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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Russia uses Ukrainian turncoat & fugitive from justice to seek 146 years’ imprisonment for Crimean Tatar activists

Halya Coynash
The prosecution’s case is essentially based on the testimony of a Ukrainian turncoat, now working for the Russian FSB; two secret witnesses whose identity and motives for testifying are known and the ‘expert assessments’ of three people with no expert knowledge of the subject.

Sentences are due to be passed on 16 September against eight Crimean Tatar civic journalists and activists.  Sentences, not verdicts, as this is a Russian court for whom the lack of any crime is irrelevant, and which has spent a year hearing contradictory testimony from two secret witnesses, while refusing to allow many of a huge number of witnesses for the defence. This is the first time Russia has openly targeted civic activists and journalists and, having thus abandoned any pretence, it is seeking sentences of up to 21 years’ imprisonment.

There will be more detail about each of the eight men separately, but as three judges are almost certainly about to sentence innocent men to huge terms of imprisonment, it is worth considering what ‘evidence’ has been provided to back the profoundly flawed charges. 

Russia’s FSB are essentially abusing a secretive and, almost certainly, politically-motivated ruling by Russia’s Supreme Court back in 2003.which found the peaceful, Hizb ut-Tahrir organization to be ‘terrorist’.  At the time, Uzbekistan was persecuting members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, and Russia used the ruling as justification for extraditing members who had sought refuge from religious persecution. Russia is literally the only country in the world to have called Hizb ut-Tahrir ‘terrorist’, and has never provided any good reason why, yet the mere fact of this ruling is now enabling the FSB to get men imprisoned on ‘terrorism’ charges for alleged ‘involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir’.  No proof of any crime is required, nor indeed proof of involvement, with the FSB using ‘secret witnesses’ and ‘experts’ with no competence in the subject matter, but willingness to provide the conclusions that the FSB demand.

The situation is particularly shocking in occupied Crimea as Hizb ut-Tahrir is legal in Ukraine and Russia is in breach of international law by using its repressive legislation on occupied territory.  Such ’HIzb ut-Tahrir cases’ are, in fact, being used both to terrorize Crimean Tatars in general, and as a weapon against civic journalists and activists.  These include the eight men now on trial, civic journalists Ernes Ametov; Suleyman (Marlen) Asanov; Timur Ibragimov; Seiran Saliye and Server Mustafayev, Coordinator of the Crimean Solidarity civic initiative and Amnesty International prisoner of conscience; and civic activists Memet Belylov; Edem Smailov and Server Zekiryaev.  All of the men are recognized as political prisoners by the authoritative Memorial Human Rights Centre and by numerous international structures which have repeatedly demanded their release.  The Southern District Military Court in Rostov (Russia) has rejected applications from the defence to add such international resolutions to the case material, together with the numerous international documents, such as the Geneva Conventions which clearly prohibit Russia’s persecution of Ukrainian citizens in occupied Crimea. As mentioned, the presiding judge, Rizvan Zubairov also refused to allow a large number of defence witnesses to give testimony.  On several occasions, he removed some or all of the men from their own ‘trial’, clearly irritated that they were disturbing the prosecution-slanted proceedings with their questions to the prosecution witnesses.

The prosecution’s case is essentially based on the testimony of a Ukrainian turncoat, now working for the Russian FSB; two secret witnesses whose identity and motives for testifying are known and the ‘expert assessments’ of three people with no expert knowledge of the subject.

Nikolai Artykbayev

Despite his youth, 29-year-old Artykbayev has managed to swear and then betray his oath of allegiance to Ukraine and then swear allegiance to the invading state.  He is now proving his ‘loyalty’ to Russia and the Russian FSB by actively persecuting Ukrainian citizens.  He was responsible for organizing ‘surveillance’ measures which included putting bugs in the Mosque where the men worshipped and, presumably, also the totally unnecessary armed searches of homes and terrorization of the men’s families.

