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Mothers of Crimean Tatar political prisoners prosecuted for affirming their sons’ innocence

16.04.2021
Halya Coynash

The mothers, from left, of Arsen Abkairov and Rustem Emiruseinov, with placards reading My son is nto a terrorist. Photos Crimean Solidarity

The mothers of three Crimean Tatar political prisoners are facing administrative prosecution for silent single-person pickets in defence of their sons.  Even Russia’s repression legislation on peaceful assembly allows such pickets, only not, it would seem, in occupied Crimea. 

Crimean Solidarity reported on 14 April that Zelikha Abkhairova and Zurye Emiruseinova had both received police summonses, with the third mother, Emine Abdulganieva receiving an analogous document the following day.  In all cases, the women are threatened with administrative liability under Article 20.2 § 5 of Russia’s code of administrative offences.  This claims ‘infringement of the established rules for organizing or holding a gathering; rally; demonstration; procession or picket’. 

There was no infringement since single-person pickets are permitted and do not require any permission or even notification of the occupation authorities.  There is, however, little reason for optimism that Russian-controlled courts will throw these cases out.  The punishment for such non-existent offences range from 10 to 20 thousand roubles or 40 hours of community work.

Since there is just a chance that the ‘courts’ will reject such overtly illegal prosecution, a new regulation linked with the pandemic may be added, as it has been once before. Article 20.6.1 claims infringement of “the rules linked with the state of heightened risk due to the threat of an emergency”.  This is equally absurd since a single-person picket, by definition, involves standing at a distance from other people

Lawyer Lilya Hemedzhi is convinced that these prosecutions are aimed at stopping the mothers of political prisoners from standing up for the rights of their imprisoned sons and at instilling fear in others. She points to the double standards at play.  Since restrictions linked with the pandemic began, there have been a number of official events, held with large groups of people, observing no social distancing.  Yet a single woman, wearing a mask and maintaining a distance while affirming her political prisoner son’s innocence, can be prosecuted for infringing pandemic regulations.

The three mothers all tried to hold single-person pickets, in different parts of the Krasnogvardeisk district of Crimea, on 31 October 2020.  Zurye Emiruseinova is elderly and in poor health, and ended up taken to hospital after Russian-controlled police harassed her and even tried to detain her.

She had positioned herself at the side of a main road near the village of Oktyabrske with a placard reading ‘My son is not a terrorist’.  Her daughter-in-law was at a perfectly safe distance, from where she was streaming the picket onto Facebook.  The elderly lady had only been standing there for around three minutes, when the officers appeared demanding to see her documents; shouting and demanding that she come with them to the police station.  They claimed that she had been holding a ‘rally’, although it was clear that she was standing alone.   Aliye Emiruseinova asked them several times to lower their voices and speak more calmly, explaining that her mother-in-law suffered from hypertensive heart disease and was already in a state of stress because of the court sentences due on 3 November. The officers paid no heed, and as could be expected, an ambulance was needed to take  Zurye Emiruseinova to hospital, where the doctors said she needed to stay for several days. The police were threatening to take her to the police station and fill out protocols of supposed ‘administrative offences’ and even followed the ambulance to the hospital, leaving only after being told the diagnosis and doctors’ decision.

On 3 November 2020, 41-year-old Rustem Emiruseinov, a Crimean Solidarity activist who had visited political trials, taken part in flash-mobs protesting against mounting repression and in other ways helped political prisoners, was sentenced to 17 years’ imprisonment.  Arsen Abkhairov and Eskender Abdulganiev were sentenced to 13 and 12 years, respectively. 

None was accused of any recognizable crime, with the charges solely of unproven involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a peaceful Muslim organization which is legal in Ukraine.  The Russian Supreme Court declared it ‘terrorist’ in 2003 in a highly irregular, secretive ruling probably aimed at helping the authorities send victims of religious persecution back to Uzbekistan.  This ruling is now being used in occupied Crimea as a weapon, in particular against Crimean Tatar civic journalists and activists.

Emiruseinov was charged under Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code (‘organizing a Hizb ut-Tahrir group’) , with Abkhairov and Abdulganiev accused of ‘involvement’ in this non-existent ‘group’ under Article 205.5 § 2.  The Russian FSB also added the even more surreal charge (under Article 278) of ‘planning to violently seize power’. 

