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Russia uses punitive psychiatry to imprison Crimean Tatar rights activist indefinitely
A cassation court in Russia has overturned the previous court ruling in Russia’s persecution of Yunus Masharipov and ordered a new appeal hearing, under different judges, in the ‘trial’ of the imprisoned 56-year-old rights activist. This court saga will soon extend beyond the original four-year prison sentence passed on Masharipov, but this is only part of the Russian FSB’s revenge against a man who dared to retract the ‘confession’ they used torture to extract. Masharipov has also become a victim of the punitive psychiatry which Russia is reinstating and could end up incarcerated in a psychiatric institution indefinitely.
Masharipov was originally seized on 27 September 2017 and accused of preparing explosives. A videoed ‘confession’ was produced in which Masharipov, who is from Yalta, said that he had been ‘recruited’ by the Kherson branch of the Mejlis [self-governing body] of the Crimean Tatar people and Ukraine’s Security Service [SBU]. He had, supposedly, gathered information about the socio-economic situation and put up posters of a campaigning nature, and also strewn used needles on the beach in Yalta so that tourists would stop coming. There is a bleep in this supposed ‘confession’ with Masharipov first saying that he had, on 6 August 2017, set fire to forest in Yalta, and then, after an obvious break in the tape, saying that he had not had time to carry out the ‘explosion’ to cause this fire before being arrested. It is claimed that the alleged ‘explosive devices’ were going to be used for this fire. The tape has clearly been cut and pasted together, and Masharipov himself gives the impression that he is trying to remember what he should say.
This was one of at least two very clumsy attempts in the second half of 2017 to discredit the Mejlis and its members. Several months earlier, the UN’s International Court of Justice had allowed Ukraine’s application for provisional measures and had specifically ordered Russia to revoke its extraordinary ban of the Mejlis.
In December 2017, Masharipov issued public statements to both ex-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and to Viktor Palagin, who was then the head of the Russian FSB in occupied Crimea. He stated then, and has consistently repeated, that he had been tortured into ‘confessing’ to crimes he had never committed. He asserted that it had been after he told his captors on 27 September that he had reported human rights abuses in occupied Crimea that he had been beaten and tortured with the use of electric shocks. He said that he had been forced to give several different ‘confessions’ on video.
Masharipov’s lawyer Alexei Ladin has repeatedly pointed out that this case is based solely on claims by FSB officers, citing a source that they claim they can’t reveal. That and a ‘confession’ that Masharipov has retracted.
None of this stopped the Russian-controlled Yalta City Court from sentencing him on 13 November 2018 to four years’ imprisonment and a 110 thousand rouble fine. The Kremlin-loyal media quoted the FSB in claiming that Masharipov had been planning to set fire to the forest ‘to destabilize the socio-political situation in Crimea’. The charges were under Article 223.1 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code (illegal preparation of an explosive device) and 222.1 § 1 (illegal procurement, possession, carrying of such explosive devices).
Masharipov was refused the right to appeal this ruling, but lodged a cassation appeal, citing the fact that there had been a clear violation of his right to defence, through the use of so many state-appointed ‘lawyers’ (who are normally there to sign documents and persuade people to admit to the charges). The case was sent back to the same ‘Yalta City Court’ for retrial.
On 3 March 2020, this same ‘court’ asserted that Masharipov had committed a crime but that he was mentally unfit, and ordered that he be placed against his will in a psychiatric hospital. The appeal against this was rejected on 25 June 2020 by the occupation ‘Crimean High Court’, under presiding ‘judge’ Konstantin Karavayev. That ‘court’ did, however, terminate the criminal prosecution over the charge of preparing explosives and acknowledge Masharipov’s right to ‘rehabilitation’. The protocol on the extraction of biological samples by FSB officers was also excluded from the case, as these had been illegally taken in the absence of Masharipov’s lawyer. The court went even further and excluded the forensic assessment which claimed that Masharipov’s biological traces had been found on the explosives supposedly found in Masharipov’s garage. The FSB have used similar methods (illegally obtaining DNA and then using this to fabricate ‘evidence) in at least two other trials of Ukrainians – that of Volodymyr Dudka and Oleksiy Bessarabov, and the recent trial of Oleh Prykhodko. The exclusion of such ‘evidence’ here was, therefore, a victory, however the judges did not have the courage to fully acquit Masharipov and convicted him of possession of explosives.
That ruling was appealed by both the defence and the prosecutor, with these heard on 1 March 2021 at the Fourth Cassation Court in Krasnodar. As well as the grounds for refuting the charges against Masharipov, the defence also pointed to the fact that the issue of his mental state had not been properly examined. Experts had not been called and the two ‘opinions’ contradicted each other. The prosecutor had demanded that the appeal ruling, finding that Masharipov had not prepared explosives, be revoked. Typically, the ‘court’ went along with the prosecutor and ordered the case to be sent for a new panel of judges at the Crimean ‘High Court’. Ladin will be demanding that the entire case be terminated for want of a crime. He told Crimean Solidarity that it is unclear how the proceedings will continue. The ‘High Court’ could even flip the case back to the Yalta City Court.
The situation is especially disastrous as Masharipov has now been incarcerated, either in a remand prison [SIZO] or in a psychiatric ‘hospital’ for three and a half years. Nor, without the revoking of an entirely unwarranted assessment of his supposed ‘mental state’, is there any end in sight.