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Russia claims Ukraine and Crimean Tatar Mejlis organized ‘act of sabotage’ in occupied Crimea

09.09.2021
Halya Coynash

Nariman Dzhelyal in a Russian-controlled ’court’ on 6 September 2021 Photo Crimean Solidarity

Russia’s FSB has accused Ukraine’s Military Intelligence [HUR] and the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people of organizing an act of sabotage in occupied Crimea with the ‘evidence’ for this in the form of two videoed ‘confessions’ given by men held incommunicado and prevented from seeing their lawyers for over three days.  Russia has been fabricating such ‘Ukrainian saboteur’ cases since soon after its invasion and annexation of Crimea, with the only real variable being the victims tortured and their families.  Considering that the chief target of this new case is Nariman Dzhelyal, the internationally respected Deputy Chair of the Mejlis, or self-governing body, of the Crimean Tatar people and the Mejlis itself, the sloppiness is quite extraordinary.  Dzhelyal’s arrest and detention, as well as those of two other Crimean Tatars have been condemned by, among others, the EU, the USA and Human Rights Watch, with all unanimous that they are politically motivated and illegal, and that the men should be released.

The FSB statement on 7 September asserts that there was an attempt to blow up part of a gas pipe in Perevalne in occupied Crimea on 23 August and that “it has been established” that the “sabotage” was organized by the Kherson branch of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence’s HUR, with the involvement of the Mejlis. Dzhelyal’s lawyer, Nikolai Polozov notes that the FSB did not even bother to hide behind the official date given for the arrests (5 September) and admitted that the men had all been detained early on 4 September.  Dzhelyal is claimed to have been an intermediary, with two cousins, Asan and Aziz Akhtem (or Akhtemov) accused of having carried out the alleged act of sabotage, and to have done so for money.   

The FSB further assert that the timing of the alleged ‘sabotage’ was because of Ukraine’s Independence Day on 24 August.  Here, however, the FSB have seen fit to  prevaricate.  The damage to the gas pipe was reported on 23 August, as high-ranking representatives of 45 countries attended the inaugural meeting of the international Crimea Platform, together with Ukraine’s leaders and members of the Mejlis, including Dzhelyal.  Russia had reacted with hysteria to the Crimea Platform, and as Dzhelyal himself pointed out in a Russian-controlled ‘court’ on 6 September, threats of prosecution were issued against anybody who took part in ‘Crimea Platform’.  

As reported, five men were taken away after armed searches and essentially vanished for many hours or two days:  Eldar Odamanov’s whereabouts were not known from early 3 September until late on 4 September, and it was only on 5 September that a lawyer was able to see him.  Three men were seized after raids in the middle of the night: Asan and Aziz Akhtem and Shevket Useinov.  They came for Nariman Dzhelyal several hours later, at around 7 a.m. on 4 September. Nothing at all was known about Useinov until 6 September, when it transpired that he (and Odamanov) were charged only with the administrative offence of disobeying a police order.  Polozov has confirmed that neither men’s testimony appears in the case material, however there is an ‘anonymous witness’.  The use of such supposed ‘witnesses’ was condemned in the last report on Crimea from the UN Secretary General, and Russia has already been found in violation of the right to a fair trial by the European Court of Human Rights for convicting men on the basis purely of such totally unverifiable ‘testimony’.

The other staple component of such FSB prosecutions are videoed ‘confessions’ which very many Ukrainian political prisoners have retracted in court, describing the torture used to obtain them.

The video first claims to show the place of the alleged sabotage and then plunges into the ‘testimony’, first of Asan Akhtem, then of Aziz.

Before considering what they say, it is worth noting that the same FSB ‘investigator’, Vitaly Vlasov, is involved in this case and that of RFE/RL freelance journalist Vladislav Yesypenko.  The latter is charged only with illegally preparing and possessing an explosive device (a grenade, supposedly found in his car), not the spying for Ukraine’s Security Service that he ‘confessed to’ in a propaganda television ‘interview’.  Yesypenko has since given graphic details of the torture used to get the ‘confession’ and of how he was forced to learn the ‘confession’, including some quite insane lines, off by heart.

Here also, both of the cousins sound as though they are reciting certain phrases that they are expected to say, with none of the ordinary hesitation one expects from a person who is genuinely recounting events. Neither of the men mentions Dzhelyal at all, nor do they in any way incriminate either the Mejlis, or Ukrainian Military Intelligence.  In what we see on the video, they essentially only give testimony against themselves, since it is not even clear, when they say “we”, whom they are referring to.  Asan, for example, says “we were shown the explosive device, told how to use it.”.  When asked, by the unidentified and unseen ‘interrogator’’, Asan says that it was “Sergei” who showed them, and adds “Said was not in the room, together with Aziz”.

The video ends with propaganda and totally false claims from Sergei Aksyonov, the man Russian soldiers without insignia installed as ‘Crimean leader’ in 2014.

It is also noteworthy that Asan Akhtem’s last sentence is that those who gave them instructions told them to remove all correspondence and to not take their telephones with them.   The FSB, it would seem, has learned since their falsification of evidence to imprison Oleh Prykhodko, a passionately pro-Ukrainian activist.  In such political trials, acquittals are virtually unheard of and Prykhodko was sentenced to five years, however his lawyers were able to demonstrate in court how flawed ‘evidence’ linked with telephones was.

Russia’s FSB has been using videoed ‘confessions’, extracted through torture, since the arrests of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and three other Ukrainians in May 2014.  In almost all of the cases, the FSB has claimed that the person is guilty of sabotage or of spying, and the videoed ‘confessions’ have been made while the person had no access to a lawyer nor his family. In a large number of such cases since 2014, the grandiose claims made by the FSB, and the ‘confessions’ have had little, if anything, to do with a person’s eventual conviction and sentence.  Most of the men have said that they gave testimony under torture and sometimes threats against their family.

It is also typical that Russia is claiming, not only the involvement of Ukraine’s Military Intelligence, but also of the Mejlis.  The latter’s staunchly pro-Ukrainian position and organization of a huge rally to prevent a Russian-instigated ‘coup’ on 26 February 2014, meant that Moscow was forced to show its hand and use soldiers without insignia.  The Kremlin has not forgiven the Mejlis and Crimean Tatar leaders for this, and all have faced enforced exile, persecution and, in some cases, imprisonment.  Instead of complying with the International Court of Justice’s order to revoke its ban on the Mejlis, Russia has resorted to entirely futile attempts to discredit individual leaders or the Mejlis as a whole.  At least one such attempt resulted in the death of 83-year-old Vedzhie Kashka, world-renowned veteran of the Crimean Tatar national movement, and the torture through imprisonment of four respected activists, two of whom had very grave medical problems.

It is, of course, Russia that is discredited by such obvious fabrication of criminal charges, as it is by its arrests in revenge for the Crimea Platform.  That alone, however, will not free Nariman Dzhelyal; Asan and Aziz Akhtem, nor many other Ukrainian political prisoners accused, without a shred of credible evidence, of ‘planning acts of sabotage’

See also: Crimean Tatars must once again fear dawn raids and arrests under Russian occupation

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