Crimean Tatar Regional Mejlis leader persecuted as Russia openly violates UN Court ruling
It is almost four years since Russia was ordered by the UN’s International Court of Justice to revoke its shocking ban on the Mejlis, or self-governing body, of the Crimean Tatar people, It has not complied and now looks set to mark this new bitter anniversary by persecuting 70-year-old Ilver Ametov, Head of the Sudak Regional Mejlis.
Russian-controlled police turned up at Ilver Ametov’s home on 11 March, 2021 and tried to hand him a summons to appear before Russia’s so-called ‘centre for countering extremism’. They were unsuccessful since Ametov refused to sign their document, but their questions were about the activities of the Regional Mejlis. They ‘reminded’ Ametov of Russia’s ban and, ominously, asked if Ametov finances Mejlis activities.
As Ilver Ametov explained later to Crimean Solidarity, he is indeed the head of a regional Mejlis: “I was elected by the people, and I am not renouncing this. If the people get tired of me, then let them say, and I will give up.”
The 70-year-old activist of the Crimean Tatar national movement has faced at least three armed searches and other forms of persecution since Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014 and the Sudak occupation authorities have now applied to the ‘court’ to get his café knocked down.
Until now, the occupation regime’s most surreal persecution has been the ‘trial’ now underway of Ametov on ‘firearms charges’ in connection with a WWII weapon which was very clearly a part of the 70-year-old’s collection of historical artefacts. Russia has, however, used the museum exhibit as a pretext for laying criminal charges under Article 222 of Russia’s criminal code (illegal purchase, possession, etc of a firearm, its component parts or ammunition).
Ametov, who is also a successful businessman, bought the historical weapon sometime in the 1990s. There was no reason for him to have kept the documents and receipt for over 20 years as it had been bought as a collectors’ item, not a weapon.
That ‘trial’ began on 29 June 2020 at the Russian-controlled Sudak city court, under ‘judge’ Yelena Bosi, and is still continuing. On 25 December 2020, the court ordered a new ballistic expert assessment which the prosecutor claimed was to “remove minor infringements”. This is not the opinion of the defence which considers the earlier ballistic assessments to be inadmissible. Ametov’s lawyer, Alexei Rostovtsev had demonstrated technical details which appear to indicate that the prosecution obtained the figures needed to allow their criminal charges by removing from the weapon’s trunk a cylinder-shaped insertion which restricts the calibre of the weapon and the possibilities for ammunition.
The first search of Ametov’s home was carried out on 2 December 2015, while he himself was in hospital. The Russian enforcement bodies came again on 8 May 2017. Ametov was not home, but the armed men who burst in forced his son Amet to the ground, put handcuffs on him and kicked him several times. All of this was in front of Ametov’s four small grandchildren who were clearly terrified.
A major ‘operation’ was carried out on 27 September 2019, with several dozen armed men reportedly blocking Ametov’s home and the café he owns, while a search was carried out. Despite the scale and methods used in this operation, this was clearly in search of a pretext for bringing charges. The officers removed “for assessment” a membership document of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis; museum exhibits and various documents. The political nature of the measure was scarcely concealed, with the ‘pre-investigation check’ on suspicion of the highly dubious ‘extremism’ norms of Russia’s criminal code (Articles 280 and 282), as well as Article 238 (production, storage, etc. of goods not meeting safety requirements). The latter charge resulted in a fine over some bottles of cognac which staff at his café had brought in for their own celebration and which Ametov had known nothing about.
It would appear that Russia is dropping any pretence, with the visitation on 11 March openly linked with the Mejlis.
The Crimean Tatar Mejlis and its leaders demonstrated their unequivocal opposition to Russian occupation from the outset. Repressive measures against the Mejlis began soon after it called on all Crimeans to boycott Russia’s pseudo-referendum on 16 March, 2014. If the initial measures mainly targeted individuals, with Mustafa Dzhemiliev and the current head of the Mejlis, Refat Chubarov both banned from their homeland, this soon changed. In September 2014, the Mejlis was evicted from its traditional headquarters, and on Jan 29, 2015, Akhtem Chiygoz, the Deputy Head of the Mejlis was arrested and imprisoned on legally nonsensical charges, with another Mejlis leader also put on ‘trial’ over remarks supporting sanctions as a means of getting Russia to leave Crimea.
Threats to ban the Mejlis began in October 2015, and on February 15, 2016 the de facto prosecutor Natalya Poklonskaya announced that an application had been made for the ban, with the claim being that the Mejlis was ‘extremist’. There were Soviet echoes in the claim that this was based on “appeals from the Crimean Tatar population, including from the heads of Crimean Tatar organizations, asking for the activities of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis to be declared unlawful and provocation”.
It was on 19 April 2017, that the UN’s International Court of Justice ordered Russia to withdraw this ban. Russia has not just flouted it, but has concocted at least two criminal prosecutions, with the most truly shocking of these directly killing the world-renowned 83-year-old veteran of the Crimean Tatar national movement, Vedzhie Kashka.