg Sentsov. That means, for example,
- flash mobs (such as the ‘empty chairs;
- lobby your government to bring up these cases at every opportunity;
- contact national and international rights NGOs, asking them to issue statements or urgent actions in a political prisoner’s defence.
Any information, any acts of solidarity that attract media attention are valuable and increase awareness of the men’s plight and of Russia’s ongoing violations in illegally occupied Ukrainian Crimea.
If you feel outraged that Apple agreed to change its maps inside the Russian Federation, storm them with information about individual political prisoners and the human rights crimes that Russia is committing in occupied Crimea
- Share such correspondence on Twitter, Facebook
- Make sure that Apple see and that their address is included in anything you post
- Attach hashtags, (with, for example, #FreeRemziBekirov or another prisoner and #LetMyPeopleGo).
The same applies to Siemens, for its violation of sanctions on Crimea
Remind world leaders, like French President Emmanuel Macron, of the political prisoners when he talks of building ties with Russia, and says nothing about Crimea and Donbas.
In June 2019, despite pleas from Ukraine and all human rights NGOs, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe effectively waived their sanctions against Russia, imposed after its invasion of Crimea. PACE members who supported Russia’s return claimed that ‘dialogue’ was needed.
- Invite @PACE_News and individual PACE delegates to initiate real dialogue on political and religious persecution in occupied Crimea, citing specific examples.
Russia is very deliberately using ‘terrorism’ or ‘sabotage’ charges against Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians in order to stir up distrust and to push its claim that it was ‘defending’ Crimeans through its invasion and annexation. Not one of the 65 Crimean Tatars sentenced to or facing huge terms of imprisonment on ‘terrorism’ charges is accused of any actual or even planned crime. In fact, in no case involving Crimean political prisoners has there ever been any proof of real crimes, only of flagrant falsification of evidence.
It is very easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the repression. Few, if any of us, can be active in defence of 87 (at least) political prisoners.
‘Adopt’ one or two of the prisoners, or, perhaps, focus on a particular case. Russia’s use of conveyor belt repression, especially against Crimean Tatar activists, makes the task easier than one might think. 65 men, at least half of them civic activists / journalists are facing the same ‘terrorism’ charges, based solely on totally unproven claims that they are involved in the peaceful Hizb ut-Tahrir party which is legal in Ukraine and has never committed acts of terrorism or violence. Russia is the only country in the world to have declared Hizb ut-Tahrir ‘terrorist’ and Memorial HRC suspects that it did so to provide grounds for extraditing Uzbek nationals to Uzbekistan to face religious persecution. ALL such prosecutions are flawed and in breach of international law since Russia has no right to apply its legislation in occupied Crimea.
More details about such ‘trials’ here: Russian FSB “make their careers” by jailing Crimean Muslims on fake ’terrorism’ & ’extremism’ charges
The following are just two immediate examples, with the list below leading to information about other political prisoners. Please become their voice!
58-year-old Gafarov is one of the oldest of the 24 Crimean Tatar civic activists and journalists arrested on 27 March 2019. He is gravely ill, with a serious kidney disease that in 2017 caused him to have a heart attack and that urgently needs proper treatment. Russia’s mass operation that day and use of flawed ‘terrorism’ charges were widely condemned as an attack on civic activists and Gafarov, together with the others, has long been recognized by the Memorial Human Rights Centre as a political prisoner.
In Gafarov’s case, Russia is not just violating international law. According to Russia’s own legislation, his state of health should preclude his imprisonment, yet his detention keeps being extended, and his family and lawyer have needed to go to court merely to get him seen by a doctor. Gafarov is very close to total kidney collapse and could die unless released (details here).
12.11.2019 from left Refat Alimov, Arsen Dzhepparov, Vadim Siruk, Emir-Usein Kuku, Muslim Aliev, Inver Bekirov Photo Crimean Solidarity
Kuku, the son of a veteran of the Crimean Tatar national movement, was the first Crimean Tatar human rights activist to be targeted in Russia’s ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’ conveyor belt. The fact that he had already faced an attempted abduction and considerable FSB harassment before these new charges meant that his case was taken up by Amnesty International and other rights groups. In fact, there seems every reason to consider all six men: Muslim Aliev; Inver Bekirov ; Refat Alimov ; Arsen Dzhepparov ; Emir-Usein Kuku and Vadim Siruk prisoners of conscience, and they are all recognized as political prisoners by Memorial HRC.
Kuku was sentenced to 12 years’ maximum security imprisonment, the other men to sentences from 7 to 19 years without any crime at all. Their appeals are due to be heard in the next month or two, and maximum publicity is needed (details and addresses to write to here)
Crimean Tatar and other Ukrainian political prisoners held in occupied Crimea or Russia (press the name for more information)
‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’ conveyor belt prosecutions
22 March 2018 Nariman Memedeminov (a civic journalist)
10 May 2018 Enver Seytosmanov
14 February 2019
10 June 2019 FSB “We’ll get around to shooting you all”
Punishment for Euromaidan or for opposing Russia’s annexation of Crimea
Mykola Shyptur imprisoned since March 2014
‘Ukrainian Saboteur’ cases without any acts of sabotage or proof
Valentin VyhivskyImprisoned since September 2014
Accused of membership in Ukraine of organizations which Russia demonizes for political reasons
Other Ukrainian political prisoners