Germany’s Nord Stream 2 collaboration comes as Russia holds a record number of Ukrainian political prisoners
Russian President Vladimir Putin may not succeed in getting Nord Stream 2 launched by Ukraine’s Independence Day on 24 August, but he certainly reaped maximum propaganda benefits during Angela Merkel’s last visit to Moscow as German Chancellor. Judging by the photos, it was warm smiles all the way and, indeed, why not? Nord Stream 2 is about to be launched, despite the legitimate security concerns expressed by Ukraine and many of its neighbours. Merkel made the standard assurances, about commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity, etc., but she made them from Moscow with Germany about to jeopardize Ukraine’s role as a transit country for Russian natural gas, one of the main factors in deterring further Russian aggression against Ukraine.
Western countries’ rejection of Russia’s ongoing occupation of Crimea and of its aggression in Donbas is welcome, but not enough, especially when actions send an entirely different message. In January 2021, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe [PACE] fully reinstated the Russian Federation, despite all the reasons which originally prompted sanctions against Russia remaining in force. Worse, Russia’s credentials were confirmed after the PACE rapporteur had clearly stated that Russia had used 2020 to “make a solution for the Crimea issue in line with international law virtually impossible”. The West makes ‘the right noises’ about Ukraine’s territorial integrity, but does not even properly prosecute those companies like Siemens and Grundlos that violate existing international sanctions. Germany and the USA are giving similar assurances with respect to Nord Stream 2. Why should Vladimir Putin believe that Russia’s abandonment of any transit via Ukraine would meet with anything but statements of deep concern?
The ‘constitutional amendments’ which the PACE rapporteur referred to are not the only legislative methods that Russia is using to establish its distorted narrative on Crimea and lies about the invasion and annexation in 2014. Russia is carrying out intensive militarization and indoctrination of the population in occupied Crimea and in the Russian Federation, with children particularly targeted. Through both demographic changes, and actions directed against ethnic Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar identity (language, religion, cultural heritage, the Russian occupiers are making devastating changes to Crimea.
At a recent press conference, Refat Chubarov the Head of the Mejlis, or self-governing body, of the Crimean Tatar people, stated that Ukraine cannot afford to delay the question of Crimea’s de-occupation and insisted that the issues of Crimea and of the non-government-controlled parts of Donbas must be considered at the same time. Chubarov was reacting to suggestions from certain German politicians (such as Christian Lindner , head of the Free Democratic Party of Germany, that the issue of Crimea should be put on hold.
“Our officials and the country’s leaders should say that we cannot wait since Crimea is not simply territory. Crimea is not merely the people who live there. Crimea is the homeland of the indigenous people of Crimea and if we leave this now … Russia will do everything to destroy this indigenous people”.
Russia is refusing to comply with a UN International Court of Justice order (and calls from all democratic countries) to revoke its shocking ban on the Mejlis and has banned, and is persecuting in absentia, individual members, including Chubarov and world-renowned Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev. A very large number of Crimean Tatar or ethnic Ukrainian activists have been driven out of Crimea or face years of imprisonment.
There are no grounds for treating the threats as empty as around 100 Crimean Tatar and other Ukrainian political prisoners know to their cost. In a number of cases, the victims had faced harassment, administrative prosecution and fairly direct warnings of what to expect if they did not leave Crimea.
In Freedom House’s report Freedom in the World 2021, occupied Crimea was ranked with Somalia and Saudi Arabia at 7/100, while occupied ‘Eastern Donbas’ was only one point above North Korea, at 4/100. This was lower than Russia’s ‘Not Free’ 20/100 score and in a different realm altogether from Ukraine’s ‘Partly Free’ 60/100.
The number of political prisoners would probably be higher were it not for the fact that so many Ukrainian citizens have understood the danger and moved to mainland Ukraine. The situation is particularly tragic for Crimean Tatars whose parents or grandparents were born in exile, following Stalin’s criminal Deportation of the Crimean Tatar people in 1944. Crimean Tatars were treated particularly brutally then and it was only really under Ukraine’s independence that most were able to return.
Ukraine ‘turns 30’ on 24 August 2021. The celebrations are poignant, coming as they do with Russia still waging its undeclared war against Ukraine, and a huge number of political prisoners held in occupied Crimea or Russia, as well as at least 290 hostages and prisoners of war in non-government-controlled Donbas.
There are certain Russian ‘favourite’ types of persecution:
Religious persecution and / or persecution of Crimean Tatar civic activists and journalists. Fake ‘terrorism’ charges are applied, with men accused of unproven involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a peaceful transnational Muslim organization which is legal in Ukraine and which is not known to have committed any acts of terrorism anywhere in the world. Crimean Tatars or other Ukrainian Muslims, once arrested, face imprisonment for up to 20 years, without being accused of a recognizable crime.
Religious persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Three Ukrainians have already received 6 or 6.5 year sentences, and many others are on trial now, or under house arrest.
‘Ukrainian saboteur’ charges without any acts of sabotage having been committed, and with evidence that the men were subjected to torture. The first person listed, freelance journalist Vladislav Yesypenko, is on trial now – the 10th civic / freelance journalist arrested in occupied Crimea and imprisoned.
Mystery ‘spying’ charges
Revenge for involvement in the Euromaidan protests in mainland Ukraine
Membership, in mainland Ukraine, of perfectly legal organizations which Russia demonizes. At present, a number of Crimean Tatars are imprisoned for up to 10 years for involvement in the Noman Çelebicihan (or Asker) Battalion which, despite its name, is not an armed formation and is not illegal in Ukraine.
