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Russia’s remake trial of Crimean Tatar Mejlis leader provides evidence for international courts

20.04.2021
Halya Coynash

Refat Chubarov Photo DPA

The ‘trial’ is ending in Russian-occupied Crimea of Refat Chubarov, Head of the Mejlis, or representative assembly, of the Crimean Tatar people.  This is a political trial whose outcome is in no doubt.  What remains unclear is why Russia chose to stage a near exact remake of its internationally condemned trial of Chubarov’s deputy, Akhtem Chiygoz.  The circumstances around that trial, as well as details it brought to light about Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, were already incriminating enough.  The remake is even worse, since another grotesque charge has been added, linked solely to Chubarov’s expressed opposition to Russian occupation.  It has, moreover, been running in parallel to an equally surreal ‘trial’ of world-renowned Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev.  These, it would seem, are Russia’s response to the order issued by the UN’s International Court of Justice [ICJ] exactly four years ago, on 19 April 2017 that Russia withdraw its shocking ban on the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, and other forms of discrimination against Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians.  Russia is facing proceedings at ICJ, the International Criminal Court and the European Court of Human Rights with these ‘trials’ and all that they expose likely to be the subject of scrutiny there, as will be the banishing of Dzhemilev; Chubarov and others from their homeland.   Any attempt by Russia to cite ‘convictions’ after these trials in absentia as justification for its ban on the Mejlis are clearly doomed to failure. 

The occupation regime presumably understood that there was a lot that needed to be concealed since they used illegal methods to prevent lawyer Nikolai Polozov from representing Chubarov in this case, as he had Chiygoz.  They claimed there to be a ‘conflict of interest’ although this was evidently absurd since Chiygoz and Chubarov had exactly the same position with respect to the charges against them, and the trial of Chiygoz is long over.  

Russia’s Investigative Committee announced at the end of March 2020 that it was charging Chubarov under two articles of Russia’s criminal code.  One of these was the notorious Article 280.1 § 2 on so-called ‘public calls to carry out action aimed at violating Russia’s territorial integrity’ which came into force shortly after Russia invaded and annexed Ukrainian Crimea.  That charge against Chubarov was first announced in October 2015, with Russia then claiming, some 14 months after it had banned Chubarov from Crimea, that they would be “demanding his extradition”.  It can demand this as much as it likes on Russian state-controlled television, only not from Ukraine or INTERPOL, since the charge is not only political, but also for a position regarding Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea which Chubarov shares with the UN General Assembly, all international bodies and democratic states.

The second charge is the remake of those brought against the First Deputy of the Mejlis, Akhtem Chiygoz in January 2015. The demonstration, organized by the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, on 26 February 2014 almost certainly foiled Russia’s attempts to carry out a coup without openly deploying Russian soldiers and thus avoiding international sanctions.

The Mejlis was not only the force behind the huge demonstration in support of Ukrainian unity that day, but also continued to implacably oppose Russia’s occupation.  Russia’s revenge against the Mejlis, and to a large extent Crimean Tatars in general was clearly demonstrated in the anti-Crimean Tatar nature of the criminal charges brought against Chiygoz and seven other Crimean Tatars. 

Chiygoz was arrested on 29 January 2015 and charged with ‘organizing a mass riot’ in connection with the demonstration on 26 February 2014.  The other men were accused of taking part.  There was no mass riot that day, although even had there been, Russia would still have had no jurisdiction over a demonstration that took place on Ukrainian territory.

There were two demonstrations on 26 February 2014, which largely coincided in time and space.  One was organized by the Mejlis, with around 10 thousand Crimean Tatars, Euromaidan activists and other Ukrainians gathering to block any attempt by parliament to push through a change in Crimea’s status.  The Russian Unity party, led by Sergei Aksyonov organized a counter-demonstration, with around four thousand pro-Russian demonstrators.   

There were two deaths that day, but both were in the area where pro-Russian demonstrators were gathered and one died of a heart attack.  With respect to the death of Valentina Korneva, her husband specifically stated that he does not think the men on trial had anything to do with it, and that it was probably paid thugs brought to the demonstration in two coaches by the pro-Russian side. Although the deaths were constantly mentioned to give the impression of real crimes, not one of the men was charged in connection with them.  They were used, however, in Russia’s cynical attempts to deny discrimination against the Crimean Tatar people and ethnic Ukrainians at the International Court of Justice. 

The video footage shown during the Chiygoz trial showed numerous attacks and attempts to provoke trouble from the pro-Russian side (see, for example, Russia inadvertently gives proof for international courts in trial of Crimean Tatar leader Akhtem Chiygoz

The eight-year sentence passed on Akhtem Chiygoz in September 2017 was condemned by the entire international community, as was the later sentence passed on another Mejlis leader Ilmi Umerov.

Both men were unexpectedly released into exile on 25 October 2017, following a deal which appears to have involved their exchange  for two Russian killers who had carried out a political killing in Turkey and been caught. 

Having rejected Chubarov’s offer to testify at Chiygoz’s trial, Russia then turned around and decided to repeat this most squalid and lawless trial, with Chubarov the ‘accused’.

If Russia’s aim, by blocking Polozov and appointing a lawyer, was to silence the defence, the aim misfired, since Alexander Osokin seems to have properly represented Chubarov.  During one of the last hearings on 12 April, Osokin reported that one of the alleged ‘victims’ had stated in court that he had no grievance against  Chubarov and doesn’t even know who he is.   Three defence witnesses had stated in court that the crush that day had been provoked and that all of Chubarov’s actions had been aimed to preventing any violence from either side.  They testified that there had been groups brought in by coach who had deliberately caused the crushing.  This, Polozov had earlier demonstrated on countless pieces of video footage,

The next hearing at the Russian-controlled High Court is scheduled for 24 May, with the prosecutor likely to say what ‘sentence’ they are demanding.

 

 

 

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