#StayHome and Help Russia’s Ukrainian Political Prisoners held in dangerously unsanitary conditions
Probably most of us are feeling imprisoned by the pandemic, unable to spend time outside or with friends. With around 90 Ukrainian political prisoners illegally imprisoned in occupied Crimea and Russia, many for several years, now is surely the perfect time to show them that they are not forgotten. We know from political prisoners how much of a lifeline letters provide. If it is hard to know what to write, or if writing in Russian is a problem, there are other letters that can be written on behalf of Crimean Tatar and other Ukrainian political prisoners, especially those held in over-crowded and totally unsanitary detention facilities which would prove a death-trap if any member of staff or prisoner contracted Covid-19.
In the Simferopol SIZO [remand prison], for example, civic activist Bilyal Adilov is being held prisoner together with 16 other men in a filthy and airless cell of 30 metres². During an appeal hearing against his detention on 8 April, Adilov’s lawyer, Aider Asamatov spelled out the obvious danger and was ignored. A large number of Crimean Tatars are held in this SIZO for their faith and civic activism, as too is Serhiy Filatov, the Jehovah’s Witness, recently sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for practising his faith. All of these cells are so overcrowded that the prisoners are forced to take turns sleeping on the same bunk, at a time when the WHO is warning of the dangers of any unnecessary physical contact.
Any movement on an exchange of prisoners seems to have now been halted. This makes pressure on Russia from other countries’ governments, the OSCE, and EU the only way of saving men who are facing persecution from an occupying state for their faith, convictions or active support for other political prisoners and reporting on human rights violations in occupied Crimea. It is clearly not acceptable for any prisoners to be held in conditions that endanger their lives, and this is a problem that all countries, including Ukraine are currently confronting in connection with the pandemic. In the case of Ukrainian political prisoners, the situation seems especially acute as these are Ukrainian citizens whose imprisonment is politically motivated and whom, in virtually all cases, Russia has no right to be holding prisoner.
In several cases, any delay could be fatal. 58-year-old Dzhemil Gafarov is gravely ill, with a serious kidney disease that in 2017 caused him to have a heart attack and that urgently needs proper treatment. It is not just international law which Russia is violating in this case since Gafarov’s condition should, even according to Russian legislation, preclude his imprisonment. Gafarov is very close to total kidney collapse and could die unless released (details here). 58-year-old Enver Omerov and 60-year-old Servet Gaziev are also in very bad health which the conditions of the SIZO are exacerbating. 55-year-old Volodymyr Dudka has several serious medical conditions and has dangerously high blood pressure.
Even trapped in our own homes, we can become the voice of these political prisoners. Ukrainians and others from around the world once united in action to ensure the release of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov. He is now a free man.
Some acts of support and solidarity need only the Internet. You can use Twitter or social media to circulate information about political prisoners and make calls TO government representatives in your country, the EU, etc. to demand their release in the face of the grave threat posed by Covid-19.
Write to the men! Russian FSB and other ‘investigators’ spend a lot of time trying to convince political prisoners that Ukraine has abandoned them, that nobody knows what they are going through, nor cares. Even if it’s hard to write in Russian, your very letters will demonstrate that this is not the case.
The numbers of prisoners and correspondingly huge list of names can be overwhelming. Below are details for how to write to a small number of the prisoners, as well as a list with hyperlinks to information about all of them. Where known, the hyperlinks contain addresses at the bottom.
Publicity is needed for all the Kremlin’s hostages, and any help in publicizing their persecution can help to ensure their release.
65 men, including nine Crimean Tatar civic journalists and around 25 civic activists, are facing the same ‘terrorism’ charges, based solely on unproven claims that they are involved in the peaceful Hizb ut-Tahrir party which is legal in Ukraine and which is not known to have ever committed acts of terrorism or violence. Russia is the only country in the world to have declared Hizb ut-Tahrir ‘terrorist’ and the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre suspects that it did so to provide grounds for extraditing Uzbek nationals to Uzbekistan to face religious persecution. If you are informing politicians and the media of these cases, please point out that all such prosecutions are flawed and in breach of international law (the Fourth Geneva Convention) 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
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 use of ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’ conveyor belt ‘trials’. 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 soon, and maximum publicity is needed
Zeytullaev is not one of the prisoners most at risk, but the father of three young girls has been imprisoned for over five years, and his case demonstrates the brutal cynicism with which the FSB ensures its ‘statistics’. He is serving a 15-year sentence without any crime.
See Crimean Tatar political prisoner sentenced to 15 years for the right Russian FSB paperwork (here and later, scroll down for the address)
Vyhivsky was abducted from occupied Crimea in September 2014, taken to Moscow and horrifically tortured, while held incommunicado for around 8 months. He did not have an independent lawyer until after he agreed, under the FSB’s “methods of persuasion”, to admit to bizarrely fluid ‘spying’ charges and was sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment. He is being held in virtually total solitary confinement.
The 55-year-old was seized in occupied Sevastopol in November 2016 as part of Russia’s second attempt to concoct a ‘Ukrainian saboteur’ show trial. There was no evidence for the charges against him and academics Oleksiy Bessarabov and Dmytro Shtyblikov, yet all three men are imprisoned in Russia, with Dudka and Bessarabov receiving particularly shocking 14-year sentences in reprisal for their refusal to confess to crimes they never committed.
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