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Fictitious terrorism charges and 18 years in Russian prison for protesting persecution of Crimean Tatars
Another veteran of the Crimean Tatar national movement has gone on trial in Russia on charges that the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre has already recognized as politically motivated. 58-year-old Azamat Eyupov is facing a 15-20-year sentence without any crime, and on the basis of ‘prohibited literature’ planted when the FSB burst into his home at 4 a.m. on 17 February 2021 and because of a taped conversation although the voice on the tape is not his.
Eyupov is one of around 20 Crimean Tatars, most of them in their fifties and sixties, who took part in a peaceful picket on Red Square in Moscow on 10 July 2019, calling for an end to ethnic and religious persecution in Russian-occupied Crimea. They held placards reading “Our children are not terrorists”; “The fight against terrorism in Crimea is a fight against dissidents” and “Stop persecution on ethnic and religious lines in Crimea”, together with the photos of four political prisoners whose appeal was to be heard the following day. Although the men simply stood, apart from each other, but in a line, seven were detained and prosecuted under Article 20.2 of Russia’s code of administrative offences with supposed ‘infringement of the established procedure for holding a meeting’. The protest came almost exactly 32 years after Eyupov and other activists from the Crimean Tatar national movement held a large demonstration on Red Square demanding the right to return to their native Crimea after 43 years in enforced exile. That earlier protest was vital in gaining international publicity for the plight of the Crimean Tatars in the Soviet Union.
In 2019, the men were speaking out in support of Enver Mamutov; Rustem Abiltarov; Zevri Abseitov and Remzi Memetov whose sentences of up to 17 years without any crime were upheld, almost unchanged, on 11 July 2019.
Less than two years later, on 17 February 2021, Russia’s FSB came for Azamat Eyupov on identical charges to those against the men whom he had defended. Eyupov had also taken part in many other single-person pickets and flash mobs in support of political prisoners, and also regularly attended political court hearings.
It is next to impossible not to see a link between Eyupov’s earlier civic activism and his arrest, and not only because of the number of other civic journalists and activists whom Russia has evidently been targeting since 2017. Eyupov was added to ‘a case’ which has already resulted in (first-court) sentences against three recognized political prisoners from Bilohirsk (Russian Belogorsk): Enver Omerov and his son Riza Omerov, and Aider Dzhapparov. The three were sentenced to 18; 13 and 17 years, respectively, on 11 January 2021, with the appeal hearing against those sentences due. Eyupov was one of six men from different parts of Crimea arrested a month later, on 17 February after ‘armed searches’ which again targeted civic activists. The armed and masked enforcement officers, as always, illegally prevented lawyers from entering, and in many of the cases, the ‘prohibited’ religious literature supposedly ‘found’ was almost certainly brought and planted by the officers.
Eyupov is represented by well-known lawyer Emil Kurbedinov who reveals the full cynicism of this prosecution, namely the fact that Eyupov is charged over (innocuous) comments on an illicitly taped conversation which were not made by him.
The fact that it is not Eyupov’s voice is critical since he is accused of the more serious of two charges which have become Russia’s weapon against religious dissidents and civic activists in occupied Crimea. Like the Omerovs and Dzhapparov, Eyupov is accused solely of unproven involvement in the peaceful transnational Muslim Hizb ut-Tahrir 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 Russian Supreme Court ruling in 2003 which declared it a ‘terrorist’ organization was deliberately kept secret until it was too late to challenge it, and Russia has never provided any convincing justification for the decision. This is one of the many reasons why the Memorial Human Rights Centre considers all those convicted merely of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir to be political prisoners. In the case of Crimean Tatar and other Ukrainian Muslims from Crimea, it also points out that Russia is using these prosecutions to try to crush the Crimean Tatar human rights movement and that it is in violation of international law in using its own legislation on occupied territory.
The FSB invariably designates at least one person as ‘organizer’ of the supposed Hizb ut-Tahrir group, while others are accused of ‘involvement’ in that group. The choice seems rather arbitrary but does usually make a difference of five years or more to the sentence. Both Enver Omerov and Aider Dzhapparov were charged as ‘organizers’, under Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code and sentenced to 18 and 17 years. Riza Omerov was sentenced to 13 years for purported ‘involvement’ under Article 205.5 § 2. All the men had also been charged, under Article 278, of ‘planning to violently seize power’. Not one of the searches had found any weapons, etc., nor was there any mention, even in the illicitly taped conversations, of any such plans. The Memorial Human Rights Centre notes that the arguments used to justify this charge are essentially the same as those for the ‘terrorism’ charge under 205.5.
Eyupov is now facing identical charges (205.5 § 1 and 278) and has also been acknowledged by Memorial as a political prisoner. His arrest, moreover, as the supposed third ‘organizer’ of an unproven Hizb ut-Tahrir group, when the other men have been imprisoned since 10 June 2019, is doubtless intended to send a message to all Crimean Tatars that nobody is safe.
It is likely that the ‘evidence’ in the case is similar or identical to that used in the earlier trial. There the entire case was based on discussions on religious and political subjects, including Russia’s persecution of Muslims. Illicitly taped, and often scarcely audible, conversations are transcribed with questionable accuracy and then sent to FSB-loyal ‘experts’ who can be relied upon to claim that the use of this word or that sentiment ‘proves’ involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir . As well as the planted ‘prohibited literature’, there were also two anonymous ‘witnesses’ in the case, whose testimony cannot be verified. Their ‘testimony’ is very often confused or requires prompting by the prosecutor, with the judges invariably turning a blind eye to clear grounds for disbelieving it.
It is almost certainly one of these two supposed anonymous witnesses who is due to be questioned at the next hearing in Eyupov’s trial on 22 September.