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FSB use fake ‘secret witness’ in revenge trial of Crimean Tatar who exposed their methods of getting false testimony
The trial is underway in occupied Crimea of a young Crimean Tatar who found the courage in court to both retract the false testimony he had given against political prisoner Enver Seitosmanov and to file a complaint over the illegal methods applied by Russia’s FSB to extract the testimony. The FSB decided to charge Ruslan Bekirov with lying in court, and are using a ‘secret witness’, whose testimony cannot be verified, as the alleged proof of this charge.
The cynical lawlessness of this is clear. The charges brought by the FSB demonstrate the risk that the 35-year-old Bekirov took in retracting testimony given under duress, yet they are backed only by a supposed ‘witness’ whose words cannot be checked.
On 21 January, Bekirov’s lawyer Emil Kurbedinov applied for the identity of the supposed ‘witness’ to be revealed. He pointed out that the man’s written statement had been obtained by the FSB who had behaved illegally during their detention of his client. “Neither the court, nor I, nor the prosecutor know whether this person existed, whether he was questioned or whether he signed such a protocol (i.e. the supposed testimony) and what has happened to this person if he existed.” There is nothing to indicate any threat to the ‘witness’ to justify such secrecy.
The arguments were too compelling for ‘judge’ Igor Goncharov, from the Russian-controlled Nakhimovsky District Court in Sevastopol, to reject out of hand. He instead ordered that the FSB be asked for information about where the ‘secret witness’ is at present; whether he is under state guard; and whether the FSB have proof that he has faced any kind of threat from the accused.
By the next hearing on 29 January, the FSB had come up with a piece of paper to state that the individual had “left the territory of the Russian Federation”. They also confirmed that he was not under state protection; that his identity was being concealed “at his wish”, without a scrap of evidence that he was facing any threat.
Although the information resulting from the order issued by Goncharov at the previous hearing confirmed the lack of any grounds for concealing the man’s identity, Goncharov rejected the defence’s application for him to be identified.
In March 2019, Bekirov was interrogated by the FSB who wanted him to testify against Enver Seitosmanov, a Crimean Tatar political prisoner who had been arrested in May 2018. Bekirov was released once he agreed to ‘testify’, however in court on 21 August 2019, he not only refused to confirm the written testimony given earlier, but described how it had been forced out of him, and also lodged a formal complaint.
He explained that he had been summoned to a police department where several armed men in FSB uniform and balaclavas twisted his arms behind his back and forced him into their car. He was taken to the FSB in Sevastopol where ‘investigator’ Yuri Andreyev began showing him ‘prohibited’ books that he claimed had been removed from the home of Bekirov’s mother. He also played a recording, claiming that the voice on it was Bekirov’s and that it proved his involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir. This is the peaceful Muslim organization which is legal in Ukraine, but which Russia has labelled ‘terrorist’ and is using to persecute Crimean Tatar activists and other Muslims in occupied Crimea. Such charges can result in a sentence of 10-20 years’ imprisonment and Russia’s persecution of other Crimean Tatars since 2015 on these charges would have told Bekirov that the Russian and Russian-controlled courts would pass the sentences demanded of them.
Both in court on 21 August 2019 and in his statement to the Investigative Committee’s Central Military Department, Bekirov explained that “Andreyev printed some document and demanded that I sign it. I read it – the document asserted that I was testifying that Enver Seytosmanov is a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir. I refused to sign the document. After that, Andreyev and another FSB employee, introduced as Fyodor, began threatening that if I didn’t sign, they would imprison me for ten years. That I would never see my parents again. That I would be imprisoned with infected prisoners, including those suffering from tuberculosis, that I would be sent to serve a sentence far from my home and my parents, that I would rot in prison, that they would fine me two hundred thousand roubles. All of this was accompanied by pressing demands that I sign the document testifying against Seytosmanov.”
Andreyev demanded also that he sign another document with false testimony against other Crimean Tatar political prisoners from Sevastopol. He gave him a list of questions which he would be asked in court.
Bekirov was released after many hours and only after he agreed to sign the documents.
It was on 21 August 2019, before the Southern District Military Court in Rostov (Russia) that Bekirov told the damning truth about the methods used to force him to lie about Seytosmanov. On 16 October that year, Kurbedinov, who is also Seytosmanov’s lawyer, announced that he had received a response to this complaint from the Military-Investigative Committee acknowledging “indications of a crime” in the actions of the FSB officers.
It was, however, Bekirov who was detained on 11 June 2020. The FSB turned up at his home in Orlinoye in occupied Crimea, carried out a search and then took him to the FSB offices in Sevastopol. He was finally released many hours later, being forced to give a signed undertaking to not leave the area, and is now to be put on trial for having told the truth.
This trial demonstrates two typical abuses which Russia and its FSB have brought to occupied Crimea. Firstly, almost all of the politically motivated prosecutions of Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians in occupied Crimea are based on ‘testimony’ which many of the political prisoners have said that they gave under torture. We also know from men who were ‘interrogated’ as witnesses that similar methods were applied against them.
There ought to be a proper investigation into such practices with those applying them held to account. Instead it is a person who retracted the false testimony forced out of him who is facing criminal charges.
The second aberration is the fact that most politically motivated trials of Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians are based on unverifiable ‘testimony’ of secret witnesses.
The 33-year-old recognized political prisoner was sentenced to 17 years’ maximum security imprisonment on 5 December 2019, with that sentence upheld on 16 April 2020. He had not been charged with any recognizable crime and the ‘evidence’ which was supposed to prove his ‘involvement’ in a peaceful organization did nothing of the kind. There were also serious grounds for believing that the charges were increased in April this year for highly suspect reasons. More details here:
Crimean Tatar jailed for 17 years for “planning to overthrow Russia” by practising his faith