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.

Brutal torture of gravely ill Crimean Tatar political prisoner

Halya Coynash
Russia’s persecution of all Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians in occupied Crimea, is shocking, but in Dzhemil Gafarov’s case, it is literally placing his life in immediate and very real danger.

58-year-old Dzhemil Gafarov’s kidney disease is so severe that even Russian law should have precluded his detention, only the law and elementary decency are discarded in Russia’s treatment of Crimean Tatar and other Ukrainian political prisoners.   Gafarov, who is not even accused of any recognizable crime, has now developed gout, which is directly linked to his kidney failure, as well as the refusal by the staff of the Simferopol SIZO [remand prison] to provide proper healthcare.

Lawyer Refat Yakhin explains that there was a hearing at the Russian-controlled High Court in Simferopol on the prosecutor’s application for an extension to Gafarov’s detention.  Despite all documentation demonstrating that Gafarov has invalid status on grounds that prevent detention in Russia as well as Ukraine, and although he was brought to the court with a badly swollen leg, the ‘court’ asked no questions and provided the extension demanded. 

Yakhin points out that the relevant prison service medical unit is avoiding providing medical information about Gafarov’s condition both to his lawyer and to Gafarov himself. The sharp deterioration in Gafarov’s health, he says, comes soon after the refusal by the same doctor who is concealing such information to hospitalize Gafarov and carry out a proper examination.

In a letter from the political prisoner which he passed to his family via his lawyer, Gafarov explains that he is suffering such acute pain in the joints of both feet that he has not been able to sleep for several nights, and painkillers have no effect.  With his condition, he should be seeing a specialist and having tests done every 3-4 months.  Instead, his illness is progressing without any medical supervision, and in SIZO conditions where the food is appalling and he cannot observe the diet he requires. As a result, he is suffering an acute attack of gout, or inflammatory arthritis, which arises because his kidneys are unable to get rid of uric acid which instead builds up in his body.  The pain, he writes, is hellish.  

Although Gafarov has been treated so badly since March 2019, the situation at the moment appears to be generally very bad, with lots of prisoners ill, two men with high temperatures, no point in even asking for painkillers as there aren’t any, and no medical staff to be seen.  This, it should be stressed, is in the middle of a pandemic, with the overcrowded and filthy conditions of the SIZO meaning that all the prisoners are in danger of being infected. 

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 remain in a SIZO, where the unsanitary and overcrowded conditions are tantamount to torture,  During at least one of the ‘examinations’, Gafarov was chained to a bed and surrounded by armed men. 

Maybe there are some dangerous criminals against whom such methods would be required.  Neither Gafarov, nor the 24 other Crimean Tatar civic journalists and activists arrested during Russia’s worst ‘operation’ to date in occupied Crimea.  Most were arrested on 27 March 2019, with the move internationally recognized and condemned as an attack on men with a pronounced civic position.

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.  With Moscow demonstrating such contempt for human life, it would also be very helpful if you could contact your elected representatives and ask them to help in putting pressure on Russia.  The latter’s persecution of any Ukrainians is shocking, but in Dzhemil Gafarov’s case, it is literally placing his life in immediate and very real danger.


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