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Russia sentences Crimean Tatar Regional Mejlis Head in contempt of International Court of Justice order

09.08.2021
Halya Coynash

Ilver Ametov, August 2021 Photo Crimean Solidarity

A ‘court’ in Russian-occupied Crimea has sentenced 71-year-old Ilver Ametov, Head of the Sudak Regional Mejlis [Crimean Tatar self-governing body), to eight months restriction of liberty following an absurd ‘trial’ evidently staged because of Ametov’s role in the Mejlis.  For well over four years, Russia has flouted an order from the UN’s International Court of Justice [ICJ] to withdraw its extraordinary ban against the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, which is the legitimate representative assembly of the main indigenous people of Crimea.  It has instead concocted several ‘criminal proceedings’ against elected representatives of the Mejlis or its regional bodies, or against respected members of the Crimean Tatar community who are claimed to be linked with the Mejlis.

Ametov, a veteran of the Crimean Tatar national movement, and also a successful businessman, has been subjected to at least three armed searches since Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea.  The ‘trial’ that ended on 5 August 2021 at the Sudak City Court, was over charges laid after one of these searches, on 27 September 2019.  The officers’ actions were formally described only as ‘an inspection of the premises’, with the order for this signed by the police head for occupied Crimea, Pavel Karanda, on the basis of a report by Nikolai Balashov from the so-called ‘Centre for countering extremism’.  This alleged ‘inspection’ was supposed to be over ‘suspicion of incitement to enmity; public calls to extremist activity; and also holding goods and produce not meeting safety requirements.”  Such a list suggests an intention to find anything to pin on the Regional Mejlis leader.  In the absence of any real offence, very old weapons held in a display case, under lock and key, as part of Ametov’s home museum collection of historical artefacts, were used to bring a charge of illegal purchase or possession of a weapon or its component parts, under Article 222 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code).  Administrative proceedings were also initiated, and  a fine imposed over some bottles of cognac which staff at his café had brought in for their own celebration and which Ametov had known nothing about.

Graty reports that the parts of weapons were from a ‘Nagan’ revolver; a Schmeisser automatic rifle, earlier reported as being from WWII, and two rifles.  Ametov says that he had all required permits, and an expert assessment found that the weapons were made at the end of the 19th century or beginning of the 20th.

Ametov’s lawyer, Aleksei Rostovtsev, had applied for the protocol drawn up over the ‘inspection’ of Ametov’s home and café, since such an ‘inspection’, rather than a search, is inadmissible where criminal charges are initiated.  He insisted that Ametov should, at most, have been accused of an administrative offence, but points out that there was, in fact, no offence at all.  The items in question were safety locked away in a display case, and were merely exhibits for the home museum which were often shown to schoolchildren, Sudak residents and tourists as a corner devoted to World War II.

Rostovtsev points out that the final version of the indictment actually states that the items in question were kept as collectors’ items.  Even if unlawful, that falls under the Code of administrative offences.

There were also other serious irregularities. As reported, in December 2020, the court ordered a new ballistic expert assessment which the prosecutor claimed was to “remove minor infringements”.  According to Rostovtsev, these was nothing at all minor about this. He demonstrated technical details which appear to indicate that the prosecution obtained the figures needed to allow their criminal charges by removing from the weapon’s trunk a cylinder-shaped insertion which restricts the calibre of the weapon and the possibilities for ammunition.

Regardless of the above, the ‘prosecutor’ demanded 10 months ‘restriction of liberty’, with ‘judge’ Yelena Bosi imposing 8 months.  71-year-old Ametov will be forced to appear at the police station once a month.  The sentence will be appealed. .

The first search of Ametov’s home was carried out on 2 December 2015, while he himself was in hospital.  The Russian enforcement bodies came again on 8 May 2017.  Ametov was not home, but the armed men who burst in forced his son Amet to the ground, put handcuffs on him and kicked him several times. All of this was in front of Ametov’s four small grandchildren. 

As well as the above-mentioned weapon parts, the officers removed ‘for assessment’ Ametov’s document confirming his position in the Regional Mejlis.

The supposed ‘inspection’ on 27 September 2019, reportedly involved several dozen armed men  blocking Ametov’s home and the café he owns, while a search was carried out.   Despite the scale and methods used in this operation, this was clearly in search of a pretext for bringing charges.  The officers removed “for assessment” a membership document of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis; museum exhibits and various documents.  The political nature of the measure was scarcely concealed, with the ‘pre-investigation check’ on suspicion of the highly dubious ‘extremism’ norms of Russia’s criminal code (Articles 280 and 282), as well as Article 238 (production, storage, etc. of goods not meeting safety requirements).  

Officers turned up again at Ametov’s home on 11 March, 2021 and tried to hand him a summons to appear before the ‘centre for countering extremism’.  They were unsuccessful since Ametov refused to sign their document, but their questions were about the activities of the Regional Mejlis.  They ‘reminded’ Ametov of Russia’s ban and, ominously, asked if Ametov finances Mejlis activities.

As Ilver Ametov explained later to Crimean Solidarity, “I was elected by the people [as head of the Regional Mejlis], and I am not renouncing this. If the people get tired of me, then let them say, and I will give up.”

The Crimean Tatar Mejlis and its leaders demonstrated their unequivocal opposition to Russian occupation from the outset.  Repressive measures against the Mejlis began soon after it called on all Crimeans to boycott Russia’s pseudo-referendum on 16 March, 2014.  If the initial measures mainly targeted individuals, with Mustafa Dzhemiliev and the current head of the Mejlis, Refat Chubarov both banned from their homeland, this soon changed. In  September 2014, the Mejlis was evicted from its traditional headquarters, and on Jan 29, 2015, Akhtem Chiygoz, the Deputy Head of the Mejlis was arrested and imprisoned on legally nonsensical charges, with another Mejlis leader also put on ‘trial’ over remarks supporting sanctions as a means of getting Russia to leave Crimea.

Threats to ban the Mejlis began in October 2015, and on February 15, 2016 the de facto prosecutor Natalya Poklonskaya announced that an application had been made for the ban, with the claim being that the Mejlis was ‘extremist’.  There were Soviet echoes in the claim that this was based on “appeals from the Crimean Tatar population, including from the heads of Crimean Tatar organizations, asking for the activities of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis to be declared unlawful and provocation”.

The formal ban was issued on April 26, 2016, with this upheld by the Russian Supreme Court on Sep 29, 2016. 

It was on 19 April 2017, that the UN’s International Court of Justice ordered Russia to withdraw this ban.  Russia has not just flouted it, but has concocted at least two criminal prosecutions, with the most truly shocking of these directly killing the world-renowned 83-year-old veteran of the Crimean Tatar national movement, Vedzhie Kashka (see  Russia protects officers who killed 83-year-old Crimean Tatar veteran activist Vedzhie Kashka )

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