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Russia uses torture-like conditions to try to break imprisoned Crimean Tatar civic activists

Halya Coynash
25 Crimean Tatar civic activists and journalists are being held in Russia, in conditions tantamount to torture either to try to break them, or in revenge because all the men understand that the charges against them are political and refuse to be cowered

25 Crimean Tatar civic activists and journalists are being held in Russia, in conditions tantamount to torture.  The men have not been convicted of any crime, and no questioning or investigative measures are being carried out.  It seems clear that the aim behind the appalling conditions, and the gruelling transfers from one SIZO [remand prison] to another is to try to break the men down, so that they admit to whatever is demanded of them. 

Or it may be in reprisal for refusing to be broken.  Certainly lawyer Edem Semedlyaev is adamant that the methods will not succeed.  “Our guys are not like that.  They clearly understand why they have been imprisoned there, that this is a politically motivated case and they are therefore very firm in their position and are ready to uphold their innocence.”

The arrests on 27 March 2019 of the first 24 civic activists was the biggest, and most obviously political, ‘operation’ carried out by the FSB since Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea.  The men were almost immediately, and in conditions of maximum secrecy, taken to Russia, with this only the first of several ‘etaps’ – transfers from SIZO to SIZO.  The conditions during such transfers, which can last weeks, are particularly bad, with the men in especial danger since their lawyers do not even know where they are.

It is most often from the men’s lawyers that we know just how bad the conditions are in Russian (and the Crimean) SIZO, since the men generally try not to worry their families.

Even without any targeted reprisals, the men can be transported for hours in very stuffy and filthy police vans, and then held in horrifically unsanitary cells. Often the drains are rusty and leak, with faeces or other waste seeping through the walls from higher floors.  In describing a visit to activist Tofik Abdulgaziev and journalist Remzi Bekirov, lawyer Emil Kurbedinov said that until these waves of political prisoners, he had only heard of such conditions in the stories recounted by victims of Stalin’s Deportation of the entire Crimean Tatar people in 1944.  

In the Krasnodar SIZO, 50 people or more are held in a cell of no more than 20 m², with a bucket in the middle of the cell. The conditions in at least the Taganrog SIZO are even worse. 

Three of the men – civic journalists Remzi Bekirov and Osman Arifmemetov and civic activist Vladlen Abdulkadyrov - were not at home when the armed and masked ‘enforcement’ officers arrived on the morning of 27 March 2019 and were treated with particular savagery when taken prisoner late that night.  It seems likely that the FSB had planned this case with 24 ‘defendants’, so when the 24th man,  Edem Yayachikov, was (seemingly) not found, they arrested another activist, Rayim Aivazov, instead.  He described his arrest during the detention hearing, saying that he had been beaten and subjected to a mock execution.

The FSB later added another activist, Eskender Suleymanov, the brother of Crimean Solidarity civic journalist Ruslan Suleymanov to this ‘case’.  A few days after Ruslan was arrested, his 70-year-old mother  held a ‘single-person picket’ (the only legal form of protest under Russian occupation), under a banner reading “My son is not a terrorist”.  Then, in June 2019, they came for her second son. During the latter arrest, an FSB officer pulled out a pistol and aimed it at her.  When she told him to go on and shoot her, and let her die, now that they had taken both her sons from her, the man laughed and said that “we’ll get around to shooting you all” (please see and share the interview). 

Although Russia had targeted civic activists and journalists from the outset, this was by far the most brazen attack and received widespread condemnation.  The renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre issued a damning assessment, saying that Russia was using fabricated ‘terrorism’ charges carrying huge sentences to try to crush the Crimean Solidarity movement in occupied Crimea and all Crimean Tatar human rights activists. 

The men are not accused of any recognizable crime, with the charges based solely on unproven involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a peaceful pan-Islamist party which is legal in Ukraine.  Memorial has consistently condemned such prosecutions and says that Russia is the only country in the world that has declared Hizb ut-Tahrir a ‘terrorist organization’.

