war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Political prisoners deported to Russia speak out on anniversary of Crimean Tatar Deportation

Halya Coynash
During a court hearing on 18 May, eight political prisoners honoured the victims of Stalin’s 1944 Deportation and pointed to the new methods of terror and intimidation that Moscow is now using against Crimean Tatars

Within two months of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Moscow deployed soldiers, FSB and even military helicopters to prevent remembrance gatherings on the seventieth anniversary of the Deportation of the Crimean Tatar people.  The same bans were in force in occupied Crimea for the 76th anniversary on 18 May 2020, while for eight victims of modern Russia’s deportation, it was repression as usual. Or not quite as usual since the eight recognized political prisoners all held placards remembering the victims of Stalin’s 1944 Deportation and pointing out that the Kremlin is once again deporting Crimean Tatars, this time to Russian prisons.   

Server Mustafayev, Crimean Solidarity coordinator, civic journalist and Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, came with a Statement for the Day of Remembrance of 18 May 1944.  Identifying himself as a citizen of Ukraine, the Kremlin’s political prisoner, a prisoner of conscience and father of four small children, he said that he too had been forcibly deported to the territory of the aggressor state – the Russian Federation.

“These so-called ‘trials’ on this sombre date, for me personally, and for my people, is an indicator of the Russian Federation’s attitude to us, and of its generally formal words about our rights, about peace in Crimea, about justice and so forth. In court we are continuing to defend our history, dignity, religion, culture and right to our own views. We are defending the dignity of our people and our native Crimea because neither Crimea, nor we as a people, were ever subjugated.”

They are continuing the non-violent struggle for the right to their own views, to practise their religion, begun by their predecessors, he writes, and continues:

“Our people from the outset chose the position of truth which differed from the official, criminal [position] of the de facto Russian authorities in modern Crimea regarding the events of 2014.”

Russia, as successor to Stalin’s Soviet Union is continuing its genocide, Mustafayev writes, with the international community showing their total inability to stop this absurdity which is making a mockery of international norms and agreements.  Regardless of all of this, he stresses, they remain firm and confident that there can only be peaceful struggle to achieve the greater goal.

“Systematic pressure on the Crimean Tatar people, repression against Ukrainian citizens on religious and ethnic grounds; ethnic and political persecution of Crimean Tatars, of the Mejlis, of imams, human rights defenders, civic activists and journalists by the Russia authorities and enforcement agencies are deliberate policy of ethnocide of Crimeans and Crimean Tatars.”

Mustafayev goes on to express understandable frustration that Ukraine has thus far done nothing at legislative level to resolve the issue of the status of political prisoners in Crimea, and that (most) Crimean political prisoners have not been part of the exchange of prisoners which is very far from the commitment in the Minsk agreement  to release “all for all”.

The trial of Server Mustafayev; four other civic journalists Ernes AmetovMarlen (Suleyman) Asanov; Timur Ibragimov and Seiran Saliyev; as well as Memet Belyalov; Edem Smailov and Server Zekiryaev, is the first where Russia has openly targeted civic activists and journalists.  Effectively all of the men were active, to varying degrees, in the civic initiative Crimean Solidarity.  Although the latter arose to help political prisoners and their families, it is almost certainly the active coverage it provides of repression in occupied Crimea that has prompted Russia to come down against its activists and civic journalists so heavily. 

Since the arrests of these eight men in October 2017 and May 2018, the FSB has become even more brazen at targeting civic activists.  By May 2020, of around 90 Ukrainian political prisoners known to be held in Crimea or Russia, approximately 70 are Crimean Tatar, with at least half being civic journalists and activists.

The vast majority, including the eight men in this trial, are facing spurious ‘terrorism’ charges, although not one is accused of any recognizable crime or even of planning to commit such a crime.  They are accused merely of alleged ‘involvement’ in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a peaceful pan-Islamist movement which is legal in Ukraine and which is not known to have committed any acts of terrorism or violence anywhere in the world.  Russia is literally the only country to have declared Hizb ut-Tahrir ‘terrorist’, and its Supreme Court did so in 2003 at an effectively secret hearing which was only made public when it was too late for it to be appealed.

