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.

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Court in Russia refuses to hear defence witnesses confirming Crimean Tatar political prisoners’ innocence

Halya Coynash

The Russian court in Rostov trying eight Crimean Tatar civic activists excelled itself on 11 August.  It first refused to allow four defence witnesses to give testimony once it was ascertained that they had nothing to say against the men, and then expelled Server Mustafayev until the end of the trial after the latter tried, perfectly politely, to object.   Presiding judge Rizvan Zubairov and his two colleagues could hardly have made it more obvious that this ‘trial’ is about getting to the predetermined guilty verdicts as quickly and effortlessly as possible, and witnesses confirming the flawed nature of the charges are not needed.

It is certainly true that a large number of witnesses for the defence (35) had already been questioned in court.  Such testimony is, however, of critical importance in a case where the main witnesses for the prosecution are either the FSB officers seeking the men’s conviction or so-called ‘secret witnesses’ whose identity is concealed despite there being no grounds at all for thinking that they would be in danger. It is also relevant when at least three of the supposed prosecution witnesses whose identity was not concealed have also testified in the men’s favour.

It is important to note that not one of the men is accused of any actual crime, nor is there any proof of any of the men’s involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir.  Since the prosecution has built its claim that the men either ‘organized’ a Hizb ut-Tahrir group, or were involved in such a group, on the basis of an illicitly recorded conversation in a mosque and the testimony of men concealing their identity, any testimony from neighbours, colleagues, religious leaders, effectively refuting the charges is of immense importance.  It is also a fundamental part of the right to defence

Despite the fact that the four witnesses in court on 11 August had come a long way to testify, Zubairov refused to allow them to take the stand after he asked if they knew of the men having carried out any illegal activities and received a negative reply.

Mustafayev tried to object but got only as far as silently raising his hand.  Without hearing what he had to say, the judges began conferring, and that Zubairov announced that Mustafayev was being removed until the end of the court proceedings.  This was supposedly because of “numerous violations of the rules for court hearings”.  

There was even an attempt by court bailiffs to get administrative charges drawn up against Mustafayev’s lawyers who sought to consult with him after a break was called.  The bailiffs backed down, unlike the panel of judges.

All of these moves were opposed by the men themselves and by their lawyers, however, as of 11 August, Mustafayev has been deprived of his right to defence and expelled from his own ‘trial’. 

The hearing on 11 August was the sixtieth in the trial of the eight men who are facing horrifically long prison sentences on so-called ‘terrorism’ charges, based solely on claims that they are involved in the peaceful Hizb ut-Tahrir party.  Russia is the only country in the world to have declared Hizb ut-Tahrir ‘terrorist’, with the Supreme Court ruling in 2003 providing no grounds to justify a decision which clashes with Russia’s own definition of terrorism. The renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre believes that this was a politically-motivated move (to enable the Russian authorities to hand Uzbeks facing religious persecution over to Uzbekistan).  It is certainly using such ‘trials’ for political ends in occupied Crimea, where well over half of all of the Ukrainian Muslims imprisoned on such charges are civic activists or journalists.  It was, in fact, with the arrests of the eight men now on trial that Russia began openly targeting Crimean Tatar civic activists, especially those involved in the Crimean Solidarity civic initiative, which arose to help political prisoners and their families, and which also provides information and direct coverage of repression under Russian occupation.

Six men were arrested on 11 October 2017 after armed searches that found nothing but some religious literature.  Initially only Marlen (Suleyman) Asanov was designated the role of ‘organizer’ of a Hizb ut-Tahrir ‘cell’ (under Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code), with this carrying a sentence of up to life imprisonment. The other five men:  Ernest Ametov;  Memet Belyalov; Timur IbragimovSeiran Saliyev and Server Zekiryaev were charged with ‘involvement’ in this  (under Article 205.5 § 2 – from 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment). In February 2019, for no obvious reason, the FSB decided to lay the harsher charges against Belyalov and Ibragimov as well.  Further confirmation that this was an attack on Crimean Solidarity came on 21 May 2018 with the arrest of Crimean Solidarity Coordinator Server Mustafayev and Edem Smailov, both of whom are charged with ‘involvement’ in a Hizb ut-Tahrir group.

The men are also charged (under Article 278) with ‘planning to violently seize power’.  No attempt has been made to explain how eight men were supposed to have planned to do this without a single weapon.   Russian prosecutors simply claim that this follows from Hizb ut-Tahrir ideology. It does not, and, in fact, Memorial HRC has observed that the extra charge is often laid where political prisoners refuse to ‘cooperate with the investigators’, as in this case, and all prosecutions of Crimean Muslims.

These trials are part of a machine of repression with convictions effectively guaranteed.  That must not, and has not stopped the men and their lawyers from demonstrating at each hearing the flawed nature of the charges and of the supposed ‘evidence’. 

The defence organized an assessment by an independent expert of the linguistic ‘analysis’ which the prosecution obtained from people with no knowledge of Islam, but a proven record of providing the assessments required by the Russian FSB.

All of the men are recognized Memorial political prisoners, and Mustafayev is also one of Amnesty International’s prisoners of conscience.


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. ] 


Ernes Ametov

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 Saliyev

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

Saliyev, 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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