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.

Imprisoned Crimean Tatar human rights defender thrown in punishment cell for asking a question

Halya Coynash
Russia is illegally holding Emir-Usein Kuku and four other Ukrainian prisoners of conscience thousands of kilometres from their homes, and in conditions that are freezing for men accustomed to the warm climate of Crimea

Russia is continuing to conceal the whereabouts of Crimean Tatar prisoner of conscience, Muslim Aliev, almost three weeks after he was taken away, with pronounced coronavirus symptoms.  The man rights defender Emir-Usein Kuku and the four other political prisoners, sentenced in Russia to huge terms of imprisonment without any crime, have arrived at prison colonies in Bashkortostan. 

This Russian Federation republic (also known as Bashkiria) is not just thousands of kilometres from the men’s homes and families in occupied Crimea, with this directly flouting the European Court of Human Rights.  It is also desperately cold for Ukrainians, accustomed to Crimean temperatures. After over four years in the appalling conditions of Russian or Russian-controlled imprisonment, all six men are suffering from a range of medical issues.  44-year-old Kuku has long complained of kidney problems, and in the first phone call on 4 September that he was able to make to his wife, he said that the cold is exacerbating the problem. He was placed in quarantine immediately after arriving at the prison colony on 18 August and then straight away thrown into a punishment cell  [SHIZO] for 15 days.  His ‘offence’ – to have asked if it was possible to do the scheduled morning exercises inside, rather than out in the cold,  For this entirely reasonable question,  he received a note on his file and 15 days in conditions that are especially intolerable, with the cell almost certainly even colder.

Nothing has been heard of Muslim Aliev since 20 August, when lawyer Edem Semedlyaev tried unsuccessfully to visit him and the other men.  Semedlyaev was only able to see Arsen Dzhepparov, and was told that Aliev had been ill with clear signs of Covid-19.  He appears to have been taken away somewhere that day, with his wife and family understandably very worried.

Kuku responded to the ever-increasing number of forced disappearances, armed searches and arrests under Russian occupation by becoming active in the Crimean Contact Group for Human Rights.   By now he is one of very many Crimean Tatar human rights or civic activists and journalists, imprisoned on fabricated ‘terrorism’ charges, after facing harassment and often administrative prosecutions in connection with their activism.  In Kuku’s case, there is reason to believe that the FSB may have planned an abduction, which only turned into an ‘FSB search’ after passers-by came to his rescue as he was being attacked by two men.   

Kuku; Aliev; Refat Alimov; Inver Bekirov; Arsen Dzhepparov and Vadim Siruk have all been recognized as Ukrainian political prisoners and Amnesty International prisoners of conscience.  They have been imprisoned since early in 2016, with their arrests marked by particularly shocking brutality and cynicism.  Not only were they never accused of any recognizable crime , but all were effectively targeted for their steadfast adherence to principles.  This was in marked contrast to the Ukrainian turncoat, Alexander Kompaneitsev, who in his new capacity as FSB officer, played an especially malignant role in persecuting the men. 

Russia began its persecution of Crimean Muslims less than a year after its invasion and annexation of Crimea, however it took the shockingly brutal ‘operation’ on 11 February 2016 to draw international attention to this particular conveyor belt of repression.  The gratuitously violent armed searches that day left small children profoundly traumatized and Aliev; Bekirov; Kuku and Siruk imprisoned. Kompaneitsev had directly threatened Bekirov that if he did not ‘cooperate’, the FSB would come for his nephew, Refat Alimov.  He had also threatened Arsen Dzehappov with arrest if he did not become an FSB informer.  The latter refused, although he and his wife were well aware of what that meant for him.  The FSB came for both Alimov and Dzhepparov on 18 April 2016.

All six men were effectively accused only of unproven involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a peaceful Muslim movement which is legal in Ukraine and most countries. The ruling by Russia’s Supreme Court in 2003 to declare it ‘terrorist’ was kept secret until it was too late to lodge an appeal and it has never been explained.  The fact that nothing about the organization justifies the label of ‘terrorist’ is one of many reasons why the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre considers all Muslims ‘convicted’ purely of alleged involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir to be political prisoners.  Memorial HRC had not even waited for a sentence in this case or any others involving Crimean Muslims since Russia, as an occupying state, is also in breach of international law for imposing its legislation on occupied Crimea.

