• Topics / Human Rights Abuses in Russian-occupied Crimea
Crimean Solidarity activist faces 19-year sentence for discussing religion
Russia’s arrests and ‘trials’ of Crimean Tatar political prisoners are such a conveyor belt of repression that it can seem hard to distinguish one case from another. The majority involve the same fake ‘terrorism’ charges; identical ‘expert’ opinions; anonymous witnesses and predetermined sentences. The victims, however, have names and families. In the vast majority of cases, small children have been awoken by masked men, bursting into their homes, brandishing machine guns, before taking their fathers away. Each such trauma is individual and may leave a scar for life.
Emil Ziyadinov, a 37-year-old father of four whom the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre has just recognized as a political prisoner. is no exception. Like very many Crimean Tatars and devout Muslims, he was not willing to look the other way while other men were being arrested, and had joined the Crimean Solidarity civic initiative, attending political trials, taking part in solitary pickets, etc. Nor did he stop when he himself faced harassment and charges of ‘not obeying enforcement officers’ for peacefully standing outside the home of Crimean Solidarity civic journalist Rustem Sheikhaliev during the latter’s arrest.
Russia’s FSB came for Ziyadinov during its ‘operation’ on 7 July 2020, when eleven armed searches were carried out and seven men arrested, including a Russian convert to Islam, Alexander Sizikov, who is blind and walks with difficulty. All of the men, who included four civic activists, were charged with ‘involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir ‘,a peaceful Muslim organization which is legal in Ukraine, and which is not known to have committed any acts of terrorism or violence anywhere in the world. The highly secretive Russian Supreme Court’s ruling in 2003, which declared Hizb ut-Tahrir and many other organizations ‘terrorist’ was probably passed for political reasons, with Moscow looking for a way of forcibly sending Uzbek refugees back to Uzbekistan where they faced religious persecution.
Russia has been making arrests in occupied Crimea on the basis of that flawed ruling since January 2015, and has increasingly used these fake ‘terrorism’ charges as a weapon against Crimean Solidarity and human rights activists in general.
In declaring Ziyadinov a political prisoner and demanding his immediate release, the Memorial Human Rights Centre notes that the Crimean Tatar father of four was arrested on terrorist charges, without being accused of any specific terrorist activities.
“We consider that he is being persecuted for his non-violent exercising of his right to freedom of religion and of association. According to our information, he has been deprived of his liberty without any elements of a crime in order to stop his religious activities and also to crush the civic activism of residents of annexed Crimea.”
Ziyadinov has been charged with the more serious ‘organizing a Hizb ut-Tahrir group’ (under Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code), with this carrying a sentence of up to life imprisonment. While Russian courts seem willing to slightly reduce the monstrous sentences demanded by prosecutors under Article 205.5 § 2 (‘involvement in a Hizb ut-Tahrir group), they show no such flexibility where the charge is of ‘organizing’. At present, Crimean Tatars accused of this are receiving sentences of between 18 and 20 years.
It has also become standard in occupied Crimea to charge all these political prisoners under Articles 30 and 278 – with planning an armed uprising. There has not been one case where ‘searches’ have found any weapons, etc, nor is there any evidence even of specific plans. The charges, Memorial notes, are based solely on the fact that Hizb ut-Tahrir views as its ultimate goal the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate, with this encompassing regions inhabited by Muslims.
Memorial has studied the ‘evidence’ in this case and found it seriously lacking in substance. There are supposed ‘expert assessments’ of the transcripts of four meetings between Ziyadinov and an unidentified person. These alleged experts claim that Ziyadinov is behaving like “a teacher”, “a mentor”, etc., while the unidentified person purportedly behaves like “a student”. The two men read what are asserted to be “texts from the ideological sources of Hizb ut-Tahrir “ and discussed them. “According to the investigators, this constitutes ‘terrorist activities’, Memorial notes.
Memorial reiterates its long-standing position, that the Supreme Court ruling declaring Hizb ut-Tahrir ‘terrorist’ was unwarranted and illegal, and provided no proof of any terrorist activities. The human rights NGO does, in fact, consider all those convicted merely of ‘involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir’ to be political prisoners.
The situation is especially bad in occupied Crimea, given that Hizb ut-Tahrir is perfectly legal in Ukraine. Memorial has also repeatedly noted in the past that Russia is in breach of international law (the Fourt Geneva Convention, for example) in applying Russian legislation on occupied territory.
Memorial also mentions Ziyadinov’s civic activism and states that “charges of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir have become a weapon for crushing Crimeans’ solidarity”.
Like most of the Crimean Tatars imprisoned on these charges, Emil Ziyadinov was born in exile (as a result of Stalin’s 1944 Deportation of the entire Crimean Tatar people). He is now once again exiled, in Russia, very far from his wife and four small sons (Asadullakh, b. 2011; Umar, b. 2013; Davud, b. 2014; and Mukhammad, born in 2018. A graduate of the Taurida National University, he originally worked as a sports trainer, however had, in 2018, completed professional studies and become a qualified electrician.
Ziyadinov’s ‘trial’ began at the Southern District Military Court in Rostov (Russia) in April this year. The arrests on 7 July 2020 showed one ominous difference from previous ‘operations’ with he and three other men ‘on trial’ alone. This makes it much harder to follow all of the ‘trials’, sucwhile probably enabling the FSB officers involved to pump up their statistics (claiming to have ‘solved’ X number of ‘terrorist cases’). Memorial has already declared Vadim Bektemirov and Ismet Ibragimov political prisoners, and it is only a matter of time before it issues statements regarding all of the men facing these grotesque charges.
Please write to Emil Ziyadinov!
The letters tell him and Moscow that he is not forgotten and that Russia’s treatment of him is under close scrutiny. 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 he can answer.
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. ]
344022, Россия,, Ростовская обл., г. Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219, ФКУ СИЗО-1
Зиядинову, Эмилю Исмаиловичу, 1984 г.р.
Or in English
344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1
Ziyadinov, Emil Ismailovich, b. 1984