Although he played a direct role in the persecution of the eight men, he proved to be constantly suffering from amnesia when asked the most crucial questions, such as who the men were supposed to have ‘recruited’ in order to overthrow Russia’s constitutional order,

Despite the obvious relevance of such questions, and the failure of the prosecution witness to answer, presiding judge  Zubairov kept objecting.  He also prevented other questions such as whether Artykbayev had ever sworn allegiance to another country and whether the searches of the men’s homes had been to find weapons needed “to seize power”.  Given the charges against them, the refusal to allow that question suggests that the logical next question was deemed inconvenient.  Not one weapon or any other obvious item required for a violent seizure of power was ever found, nor any other evidence of such plans.

Two secret witnesses

There need to be good grounds for the identity of witnesses to be concealed from the defence and the public.  None has ever been provided in any of the ‘trials’ of Crimean Tatars, although the men’s testimony is often full of inaccuracies and differs radically from that of witnesses openly addressing the court. In general, such ‘witnesses’ claim to remember, virtually verbatim, alleged conversations where the defendants said that they were members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, while being quite unable to accurately describe the homes or other premises where these conversations supposedly took place.

In this case, the identity of both men has, in fact, long been known, as have the circumstances which are likely behind their willingness to give false testimony against the men.  Asanov, who was declared Ukraine’s Volunteer of the Year in 2017, is well-known for his philanthropic work, and also for coming to the assistance of all those in difficulty.  During his final address to the court on 12 September, he was therefore able to give details about both ‘witnesses’’ situation, as he had tried to help both men in resolving their problems.

Konstantin Tumarevich (who used the pseudonym ‘Remzi Ismailov’) is a Latvian citizen whose passport has expired.  Although he claimed that the problem was that he had simply not managed to leave Crimea before it expired, he is clearly a fugitive from justice and could not risk being sent back to Latvia.  It is likely that the FSB realized this back in May 2016 and have used his vulnerable position as blackmail, getting him to testify both in the earlier trial of four Crimean Tatars from Bakhchysarai, and now in this case.

There is a similar situation with Narzulayev Salakhutdin (whose testimony was under the name ‘Ivan Bekirov’).  He is from Uzbekistan and does not have legal documents.  

Since both men somehow got to the court in Rostov (though were questioned while physically in another room, almost certainly receiving prompts on many occasions), Asanov assumes that they have received formal documents as payment for their ‘services’.

It should be stressed that these men gave testimony that was demonstrably false.  Tumarevich claimed, for example, that the ‘sukhbet’ discussions between evening and night prayers on Fridays were conspiratorial meetings in the Mosque between members of Hizb ut-Tahrir.  In fact, these were open gatherings which all worshippers knew about and could attend between the prayers in order to discuss aspects of Muslim faith.  That openness makes it entirely inconceivable that they could have had anything to do with Hizb ut-Tahrir, given the ferocity of Russia’s persecution.

According to Saliyev, Tumarevich also claimed that he (Saliyev) had travelled to Syria in 2016 and had come to an agreement with the so-called ‘Islamic State’ that they would help in the event of a possible establishment of Khalifate in Crimea.  Unlike the eight men on trial, the FSB officers who have concocted this indictment appear to not understand how absurd such an accusation sounds.  Since it can also be easily disproven by looking at Saliyev’s passport, this should have been enough to discredit the ‘witness’.  It would be in a real court of law.

‘Expert assessments’

In his final address, Ibragimov spelled out just the full absurdity of the situation with the illicit taping of conversations in the Mosque and the ‘expert assessments obtained of these conversations. 

It is claimed that Artykbayev, who clearly does not know Crimean Tatar (or Arabic, words in which may have been used), is supposed to have produced a transcript of the conversations and passed this to ‘FSB investigator’ Dmitry Gramashov..  Ibragimov points to a couple of examples where the turncoat turned FSB officer has ‘heard’ from he wanted the men to have said, not what the tapes actually show.

