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.

Russian court removes Crimean Tatar political prisoners for speaking their native language

Halya Coynash
The first day of Russia’s ‘trial’ of journalist Remzi Bekirov and four other civic and human rights activists ended with all five being removed for speaking Crimean Tatar

From left Farkhod Bazarov, Remzi Bekirov (on the telephone), Rayim Aivazov, Shaban Umerov and, bottom left, Riza Izetov Photos from Crimean Solidarity

The first day of Russia’s ‘trial’ of Crimean Tatar journalist Remzi Bekirov and four other civic and human rights activists ended with all five recognized political prisoners being expelled from the court for insisting on their right to speak Crimean Tatar.  This, however, was after Rayim Aivazov described in harrowing detail how FSB officers had taken him to a forest and tortured him, including by staging a mock execution, in order to force him to give false testimony against himself and other political prisoners.  

Aivazov is one of two men who were arrested after Russia’s most brazen ‘operation’ against Crimean Tatar journalists and civic activists on 27 March 2019, when 23 men were taken prisoner.  He was seized by three FSB officers during the night from 16 to 17 April that year, as he tried to cross the administrative border into mainland Ukraine.  The men took him in a black car to a field, where they used guns in imitating an execution and openly threatened to kill him, shouting that nobody would find him, if he didn’t agree to testify against the men arrested earlier. Under Russian occupation, there have been a number of abductions, with several Crimean Tatar activists never seen again, so Aivazov had every reason to fear that these were not empty threats.  He was then taken to the FSB building where psychological pressure, and some physical force, were used to get him to give the false testimony.  Aivazov specifically mentions the leading role played by the ‘lawyer’, provided by the FSB, Oleg Vladimirovich Glushko, in pressuring and threatening him into lying about the men arrested earlier. 

As he stated in court on 16 March, Aivazov immediately retracted this ‘testimony’, as soon as he was out of the FSBs’ clutches and had access to a proper lawyer, and explained exactly how the testimony had been obtained.

Aivazov paid for his courage and integrity just as the FSB ‘investigators’ threatened that he would, if he retracted the lies they had tortured out of him.  In August 2020, the charges against the young Crimean Solidarity civic activist were changed from ‘involvement’ in Hizb ut-Tahrir, the peaceful Muslim organization which is legal in Ukraine, to ‘organizing’ a Hizb ut-Tahrir group.  The charges in either case are of shocking illegality, but the harsher of the two has already been used to sentence Crimean Tatar political prisoners to up to 20 years. 

All 25 Crimean Tatars arrested either on 27 March 2019 or, in the cases of Aivazov and Eskender Suleymanov, soon afterwards, are charged solely with ‘involvement’ or ‘organization’ of a Hizb ut-Tahrir group.  In 2003, Russia became the only country in the world (since 2016 joined by the even more repressive Uzbekistan) to call Hizb ut-Tahrir ‘terrorist’.  No adequate reason was ever provided for so labelling an organization which is not known to have carried out acts of terrorism anywhere in the world, yet since 2014 Russia has been using the 2003 Supreme Court ruling as pretext for imprisoning men for up to 24 years without any crime.

Since 2016, the FSB have been using ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’ charges in occupied Crimea as a weapon of repression, especially against civic journalists and activists from the Crimean Solidarity civic initiative.   The arrests were condemned by Human Rights Watch who stated that “the sweeping arrests in Crimea aim to portray politically active Crimean Tatars as terrorists as a way to silence them”.  All of the men were recognized almost immediately as political prisoners by the Memorial Human Rights Centre, and their release has been demanded by, among others, the European Parliament and US State Department.

It was almost certainly because the arrests were internationally recognized and condemned as an attack on civic journalists and activists that Russia decided to divide them up into five cloned ‘trials’, all of them with identical charges, the same ‘secret witnesses’ and other flawed evidence.

The absurdity of such an approach is particularly clear in this case where all of the five defendants are accused of ‘organizing’ a Hizb ut-Tahrir group, under Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code, without a single defendant accused of having taken part in the alleged ‘group’ (Article 205.5 § 2).  These supposed ‘organizers’ are Remzi Bekirov, a correspondent and Crimean Solidarity civic journalist; Riza Izetov, a human rights activist and Crimean Solidarity civic journalist;  and Crimean Solidarity activists:  Rayim Aivazov ; Farkhod Bazarov and Shaban Umerov.  All of the men are also charged, by the country which used military force to seize power and occupy Crimea, with “planning a violent seizure of power and change in Russia’s constitutional order” (Article 278).  Here too, there are no grounds for the charges.

The ‘trial’ now underway at the same Southern District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don used for most of Russia’s political trials of Crimean Tatar and other Ukrainian political prisoners is under presiding judge Oleg Volkov, together with Vitaly Mamedov and Magomedbasir Shuyapov.

It was Volkov who first removed Bazarov after the latter addressed the court in Crimean Tatar, his native language.  He dismissed the defence’s request for him to be allowed to return and for an interpreter to be used, claiming that only Russian can be used in the courts, and interpreters are not envisaged.  Riza Izetov objected, saying that Bazarov’s rights were being infringed, and then all four remaining political prisoners began speaking only Crimean Tatar in solidarity. 

All five men were removed from their own ‘trial’.  The timing, it must be said, was appropriate, with the hearing coinciding with the anniversary of the pseudo-‘referendum’ on 16 March 2014 that Russia used to try to mask its armed annexation of Crimea.  Russia has consistently lied about everything to do with its invasion and occupation of Crimea, from the identity of the Russian soldiers without insignia who seized control to the supposed ‘rights’ enjoyed by all Crimeans, including the official status of three languages: Ukrainian, Crimean Tatar and Russian.  The court on this seventh anniversary demonstrated just how fictitious that right is under Russian occupation.


The letters tell them they are not forgotten, and show Moscow that the ‘trial’ now underway is being followed. 

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.

The addresses below can be written in either Russian or in English transcription.  The particular addressee’s name and year of birth need to be given.

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. ] 

Rayim Aivazov

344022, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Айвазову, Раиму Халиловичу, г.р. 1994

 [In English:  344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Aivazov, Rayim Khalilovych, b. 1994 ]

Farkhod Bazarov

344064, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону,  ул. Тоннельная, 4, СИЗО-5

Базарову, Фарходу Эгамбердиевичу , г.р. 1986

344064, Russia, Rostov on the Don, 4 Tonnelnaya St., SIZO-5

Bazarov, Farkhod Egamberdievych, b. 1986

Remzi Bekirov

344022, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Бекирову, Ремзи Рустемовичу, г.р. 1985

 [In English:  344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Bekirov, Remzi Rustemovych, b. 1985]

Riza Izetov

344022, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Изетову, Риза Мустафаевичу , г.р. 1979

 [In English:  344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Izetov, Riza Mustafayevych, b. 1979 ]

Shaban Umerov

344022, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Умерову, Шабану Изетовичу, г.р. 1969

 [In English:  344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Umerov, Shaban Izetovych, b. 1969 ]


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