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Punitive psychiatry without end for human rights activism in Russian-occupied Crimea

29.04.2021
Halya Coynash

The Russian-controlled High Court in occupied Crimea has upheld a sentence against Yalta rights activist Yunush Masharipov which could result in him imprisoned indefinitely in a psychiatric institution.

The hearing on 27 April was behind closed doors, and without Masharipov himself present.  His lawyer, Alexei Ladin says that the panel of judges, under presiding judge Alla Ovchinnikova refused to question experts, despite the fact that they had provided contradictory diagnoses with respect to Masharipov.  The ‘court’ also rejected the defence’s legitimate application under such circumstances for an independent assessment to be carried out. 

The ‘court’ then declared DNA evidence admissible and found Masharipov guilty of possessing explosives, however excluded the charge of preparing and purchasing an explosive device as unproven.  The biological traces had been illegally obtained and a previous court had rightly excluded them. The charges in their entirety should have been thrown out since the explosive substance which Masharipov was claimed to have been in possession of was ‘found’ in his absence.  The material was also uncovered without any explosive experts being deployed.  Such behaviour would make sense only if the FSB had themselves planted the explosive and, therefore, knew it to be safe for them to ‘find’.  The FSB ‘witnesses’ who appeared in court claimed that the source of their information was a ‘state secret’ which they could not divulge.

All of the above should have been grounds for dismissing the charges outright and releasing the Crimean Tatar rights activist.  By now even a conviction alone would not have been a problem since 56-year-old Masharipov has already been held in one form of captivity or another for almost four years.  The ‘court’, however, also upheld the order on mandatory psychiatric ‘treatment’, without any timeframe.

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.

Masharipov’s arrest came just months after the UN’s International Court of Justice specifically ordered Russia to revoke its extraordinary ban of the Mejlis. Instead of complying, the occupation regime fabricated criminal prosecutions clearly aimed at discrediting the Mejlis and its members.

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’. 

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’.  It was these judges who, on 27 April, both convicted Masharipov of the lesser of two charges, despite totally flawed ‘evidence’, and upheld the order for his incarceration in a psychiatric institution.  Ladin has said that he will be lodging a cassation appeal. 

There seems every reason to believe that Masharipov has been punished for his courage in retracting illegally extracted ‘confessions’ with the use of punitive psychiatry meaning that the Crimean Tatar rights activist could remain a victim of punitive psychiatry until Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea ends.

 

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