Russia brings insane criminal charges against Crimean Tatar leader for supporting Ukraine
Russia’s Investigative Committee has initiated ‘criminal charges’ against Refat Chubarov, Chair of the Mejlis, or self-governing body, of the Crimean Tatar people. A charge of ‘organizing mass riots’ may sound serious, but the IC is referring to a pre-annexation demonstration (and not a mass riot) on Ukrainian territory, over which Russia could have no jurisdiction. This is not the only fatal flaw in a new prosecution which seems clearly aimed at anti-Mejlis propaganda in the run-up to the March on Crimea (the March of Dignity against Violence and Occupation) scheduled for 2-3 May this year.
Russia, and the occupation regime in Crimea, obviously want to use terms like “mass riots, accompanied by violence” with respect to Chubarov, the Mejlis, and Crimean Tatars in general. They have a problem since Crimean Tatar resistance to Russia’s occupation and repression has been unwaveringly non-violent. Returning to the demonstration on 26 February 2014 is, nonetheless, extraordinarily foolish, and not only because of the legal nihilism of laying charges over an event that took place on Ukrainian soil under Ukrainian law.
Russia has already faced international condemnation over its imprisonment and trial of Akhtem Chiygoz, First Deputy Chair of the Mejlis and other Crimean Tatars over the demonstration on 26 February 2014. The prosecutions were openly anti-Crimean Tatar and appeared to be in reprisal against the Mejlis which had effectively prevented Russia from carrying out a coup that day and claiming that Crimea had voluntarily chosen to be annexed
Learning that certain pro-Russian politicians, with Russian FSB backing, were planning to push through a thoroughly illegal move to change Crimea’s status, the Mejlis called on Crimean Tatars and all other Ukrainians to gather outside the Crimean Parliament. The Ukrainian authorities had been informed of the planned demonstration, and of a smaller pro-Russian demonstration, which was all that was required under Ukrainian law.
Any disturbances were due to two counter-demonstrations in the same area, and there are hours and hours of video footage showing all the Mejlis leaders, including Chubarov and Chiygoz, working throughout the demonstration to calm tempers and to prevent violence. A considerable amount of the deliberate crushing and acts of violence can be seen on video causing trouble, but all of this was totally ignored by the Russian FSB and ‘prosecutor’.
Chiygoz was arrested on 29 January 2015, with two other Crimean Tatars – Ali Asanov and Mustafa Degermendzhy – both also imprisoned for two years on provably false charges over the demonstration. Chiygoz was represented by Russian lawyer Nikolai Polozov who tirelessly demonstrated the political nature of the ‘trial’.
It was thanks to Polozov’s efforts and this surreal ‘trial’ that a number of inconvenient details were revealed about Russia’s ‘operation’. These included the accidental admission that among those present at the pro-Russian part of the demonstration were the so-called ‘private military company’ Black Sea and a paramilitary Cossack organization from Sevastopol. It is believed, from the testimony of many witnesses, that it was after a large group of men arrived on coaches from Sevastopol and joined the pro-Russian demonstrators, that the pro-Russian side began behaving more aggressively (details here).
As mentioned, the Russian occupation regime targeted only Crimean Tatars, although pro-Russian demonstrators were present, and the two deaths that day were in fact on their side of the demonstration. Nobody was charged over the deaths, probably because it was clear that no Crimean Tatar was to blame. With respect to the death of Valentina Korneva, her husband specifically stated that he did not think the men on trial had had anything to do with it, and that it was probably paid pro-Russian thugs brought to the demonstration in two coaches.
Russia went through with this shameful ‘trial’ to the end, with Chiygoz sentenced on 12 September 2017 to 8 years’ imprisonment, and five Crimean Tatars, including Asanov and Degermendzhy, receiving suspended sentences.
Chiygoz and another persecuted Mejlis leader, Ilmi Umerov, were both released into exile on 25 October 2017, in a deal negotiated with the help of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. It now appears that the two men were in fact exchanged for two suspected Russia state killers, accused of at least one political killing in Turkey (details here). The Kremlin is refusing to provide any information to Chiygoz about the decree to release him, presumably because of the unsavoury details about just whom Russia wanted in exchange for Ukrainian political prisoners.
With all of this behind them, it seems incredible that Russia should have chosen to again talk about criminal charges over the 26 February 2014 demonstration.
Both Chubarov and veteran Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev were banned from their homeland within months of Russia’s invasion and annexation. Both have since had surreal criminal charges laid against them. In Chubarov’s case, these were over alleged ‘public calls to action aimed at violating Russian territorial integrity’. This is how the Russian occupiers label those Ukrainians who remain true to Ukraine and openly seek an end to Russia’s occupation of their land.
Since April 2017, Russia has been flouting the ruling of the UN International Court of Justice that it should revoke its illegal ban of the Mejlis. Instead it periodically stages armed arrests and show trials, with Russian propaganda pretending that the victims are linked to the Mejlis. The new charges against Chubarov are equally political, although Chubarov is doubtless right in seeing them as connected with the plans for a peaceful March of Dignity against Violence and Occupation. For the moment, this important initiative is still scheduled for the beginning of May, although that may well depend on the development of the coronavirus pandemic.