The men appeared in court on 3 November 2020 in T-shirts, reading “Studying religion is not terrorism” and pointing to how in 1944 the Soviet regime falsely labelled Crimean Tatars ‘traitors’ in order to justify Stalin’s Deportation of the entire Crimean Tatar people.  Under Russian occupation, Crimean Tatars are increasingly labelled ‘terrorists’ or ‘extremists’, also without any justification.

There was no proof to back the illegal charges, with the FSB having its own ‘linguistic experts’ who will listen to any illicitly taped conversation and claim that this word, or that subject, means that a person is a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir.  In this case, the conversation was about bringing up children in a Muslim family.  Emiruseinov has a son and two daughters, Abkhairov – a 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son.  Abdulganiev was just 21 when arrested, and was still just dreaming of marrying and having a family of his own. 

As well as this innocuous taped conversation, the FSB also used a book planted during the armed searches carried out on 14 February 2019 as ‘evidence’, with such illegal methods doubtless the reason why lawyers, who arrived to represent the men, were unlawfully prevented from being present at the searches. 

The FSB also use ‘secret witnesses’, whose testimony, echoing the charges, cannot be checked.  There are no grounds for concealing any witness’ testimony, however the court invariably allows the prosecution’s demand for such secrecy, even when the defence demonstrates that the person’s testimony is contradictory, that he is obviously being prompted by somebody in the room with him, etc.  On 22 September 2020, the European Court of Human Rights issued an important judgement (the Case of Vasilyev and Others v. Russia  which found that Russia’s unwarranted use of such alleged ‘witnesses’ was a violation of the applicants’ right to a fair trial.

Everything about the trial of the three Crimean Tatars was a violation of this fundamental right, yet on 3 November 2020, presiding judge Ruslan Plisko, together with Igor Kostin and Yevgeny Zviagin sentenced three innocent men to terms of imprisonment far higher than those Russian judges generally pass against people convicted, on real grounds, of violent crimes.   The sentences were slightly lower than those demanded by prosecutors Valery Kuznetsov and Igor Nadolinsky, but horrifically long

The renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre declared all three men political prisoners back in January 2020.  It considers all such ‘terrorism’ charges based solely on claims of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir to be flawed, but has repeatedly pointed out in the case of Crimean Tatars, that Russia is also in breach of international law which prohibits an occupying state from applying its legislation on occupied territory.  The situation is especially shocking here as Hizb ut-Tahrir is legal in Ukraine.

The men are now awaiting the appeal hearing. 

Please write to Rustem; Arsen and Eskender!   The letters tell them they are not forgotten, and show Moscow that their persecution 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.

Sample letter

Привет,

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. ] 

The envelopes can be written in Russian or English as below.

Rustem Emiruseinov

Россия 346408, Ростовская область, г. Новочеркасск, ул. Украинская, № 1б СИЗО-3,

Эмирусеинову, Рустему Решатовичу, 1979 г.р.

 [In English:  Russian Federation 346408, Rostov oblast, Novocherkassk, ul. Ukrainskaya, No. 1, SIZO-3,

Emiruseinov, Rustem Reshatovich, b. 1979 ]

Eskender Abdulganiev

Россия 346408, Ростовская область, г. Новочеркасск, ул. Украинская, № 1б СИЗО-3,

Абдулганиеву, Эскендеру Иззетовичу, 1998 г.р.

 [In English:  Russian Federation 346408, Rostov oblast, Novocherkassk, ul. Ukrainskaya, No. 1, SIZO-3,

Abdulganiev, Eskender Izzetovich, b. 1997 ]

Arsen Abkhairov

Россия 346408, Ростовская область, г. Новочеркасск, ул. Украинская, № 1б СИЗО-3,

Абхаирову, Арсену Ремзиевичу, 1987 г.р.

 [In English:  Russian Federation 346408, Rostov oblast, Novocherkassk, ul. Ukrainskaya, No. 1, SIZO-3,

Abkhairov, Arsen Remzievich, b. 1987 ]

 

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