“In not one of the criminal prosecutions that we are aware of, that have resulted in more than 250 Muslims being imprisoned, has there been any sign of terrorism, or even of plans or discussion of terrorist acts or the use of weapons”.

“This time repression is directed not merely against peaceful Muslims, not simply against Crimean Tatars, but against peaceful civic resistance to the Kremlin’s political repression in Crimea. People who have provided victims with information support, who organized parcels to prisoners and help for their families, and regularly attended politically motivated court hearings, have now ended up behind bars. Most of the arrested men are connected with the human rights movement Crimean Solidarity which supports victims of persecution.  It is extremely likely that in this situation, the convenient and already standard charge of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir is purely a pretext and means for crushing Crimean Tatars’ civic solidarity and activism.”

The 25 political prisoners

Izet Abdulayev, b. 22.10.1986, has actively attended politically motivated ‘court’ hearings.  He and his wife have two small children, one of whom was born after his arrest.

Tofik Abdulgaziev, b. 19.06.1981. is a Crimean Solidarity activist, who has done the sound recordings for Crimean Solidarity meetings and for the civic initiative for the children of political prisoners ‘Crimean Childhood.  He has three children

Vladlen Abdulkadyrov. 28/12.1979, is an activist who was involved in organizing parcels of food, etc. for political prisoners.  He has three children.

Medzhit Abdurakhmanov, b. 02.02.1975, is a Crimean Solidarity activist.  He has two children.

Bilyal Adilov, b. 27.05.1970, is a religious figure who has also actively attended politically motivated ‘court’ hearings.  He has eight children.

Rayim Aivazov, b. 30.01.1994, is a Crimean Solidarity activist.  He and his wife have one small child.

Enver Ametov, b. 02.08.1975, actively attended politically motivated ‘court’ hearings.  He has three children.

Osman Arifmemetov, b. 28.08.1985, is a Maths and IT teacher, and a  Crimean Solidarity civic journalist and activist.  He has two small children.

Farid Bazarov, b. 22.08.1986, Crimean Solidarity activist.  He has four children.

Akim Bekirov, b. 18.10.1968 is a civic activist who was involved in organizing parcels of food, etc. for political prisoners, and in organizing IT security.  His wife was expecting their second child when he was arrested

Remzi Bekirov, b. 20.02.1985, is a historian and a Crimean Solidarity civic journalist.  He has three children.

Dzhemil Gafarov, b. 31.05.1962, actively attended all politically motivated ‘court’ hearings.   

Servet Gaziev, 15.04.1960, actively attended all politically motivated ‘court’ hearings

Riza Izetov, b. 24.01.1979, is a human rights activist and Crimean Solidarity civic journalist.  His wife was expecting their third child when he was arrested.

Alim Karimov, b. 08.04.1994, is a Crimean Solidarity activist.  He has one child.

Seiran Murtaza, b. 27.11.1983, actively attended all politically motivated ‘court’ hearings. He has two children.

Yashar Muyedinov, b. 14.04.1968, is a Crimean Solidarity activist.  He has eight children.

Erfan Osmanov, b. 03.09.1982, actively attended all politically motivated ‘court’ hearings.  He has two children.

Seitveli Seitabdiev, b.16.03.1994, is a Crimean Solidarity activist. He has two children.

Rustem Seitkhalilov, b. 18.01.1984, is a Crimean Solidarity activist.  He has three children.

Rustem Sheikhaliev, b. 22.06.1979, is a Crimean Solidarity civic journalist. He has three children.

Eskender Suleymanov,  Crimean Solidarity activist.

Ruslan Suleymanov, b. 21.04.1983, is a physics teacher and Crimean Solidarity civic journalist and activist.  He has four children.

Shaban Umerov, b. 22.10.1969, is a Crimean Solidarity activist.  He has three children.

Asan Yanikov, b. 11.09.1986, is a civic activist involved in organizing food parcels for political prisoners.

Edem Yayachikov, 01.05.1982, is a Crimean Solidarity activist, who actively attended all political ‘court’ hearings.  He has three children.

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