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A Bullet in the Head instead of a Lawyer. Russia steps up Terror in occupied Crimea

13.05.2021
Halya Coynash

The wife and 11-year-old daughter of slain refugee Nabi Rakhimov Photo Crimean Solidarity

Lawyers believe that the FSB in Russian-occupied Crimea first tortured Nabi Rakhimov, and then staged a ‘shootout’ on 11 May, quite possibly to hide the real cause of the Uzbek refugee’s death.  The enforcement bodies are refusing to hand over the slain man’s body, claiming that it is part of their ‘investigation’.  There is, in fact, nothing to suggest that there was ‘an investigation’ before the FSB killed Rakhimov.  Human rights lawyer, Emil Kurbedinov explains that they have yet to see any warrants to search either the home where Rakhimov’s wife was living with the couple’s two younger children, or the semi-built house where he was sleeping while he continued construction work.  As if all of this were not enough brutality, Rakhimov’s widow, Sokhiba Burkhanova  is now facing deportation to Uzbekistan, with the children’s fate at present unclear.

As reported, the officers who carried out a search of the Rakhimov home early on 11 May took Burkhanova away, initially to the migration office.  Her 15-year-old son insisted on going with his mother, and both were held, first at the migration office, later by enforcement officers for ‘questioning’, until at least very late at night.  The two both refused to provide DNA samples which would quite likely have been used for falsifying ‘evidence’.

Crimean Solidarity activist Mumine Saliyeva reports that on Tuesday evening, at the Investigative Committee’s Simferopol office, Sokhiba was shown three photos and asked if she recognized her husband’s body.

That is quite literally how they informed her that her husband was dead.

A Russian ‘special operation’

It began in the way that has become sickeningly ‘usual’ under Russian occupation, with the report, at around 6 a.m., that an armed search was underway at the Rakhimov home in the village of Zavetnoye.   It is the illegal norm that the FSB do not allow lawyers to be present, however it appears that this time nobody even produced a warrant or indeed any other papers to indicate why the FSB and other enforcement officers were there.  Nothing at all illegal was found, with the officers removing only technology, but also taking Sokhiba away, together with her son, Takiuddin. 

The unusual, and tragic, aspect of these unarmed ‘searches’ was that Nabi Rakhimov was quite alone in the house in Dubki.  It seems that there had been recent signs of surveillance, meaning that the FSB were doubtless aware that Rakhimov would be there alone.

It remains possible that this was revenge. In 2013 the European Court of Human Rights had found that Russia had violated Rakhimov’s rights under the prohibition of torture and right to liberty and security and awarded substantial damages.  It had also clearly prohibited Russia from extraditing Rakhimov to Uzbekistan where he faced likely torture and religious persecution.  Applications to ECHR are individual matters, however the fact that Rakhimov was in danger if forcibly returned to Uzbekistan almost certainly means that there is danger for his widow as well.

According to lawyer Lilya Hemedzhi, neighbours of the house that Rakhimov was working on report that enforcement officers turned up at the home in the morning of 11 May and were there for some time without any explosions or gunshots.  It was only later that they heard some kind of popping noises. 

Lawyers have issued demands for the body to be handed over to the family, but for the moment have only been shown FSB videos.  On one shot you can see a hand with fingers ripped away and a gun, although he could hardly use a gun without fingers. The lawyers point also to the fact that everything inside has been turned upside and are sure that this is all an attempt to conceal what actually happened.

The claim made by the FSB, and by Russian-controlled media, is that Rakhimov was “an armed terrorist” who started shooting at them and needed to be “eliminated”.   This is denied by everybody who knew the family. Crimean Solidarity has spoken with people who knew Rakhimov, including one acquaintance who specifically states that the slain man would not himself carry weapons and told others not to do so. 

It is difficult to imagine how anybody would try shooting with one pistol at a serious contingent of armed men, carrying machine guns. And that is if they had something to fear and here this should not have been the case.  The ECHR ban on Russia extraditing Rakhimov certainly applied also to illegally occupied Crimea.  There is nothing to substantiate the claims made after the killing that Rakhimov was on the wanted list, and he and his family had been living peacefully and entirely openly in Crimea for the last six years.  

Some of the lies told are simply absurd.  Having killed Rakhimov, the FSB then initiated ‘criminal proceedings’ against him for supposedly attacking an enforcement officer.  When Seidamet Gafarov, the man who owned the house that Rakhimov was working on, arrived at the house, the FSB prevented him from entering and instead put handcuffs on him and took him off to the Investigative Committee.  As Hemedzhi points out, it was quite unclear why and what status Gafarov had.  It is equally unclear why a search was needed of the Gafarov home, however the enforcement officers were clearly displeased to find lawyers present. Gafarov’s wife had herself phoned Hemedzhi, terrified at the prospect of such a ‘search’ when she was there alone with a small child, and another lawyer had also arrived to help. 

Unable to stop the lawyers entering, the enforcement officers proceeded to hurl abuse at them, at Gafarov’s wife and also made quite surreal claims about Rakhimov who they said had been wanted for an attempt on the life of the Uzbek President. 

The truly shocking part of all of this is that absurd and unsubstantiated claims have been made for decades to justify arbitrary killings in Chechnya.  It was only a small number of courageous journalists and rights activists, like Anna Politkovskaya and Natalia Estimirova, who insisted on fighting the lies and ensuring that the world knew about the victims of such lawlessness.  Until they too were murdered,  

In occupied Crimea, since Rakhimov’s killing, there has been what human rights lawyer Emil Kurbedinov calls an information offensive by the Russian authorities, including Sergei Aksyonov, the Russian-installed Crimean leader.  It is claimed that ‘a terrorist’ was killed and that he had been living illegally in Crimea with support from members of Hizb ut-Tahrir .  Kurbedinov believes that Rakhimov was first tortured and then killed, with stun grenades and shots later used to pretend that Rakhimov had shown armed resistance and been killed.  Kurbedinov says that they will be carrying out a lawyers’ investigation into what really happened.

Having killed Sokhiba Burkhanova’s husband, the occupation authorities then not only made her a ‘witness’ in their preposterous criminal charges against Rakhimov, but also organized her deportation. On 12 May the Russian-controlled Sovietsky District Court ordered that she be placed in a temporary holding centre before being deported to Uzbekistan.  The two eldest daughters are already adults, however the ‘court’ ordered that 11-year-old Mariam and Takiuddin (15) could either be taken by an adult to Uzbekistan (which they are unlikely to even remember), or that somebody offers to take care of them.  As of Wednesday evening, the Russian-controlled social services had come to take the two children away, however it was clear that the Crimean Tatar community will make sure that a home is found for them. 

Hundreds of Crimean Tatars came to the Rakhimov home on 12 May to express their sympathy and solidarity.  Russia appears to have entered a new phase of terror and lawlessness, and did so, against a family of devout Muslims, in the last days of the Holy Month of Ramadan.

 

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