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Russia flouts its own law to avoid releasing gravely ill Crimean Tatar political prisoner

Halya Coynash

It is six months since Dzhemil Gafarov’s lawyer last formally requested the documents confirming that the 58-year-old Crimean Tatar is held in the conditions that even Russian legislation stipulates for a person with group 2 invalid status.  Since Gafarov is, in fact, held in conditions that place his life in danger, but is also a political prisoner, the Russian-controlled Crimean ‘prosecutor’ and prison administration cannot provide such documents and are doing nothing.

Rifat Yakhin informed Crimean Solidarity on 18 June that he has formally applied to the court to declare the inactivity of Oleg Kabakov, prosecutor from the Zheleznodorozhny District in Simferopol and prison service head, Pavel Pavlenko, unlawful and order that Pavlenko provide the documentation.   Yakhin explains that he first applied on 31 January 2020, and then again on 23 April, for the documents, and received no response.  It is for the prosecutor to ensure that the prison head complies with the law, and failure to do so means that he too is in breach of legislation.

This is not the first time that Gafarov’s lawyer and his wife have been forced to turn to the court over medical documentation, etc.  On 19 November 2019, Yakhin also lodged an administrative suit over the prison administration’s failure to ensure a medical examination.  The suit was partially allowed.

Like many Crimean Tatars, Gafarov was born (on 31 May 1962) in forced exile in Uzbekistan, however he graduated from the Dnipropetrovsk Institute of Construction and Civic Engineering in Soviet Ukraine in 1986.  He and his family moved to Crimea in 1997, where, among other posts, he was chief engineer for Dynamo – Crimea.  He and his wife have an adult adopted son, Selim Sherfedinov (b. 1994) and two underage daughters – Sefayye (b. 2006) and Tamilla (b. 2003).

Gafarov suffered a serious heart attack in 2017 and was diagnosed that same year with fourth stage chronic kidney disease, which is only a step away from the fifth stage, namely kidney failure.  According to Raziye Gafarova, this means that her husband is experiencing a permanent state of blood poisoning.  By now, the level of filtration of the kidneys is between a quarter and a third of what it would be for a person in good health.  According to Olga Mazurova, a Russian doctor and initiator of a petition calling for Gafarov to be released from custody, this is typical of a person in pre-dialysis stage.

This is an extremely serious condition for which Gafarov clearly needs adequate medical care.  Instead his family and lawyer have been forced to turn to the courts even to get him examined by doctors.  

They succeeded twice, however, Gafarov is a political prisoner and in each case the doctors provided what was expected of them, namely the claim that the 58-year-old was well enough to be in SIZO [remand prison], where the unsanitary and overcrowded conditions are tantamount to torture,  This is quite simply not true, with Gafarov’s medically documented condition serious enough to preclude his imprisonment even according to Russian legislation.

During at least one of the ‘examinations’, Gafarov was chained to a bed and surrounded by armed men. This appalling treatment was meted against a person who is not accused of any recognizable crime.  He is one of 24 Crimean Tatar civic activists and journalists who were arrested on 27 March 2019 in a move that was condemned by the international community. 

The authoritative Memorial Human Rights Centre issued a statement almost immediately, declaring all 24 men political prisoners.  Memorial pointed out that Russia is using fabricated charges carrying huge sentences to try to crush the Crimean Solidarity movement in occupied Crimea and all Crimean Tatar human rights activists who are involved in helping political prisoners and their families, and in many cases, reporting on rights abuses. Memorial’s analysis highlighted both the flawed nature of the charges which by now Russia has illegally brought against 65 Ukrainian Muslims in Crimea, and the real aim of the prosecutions, namely to silence Crimean Tatars with an active civic position. 

The ‘operation’ that began on 27 March 2019 was the largest-scale wave of armed searches and arrests since Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014.  All the men are accused of ‘involvement’ in the Hizb ut-Tahrir movement, a pan-Islamist party which is legal in Ukraine and which is not known to have ever committed any acts of terrorism anywhere in the world.  Some are accused of organizing a Hizb ut-Tahrir group (under Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code, with this carrying a sentence of around 20 years, while Gafarov and others are ‘only’ accused of taking part in such a supposed ‘group’ (under Article 205.5 § 2).  The sentence in this second case is still 10-20 years – for no crime, and on the basis of nonsense ‘expert assessment’ and ‘secret witnesses’ who claim that the defendant spoke about Hizb ut-Tahrir to them.

PLEASE SIGN AND CIRCULATE THE PETITION demanding that Gafarov be immediately hospitalized for an independent medical examination and that he be released from custody.


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