The list below is of Crimean Tatar and other Ukrainian political prisoners held in occupied Crimea or Russia. Where possible, the links include addresses for writing to them. Please try to write to at least one – the letters are a lifeline for them, and a clear message to Moscow that its actions are being watched.
‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’ conveyor belt prosecutions
Sevastopol Crimean Tatars
10 May 2018 Enver Seytosmanov
The Yalta Six - the first gratuitously violent ‘operation’ on 11 February 2016, and then arrests of two very young men on 18 April 2016.
Emir-Usein Kuku, the first human rights activist, against whom Russia used ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’ charges, after other persecution failed to silence him. See:
Bakhchysarai Four - four men arrested on 12 May 2016
Simferopol Five - five men, including two brothers, both of them lawyers and Ukrainian sports champions
Suleiman (Marlen) Asanov - a civic journalist sentenced to 19 years
Timur Ibragimov a civic journalist
Seiran Saliyev a civic journalist
14 February 2019
Rustem Emiruseinov a civic activist
27 March 2019 ‘Operation’ against Crimean Tatar civic activists and journalists in which 23 men were seized and almost immediately taken to Russia. Two other men – Rayim Aivazov and Eskender Suleimanov were arrested later.
Izet Abdulayev, actively attended politically motivated ‘court’ hearings
Tofik Abdulgaziev, Crimean Solidarity activist
Vladlen Abdulkadyrov. activist involved in organizing parcels of food, etc. for political prisoners
Medzhit Abdurakhmanov Crimean Solidarity activist
Bilyal Adilov religious figure who also actively attended politically motivated ‘court’ hearings
Rayim Aivazov Crimean Solidarity activist, tortured during his ‘arrest’
Enver Ametov actively attended politically motivated ‘court’ hearings
Osman Arifmemetov Crimean Solidarity civic journalist and activist
Farkhod Bazarov Crimean Solidarity activist
Akim Bekirov civic activist involved in organizing parcels of food, etc. for political prisoners
Remzi Bekirov Crimean Solidarity civic journalist
Dzhemil Gafarov actively attended all politically motivated ‘court’ hearings. Gafarov has a serious kidney disorder and even according to Russian law should not be in detention.
Servet Gaziev, 15.04.1960, actively attended all politically motivated ‘court’ hearings
Riza Izetov human rights activist and Crimean Solidarity civic journalist
Alim Karimov Crimean Solidarity activist
Seiran Murtaza actively attended all politically motivated ‘court’ hearings. He has two children.
Yashar Muyedinov Crimean Solidarity activist
Erfan Osmanov actively attended all politically motivated ‘court’ hearings
Seitveli Seitabdiev Crimean Solidarity activist
Rustem Seitkhalilov Crimean Solidarity activist
Rustem Sheikhaliev Crimean Solidarity civic journalist
Eskender Suleimanov, Crimean Solidarity activist.
Ruslan Suleimanov Crimean Solidarity civic journalist and activist
Shaban Umerov Crimean Solidarity activist
Asan Yanikov civic activist involved in organizing food parcels for political prisoners.
10 June 2019 FSB “We’ll get around to shooting you all”
Three men, including a father and son, from Bilohirsk (Rus. Belogorsk)
Eldar Kantimirov, a civic activist
11 March 2020 Another ‘family prosecution’ – civic activists and their relatives
Osman Seitumerov (the sons of renowned Crimean Tatar historian Shurki Seitumerov)
Rustem Seitmemetov (the Seytumerovs’ uncle)
Amet Suleimanov – a Crimean Solidarity activist and journalist (streaming information about arrests and political trials onto the Internet).
7 July 2020 New FSB low, with arrest of a blind man with limited mobility and many others. At least four of the men Vadim Bektemirov; Alexander Sizikov; Alim Sufianov and Emil Ziyadinov all took part in measures to help political prisoners and ensure circulation of information about such repression
Vadim Bektemirov a civic activist
Alim Sufianov a civic activist
Emil Ziyadinov a Crimean Solidarity activist
17 February 2021 New offensive against civic activists with the armed searches evidently only for so-called ‘prohibited literature’
17 August 2021 Arrests of five Crimean Tatars, all of whom were involved in civic activism in solidarity with political prisoners. One of the men, Rustem Muratov had literally just returned from Rostov and acts of solidarity with the four political prisoners from Alushta who received horrific sentences.
Religious Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses
Serhiy Filatov (address here)
‘Ukrainian Saboteur’ cases without any acts of sabotage or proof
Ivan Yatskin sentenced to 11 years, almost certainly for his opposition to Russia’s occupation of Crimea
Valentin Vyhivsky Imprisoned since September 2014
Viktor Shur imprisoned since December 2014
66-year-old Halyna Dovhopola, sentenced to 12 years probably for her pro-Ukrainian position
Yunus Masharipov a human rights activist
Punishment for Euromaidan or for opposing Russia’s annexation of Crimea
Mykola Shyptur imprisoned since March 2014
Imprisoned for membership, in mainland Ukraine, of perfectly legal organizations which Russia demonizes. Most are accused of membership in the Noman Çelebicihan (or Asker) Battalion which is not an armed formation
Other Ukrainian political prisoners
Ilver Ametov, Head of the Sudak Regional Mejlis (sentenced to restriction of liberty)
Also Sokhiba Burkhanova
The above does not include several Crimean Tatars who have received long sentences in absentia, nor those who were released in the last exchange in September 2019 or because they had served the sentence.