Gramashov then sent these transcripts of extremely questionable accuracy to three supposed ‘experts’: Yulia Fomina and Yelena Khazimulina, and Timur Zakhirovich Urazumetov  Fomina and Khazimulina are linguists, by education, from a university in Ufa, Bashkortostan, yet were essentially asked to give assessments in the area of religious knowledge and psychology.  Urazumetov has an education in history and cultural studies, not in religious studies.  It is these three individuals, who ‘found’ what the FSB was looking for, who have no professional competence in the field whose ‘expert assessments’ have been used to justify the charges against the men and the demanded sentences.

There can be no suggestion that the court is not aware of this, and indeed the defence brought in an independent linguistic expert who gave a damning assessment of the linguistic analysis produced by Fomina and Khazimulina.  Dr Yelena Novozhilova suggested that the two linguists did not appear to know the difference between Islam and Hizb ut-Tahrir.  Novozhilova was asked, as an experienced and qualified forensic linguist, to examine the same tape which two had analysed and to answer three questions: whether the tape contained utterances aimed at drawing others into Hizb ut-Tahrir; whether there were utterances giving a negative assessment or demonstrating hostility to other nationalities or faiths; and how Novozhilova’s conclusions compared to those given by the Ufa linguists.  While all three linguists were perfectly capable of noting that Hizb ut-Tahrir was not talked about even once during the illicitly taped conversations, Novozhilova pointed out that n order to decide whether a person was recruiting others into Hizb ut-Tahrir, you needed to have religious knowledge.  The Ufa experts lack such knowledge, and their conclusion that the men belong to Hizb ut-Tahrir was essentially not based on anything.  Novozhilova found nothing in the taped conversation to suggest any hostility, whether to a nationality or to a faith, and absolutely no calls to fight against them.

She confirmed that, in making their analysis, the Ufa linguistics had gone beyond the scope of their professional competence and essentially acted as though they were psychologists and religious experts.  In several cases they had made up terms, and used methods which do not ensure reliability and the possibility of verifying their findings.  Indeed, Novozhilova specifically noted that you could not repeat their analysis, reaching the same results, due to the flagrant mistakes made.  The Ufa experts had essentially made up their own methods in order to ‘reach the conclusion’ required of them, namely that the defendants were members of Hizb ut-Tahrir.  With this objective, they had called entirely neutral speech “a tirade”, wrongly defined one word as “a call” [i.e. to action], and had used a term to describe the men’s conversation that only applied to written speech.  They had failed to differentiate between a traditional Muslim sermon and being drawn in to Hizb ut-Tahrir.  With ‘involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir’ presumed from the outset, the ‘experts’ ended up interpreting ordinary Muslim terms as though they apply to Hizb ut-Tahrir.

On the basis of the above ‘evidence’, prosecutor Yevgeny Koptilov has demanded the following sentences:

Suleyman (Marlen) Asanov – 20 years’ imprisonment, then 21 months’ restriction of liberty and an 800 thousand rouble fine;

Memet Belyalov  - 21 years’ imprisonment and a further 23 months’ restriction of liberty;

Timur Ibragimov – 20 years’ imprisonment, then 21 months’ restriction of liberty;

Seiran Saliyev – 19 years’ imprisonment, then 6 months’ restriction of liberty;

Ernes Ametov – 17.5 years’ imprisonment, with a further 7 months’ restriction of liberty;

Server Mustafayev – 17 years’ imprisonment, then 6 months’ restriction of liberty;

Edem Smailov - 17 years’ imprisonment, then 6 months’ restriction of liberty;

Server Zekiryaev – 15 years’ imprisonment, then 5 months restriction of liberty.

(Each of the men is accused either of ‘organizing’ a Hizb ut-Tahrir group, under Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code or of ‘involvement in such an alleged ‘group’ (Article 205.5 § 2).  There has never seemed to be any good reason why one person gets the much more serious charge, not another, or why others are suddenly designated ‘organizers’, as happened in this case, where a year and a half after the original arrests, it was announced that Belyalov and Ibragimov would, like Asanov, face the more serious ‘organizer’ charge. Shortly afterwards, all eight men were also charged (under Article 278) with ‘planning to violently seize power’.  No attempt has been made to explain how the eight men were supposed to have planned to do this)



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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