The FSB always designates at least one person for the more serious charge of ‘organizing a Hizb ut-Tahrir group’ (under Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code), with this carrying a sentence of up to life imprisonment.  The others are accused of ‘involvement’ in such an alleged ‘group’ (under Article 205.5 § 2). 

In this case, three men have been designated the ‘organizers’’ role: Marlen Asanov; Timur Ibragimov and Memet Belyalov.  All eight men were informed in February 2019 that they were facing another charge – of ‘‘planning to violently seize power’’ under Article 278 of Russia’s criminal code (‘planning a violent seizure of power’).  There is no empirical reason for such charges, and the Russian Memorial Human Rights Centre has pointed to evidence that the FSB applies this extra charge in cases where men refuse to ‘admit guilt’.

The hearing that the prosecution chose to hold on Remembrance Day for the Victims of the Deportation was the 33rd to date.  The number of hearings is by no means linked with the amount of evidence against the men, rather the contrary. On 18 May, for example, the prosecutor read out excerpts from religious material removed during the armed searches of the men’s homes.  The Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets seemingly found dated back to before Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea, and should not even have been allowed to remain in the case material.

The defendants are well-educated men facing monstrously long sentences on absurd charges and both they, and their lawyers, insist on their right to a proper examination of such alleged material.  They also try to closely question the so-called ‘secret witnesses’ whose identity is concealed from the defence. These supposed ‘witnesses’ are normally nothing of the sort, however the court has consistently obstructed efforts to expose the flawed and dishonest nature of such ‘testimony’.

Russia’s use of ‘terrorism’ legislation for persecution of Crimean Tatars has been condemned by Human Rights Watch and the Memorial Human Rights Centre.  The latter considers all Muslims convicted merely of involvement in a peaceful organization like Hizb ut-Tahrir to be political prisoners.  It has also repeatedly pointed out that Russia is in breach of international law by applying its legislation on occupied territory. 

Mustafayev is, however, right that not enough is being done to stop Russia’s persecution and to secure the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners.  It is small wonder that many Crimean Tatars see both 1944 and 2014 as tragic years for their people.  They believe that all the arrests of Crimean Tatars and their imprisonment in Russia are a new deportation, with each wave of arrests aimed at intimidating other Crimean Tatars into silence or exile.


The letters tell them they are not forgotten, and show Moscow that the ‘trial’ now underway is being followed. 

Letters need to be in Russian, and on ‘safe’ subjects.  If that is a problem, use the sample letter below (copying it by hand), perhaps adding a picture or photo. Do add a return address so that the men can answer.

At the moment all eight political prisoners are in the same SIZO [remand prison] in Rostov-on-Don.  The address is below and can be written in either Russian or in English transcription.  The particular addressee’s name and year of birth need to be given.

Sample letter


Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение. Простите, что мало пишу – мне трудно писать по-русски, но мы все о Вас помним.

[Hi.  I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released.  I’m sorry that this letter is short – it’s hard for me to write in Russian., but you are not forgotten. ] 



344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Аметову, Эрнесу Сейяровичу,  1985 г.р.

 [In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Ametov, Ernes Seyarovich, b. 1985  ]

Marlen Asanov

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Асанову, Марлену Рифатовичу, 1977 г. р

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Asanov, Marlen Rifatovich, b. 1977 ]

Memet Belyalov

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Белялову, Мемету Решатовичу, 1989 г.р.  

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Belyalov, Memet Reshatovich, b. 1989 ]

Timur Ibragimov

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Ибрагимову, Тимуру Изетовичу, 1985 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Ibragimov, Timur Izetovich, b. 1985 ]

Server Mustafayev

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Мустафаеву,  Серверу Рустемовичу, 1986 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Mustafayev, Server Rustemovich,  b. 1986 ]

Seiran Saliev

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Салиеву,  Сейрану Алимовичу, 1985 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Saliev, Seiran Alimovich, b. 1985 ]

Edem Smailov

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Смаилову,  Эдему Назимовичу, 1968 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Smailov, Edem Nazimovich, b. 1968 ]

Server Zekiryaev

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Зекирьяеву, Серверу Зекиевичу, 1973 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Zekiryaev, Server Zekievich, b. 1973 ]


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