Initially, only Aliev was designated the role of ‘organizer’ of a supposed ‘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 men were charged with ‘involvement’ under Article 205.5 § 2 with the sentences still appalling, but lower. Then suddenly in August 2018, after the ‘trial’ had already begun in Rostov (Russia), presiding judge Nikolai Yurevich Vasilchuk (presumably with the backing of judges Valery Sergeevich Opanasenko and Stanislav Vladimirovich Zhidkov)returned the case to the prosecutor, suggesting that Bekirov also be charged as ‘organizer’.  This was a shocking abuse of the role of judges who had thus doubled up as prosecutor.  In fact, there is reason to believe that other irregularities in the case which the defendants and their lawyers had drawn attention to may have prompted the decision to abort the first attempt at a ‘trial’ which, because of Kuku, was attracting a lot of attention.

By then, all six men had been charged additionally with ‘‘preparing for violent seizure of power by an organized group according to a prior conspiracy’ (Article 278).  Memorial HRC has pointed out on many occasions that Russia uses this extra charge as a weapon against men who refuse to ‘cooperate’ – something that none of the Crimean Muslims has agreed to do.

Memorial has studied the ‘indictment’ and evidence and concluded that “not only did the defendants not engage in terrorist activities, but they did not carry out any publicly dangerous activities at all”. 

The second trial was as flawed as the first, with ‘secret witnesses’ and assessments from FSB-loyal ‘experts’ who will find ‘proof’ of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir in any text demanded of them.  All of this was ignored by ‘judges’ Roman Viktorovich Saprunov; Dmitry Viktorovich Merkulov and Roman Vladimirovich Podolsky (from the Southern District Military Court in Rostov) who, on 12 November 2019, passed the six guilty verdicts required of them.  These were, on 25 June 2020, upheld by Oleg Aleksandrovich Yegorov; Aleksander Aleksandrovich Mordovin and Anatoly Valentinovich Solin.  All of these men, like the ‘investigators’; the ‘experts’; prosecutors and others were fully aware that the men had never committed any crime at all when they collaborated to sentence Muslim Aliev  and 55-year-old Inver Bekirov  to 19 years; Emir-Usein Kukuwho and 30-year-old Vadim Siruk to 12 years; Refat Alimov (28) to 8 years and Arsen Dzhepparov (29) to 7 years.  All of these sentences against innocent men involve ‘maximum security prison colonies’ where the conditions are exceptionally bad. 

Update  Late on 10 September, Muslim Aliev’s wife was told that her husband has been sent to Prison Colony No. 2 in Salavat, Bashkortostan.   There were no details about his state of health.

Please write to Muslim Aliev; Refat Alimov; Inver Bekirov; Arsen Dzhepparov; Emir-Usein Kuku and Vadim Siruk!

The letters tell them and Moscow that they are not forgotten. 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. 

Example 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. ] 


Muslim Aliev

453256, Россия, Республика Башкортостан, г. Салават, станция Южный, ФКУ ИК-2 

Алиеву, Муслиму Нуриевичу, 1971 г.р. 

[In English:  Russian Federation, 453256, Bashkortostan, Salavat, Stantsiya Yuzhny, Prison No. 2

Aliev, Muslim Nurievich, b. 1971 ]

Refat Alimov

453256, Россия, Республика Башкортостан, г. Салават, ФКУ ИК-16

Алимову, Рефату Маметовичу, 1991 г.р.       

[In English:  Russian Federation, 453256, Bashkortostan, Salavat, Prison No. 16

Alimov, Refat Mametovich, b. 1991 ]

Enver Bekirov

453256, Россия, Республика Башкортостан, г. Салават, станция Южный, ФКУ ИК-2  

Бекирову, Энверу Небиевичу, 1963 г.р

[In English:  Russian Federation, 453256, Bashkortostan, Salavat, Stantsiya Yuzhny, Prison No. 2

Bekirov, Enver Nebiyevich, b. 1963 ]

Arsen Dzhepparov

453256, Россия, Республика Башкортостан, г. Салават, ФКУ ИК-16

Джеппарову, Арсену Бармамбетовичу, 1991 г.р.

[In English:  Russian Federation, 453256, Bashkortostan, Salavat, Prison No. 16

Dzhepparov, Arsen Barmambetovich, b. 1991 ]

Emir-Usein Kuku

453256, Россия, Республика Башкортостан, г. Салават, ФКУ ИК-16

Куку, Эмиру-Усеину Кемаловичу, 1976 г.р.   

[In English:  Russian Federation, 453256, Bashkortostan, Salavat, Prison No. 16

Kuku, Emir-Usein Kemalovich, b. 1976 ]

Vadim Siruk

453256, Россия, Республика Башкортостан, г. Салават, станция Южный, ФКУ ИК-2  

Сируку, Вадиму Андреевичу, 1989 г.р.

[In English:  Russian Federation, 453256, Bashkortostan, Salavat, Stantsiya Yuzhny, Prison No. 2

Siruk, Vadim Andreevich, b. 1989 ]



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