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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Memet Belyalov: 18-year sentence for discussing religion in Russian-occupied Crimea

Halya Coynash

Memet Belyalov’s son, Ali was less than a year old when his father was arrested in October 2017.  If Russia is allowed to have its way, Ali will have come of age before his father, a Crimean Solidarity civic activist and recognized political prisoner, is released from Russian imprisonment.  He is one of almost 200 children, most of them Crimean Tatars, whose fathers have been taken from them and imprisoned, although they have committed no crime.

Memet Belyalov (b. 2.01.1989) is the youngest of eight Crimean Tatar civic activists and journalists arrested in October 2017 and May 2018.  Like all the men, Belyalov has a higher education, and is a radio engineer by profession, who was working in a mobile communications shop.  He had married in 2016, with the couple’s son, Ali born a year later.  A loving son, husband and father, living a life in accordance with his religious beliefs, and then Russia’s FSB got in the way.

Armed searches and arrests

Six men were taken away in handcuffs on 11 October 2017, after armed searches, during which young children saw their fathers forced to the ground by men brandishing machine guns.

Not one of the men was accused of an actual crime, and not one of the searches came up with anything to suggest that the men were involved in anything illegal. As several of the men pointed out in their final address to the court, there had been reason why the FSB could not have simply sent a summons and they would have turned up when called.

It was clear then that this was an offensive against the civic initiative Crimean Solidarity which helps political prisoners and their families and publicizes information about repression in Crimea. Four of the men: Marlen (Suleyman) Asanov; Timur Ibragimov; Seiran Saliyev and Ernes Ametov were Crimean Solidarity civic journalists, while Memet Belyalov and Server Zekiryaev were active participants in the organization.  Then, on 21 May 2018, similar ‘operations’ resulted in the arrest of Crimean Solidarity Coordinator and civic journalist Server Mustafayev and Edem Smailov.


Although Kremlin-loyal media presented the arrests as being the FSB detaining ‘terrorists’, the men were basically accused purely of involvement in the peaceful Hizb ut-Tahrir movement which is legal in Ukraine and which is not known to have committed acts of terrorism anywhere in the world.  The authoritative Memorial Human Rights Centre has presented compelling reasons for suspecting political motives behind the Russian Supreme Court’s secretive ruling in 2003 declaring Hizb ut-Tahrir ‘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 was, until 2016, the only country in the world which has called the movement terrorist, and is now one of two, together with Uzbekistan, which is notorious for its persecution of people for their faith.  Having never explained why it calls the organization ‘terrorist’, Russia is now using the mere label as an excuse for imprisoning law-abiding people to terms far greater than those which murderers or other real criminals can expect.

Russia is in flagrant breach of international law for applying its legislation on Ukrainian citizens in illegally annexed Crimea.  It is also using its legislation, in particular its notorious norms on ‘extremism’ and ‘terrorism’ to terrorize Crimean Tatars in general, and as a weapon against civic journalists and activists.  These are just some of the reasons why all the men have been recognized by the Memorial Human Rights Centre as political prisoners.

Initially, only Marlen Asanov was charged with the more serious ‘organizer’ role under Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code, however in February 2019, the same charge was also brought against Memet Belyalov and Timur Ibragimov. . The other men were charged with ‘involvement in such an alleged ‘group’ (Article 205.5 § 2).  All eight men were also charged (under Article 278) with ‘planning to violently seize power’.  This additional charge is believed by Memorial HRC to be generally used against people who refuse to ‘cooperate’ with the investigators (which all Crimeans in these cases have refused to do).


Essentially none, with virtually the only testimony against the men coming from a Ukrainian turncoat with an interest in proving his ‘loyalty’ to the Russian FSB and two ‘secret witnesses’ whose real identity proved impossible to conceal.  Both of the latter were illegally in Crimea and had reason to fear the consequences if deported to their country of origin.  Their lies could also on many occasions be proven, however in this the defence was systematically obstructed by presiding judge Rizvan Zubairov.

The main ‘material evidence’ came from illicitly taped conversations in a mosque with the FSB using its own, relied-upon, ‘experts’ to claim that this or that word ‘meant’ that the men were members of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Each of the three ‘experts’ lacked any professional competence to make such assessments, as was pointed out by an independent forensic linguist.


On 16 September 2020 judges Rizvan Zubairov (presiding); Roman Saprunov; and Maxim Nikitin from the Southern District Military Court in Rostov (Russia) sentenced Marlen Asanov to 19 years’ imprisonment; Memet Belyalov to 18 years; Timur Ibragimov to 17 years; Seiran Saliyev – 16 years; Server Mustafayev - 14 years; Edem Smailov  and Server Zekiryaev to 13years.  The sentences were all in the harshest of Russian prison colonies, and in most cases were to be followed by a year or 18 months’ ‘restriction of liberty’.

No crime, no evidence and sentences handed down by a court of a country recognized by the UN General Assembly and all democratic states to be illegally occupying the men’s homeland. The only bright moment was the acquittal of one of the men – Ernes Ametov.  Such acquittals are almost unheard of in Russian courts, and there are no grounds for assuming that the decision was taken because of Ametov’s obvious innocence, since all of the men are obviously innocent.  It is possible that Russia was seeking to dilute condemnation of a trial so very brazenly aimed at silencing civic activists and journalists.

The sentences will be appealed against and will certainly be condemned, as has been the men’s imprisonment, by the international community. 


They are likely to be imprisoned at the addresses below until the appeal hearing and letters tell them – and Moscow - 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.

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. ] 


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 ]

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 ]


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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