war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Blind Crimean charged with ‘terrorism’, after Russia's FSB plant ‘prohibited books’ he can’t read

Halya Coynash

Oleksandr Sizikov being helped to the ’court hearing’ by his lawyer, Safiye Shabanova, From left (and back) Seiran Khairedinov, Alim Sufianov Photos Crimean Solidarity

Russia’s latest ‘trial’ of three Ukrainian Muslims from occupied Crimea has had to be adjourned, with the material sent back to the prosecutor for it to be translated into Braille.  The Russian court accepted that it was a violation of Oleksandr Sizikov’s rights if he could not read the indictment, etc.. It remains to be seen whether Russian judges will find the courage to reject the ‘evidence’ against Sizikov, namely the ‘prohibited Islamic literature’ which are not in Braille, yet which the FSB claimed to have found during the armed search of Sizikov’s home. The Russian prosecution is asserting that books which Sizikov could not see ‘prove’ charges that could carry a sentence of 20 years or more. 

Sizikov is to be ‘tried’ together with two Crimean Tatars from Bakhchysarai: Seiran Khairedinov and Alim Sufianov.  The three were arrested, together with four other men, during one of the many ‘FSB operations’ that Russia is using to bring terror to occupied Crimea and to silence those who show solidarity with victims of repression.   The families of Khairedinov and Sufianov also assert that the enforcement officers who burst into their homes that morning planted ‘prohibited literature’. There would be no reason for the FSB to break the law by preventing lawyers from being present if they did not have such violations to conceal. 

Sufianov and Khairedinov, both young fathers, have been in detention ever since. Sizikov, who has difficulty walking by himself, and cannot see at all, was placed under house arrest, however the Russian penal service did attempt, on 27 July 2021, to get him remanded in custody.  Presiding judge Roman Suprunov told Sizikov that he better try not to annoy the penal service, but did at least reject this application. 

The men are accused of ‘involvement’ in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a peaceful transnational Muslim organization which is legal in Ukraine and which is not known to have committed acts of terrorism or violence anywhere in the world.  The secrecy around the 14 February 2003 Supreme Court ruling that declared Hizb ut-Tahrir ‘terrorist’ probably confirms the suspicion that the ruling was aimed at facilitating illegal deportation of refugees back to Uzbekistan, where they faced religious persecution. Russia has been using such arrests and ‘convictions’ on charges of terrorism against Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainian Muslims since 2015, and is increasingly applying such measures against men who protest against political persecution and try to ensure that the world learns what is happening.  Both Sizikov and Sufianov had actively visited political trials and Sizikov, despite his disability, had held several single-person pickets in support of political prisoner Edem Smailov

The fact that Sizikov was unable to read the material of this case, and could not have known what the ‘prohibited literature’ which the FSB claim they found in his home, is especially shocking given that the FSB have designated Sizikov as ‘organizer’ of a supposed ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir group’,  This is the more serious of the charges, falling under Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code and carrying a sentence of up to life imprisonment.  Sufianov and Khairedinov – are accused of having been ‘involved’ in the alleged group, with the charge under Article 205.5 § 2 carrying sentences from 10 to 20 years.  The men are also charged, under Article 278, with ‘planning to violently seize power’.  While this charge may seem especially insane in the case of a blind and disabled man, it has become a standard part of the FSB’s arsenal and is essentially always surreal.  In a recent case, the prosecution ‘justified’ the charge by claiming that the men had been planning a state coup via ‘“the total Islamization of the population”. 

Sufianov and Khairedinov had already been taken to Rostov (in Russia), and will now have to endure the gruelling journey, in very bad conditions, back to the SIZO [remand prison] in occupied Simferopol.  The ‘trial’ had only really begun, with a preliminary hearing and then a hearing on 27 July 2021 when the indictment was read out.

The latter, however, did make it abundantly clear just what the Russian state is claiming the three men were ‘guilty of’.  The prosecution asserts that Oleksandr Sizikov; Seiran Khairedinov and Alim Sufianov were members of Hizb ut-Tahrir and tried to sow division in society “through militant Islamic propaganda”.  Sizikov is supposed to have been the organizer of a group which purportedly “carried out covert anti-constitutional activities through exerting influence on people’s religious feelings; organized and carried out meetings of the group, so-called ‘khalakaty’; looked for new participants and circulated the ideas”.

There is no suggestion here of terrorist activities, yet the charges, purely because of a secret ruling that the Supreme Court provided no justification, are of ‘terrorism’ and the likely sentences huge.  For these reasons, as well as the fact that Russia is in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention in applying its own legislation on illegally occupied territory, it is a matter of time before the three men are declared Memorial Human Rights Centre political prisoners.  Russia’s use of ‘terrorism’ charges, particularly against men taking an active civic position, has been condemned by Human Rights Watch, Freedom House and Civil Rights Defenders,and other international NGOs, and the release of all men imprisoned on such flawed charges has been repeatedly demanded by, for example, the US State Department, the EU and in numerous UN, European Parliament. Council of Europe and other resolutions.

The application from Sizikov’s lawyer, Safiye Shabanova for the material to be translated into Braille was not opposed by the prosecution.  Presiding judge Suprunov agreed to send the case back to the Crimean ‘prosecutor’ however did not change the measures of detention or house arrest against the men, for which there are absolutely no grounds. The men are not accused of any recognizable crime at all, let alone one that would make them a danger to others.

Oleksandr Sizikov (b. 1984) who has lived in Crimea all his life, appears to be from an ethnic Russian family and converted to Islam in 2006, when he was 22.  He was left blinded as the result of a terrible accident in 2009, which also severely impaired his ability to move about easily.  It was because of these difficulties that Edem Smailov, the leader of the ‘Topchikoy’ religious community, took Sizikov under his care.  Until, that is, the FSB came for Smailov on 21 May 2018, together with Crimean Solidarity Coordinator and civic journalist Server Mustafayev.  They, and five other civic journalists and activists were sentenced on 16 September 2020 to huge terms of imprisonment (up to 19 years, with Smailov sentenced to 14 years) without any crime.  All of the men are recognized political prisoners. 

Despite his severe disabilities, Sizikov held two solitary pickets (in April 2019 and May 2020) calling for the release of Smailov and for an end to the repression against Crimean Muslims.  Well-known lawyer Emil Kurbedinov suggested in October 2020 that his arrest was the FSB’s revenge for many occasions when Sizikov had expressed his outrage at the armed searches they were carrying out and the political trials underway.  “There is no other way to explain the persecution of a totally blind person who has not committed any crime”. 

Alim Sufianov (b. 1990) also played an active role in showing solidarity with political prisoners and helping their families.  He had only recently married.

Seiran Khairedinov (b. 1988) was active in his community and, like Sufianov, who is a talented musician, took part in organizing festivals for children.  He and his wife have three children: Emil; Elvina and Yasmina, who was just over a year old when her father was arrested.

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