Russia tests international Crimea Platform through sharp escalation in persecution of Crimean Tatars
There has been no let up in Russia’s offensive against Crimean Tatars since 3 September, nor is any end in sight. As well as staging a hunt for fictitious ‘saboteurs’, the occupation regime also claim to be looking for the ‘organizers’ of the spontaneous gathering of relatives and others who tried on 4 September to find out the whereabouts of Crimean Tatar Mejlis leader Nariman Dzhelyal and four other Crimean Tatars who had vanished after FSB raids. As well as mass administrative prosecutions, there has also been serious harassment of a Crimean Solidarity journalist and another abduction-like detention until late in the evening.
Refat Chubarov, Chair of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, or Representative Assembly, wrote on 9 September that Ukraine’s international partners should be in no doubt that Russia is testing the ability of the international Crimea Platform and the willingness of all its participants to uphold the values they affirmed at the inaugural meeting of the Platform. He calls for “urgent international consultation within the framework of the Crimea Platform which should foster the implementation of effective measures to put pressure on the aggressor state to stop the revenge on the Crimean Tatar people”.
The inaugural meeting of the Crimea Platform was attended by EU President Charles Michel and high-ranking representatives of 45 countries, including the USA, Canada and individual EU states. All the speakers, like Charles Michel, affirmed their non-recognition of Russia’s occupation of Ukrainian Crimea and their willingness to “stand tall against any violations of international law.”
That commitment has indeed been challenged since Nariman Dzhelyal, First Deputy Chair of the Mejlis and a well-known human rights defender, was present at the inaugural meeting on 23 August. He is now imprisoned with Russia accusing him of having helped organize an explosion to a gas pipe which supposedly also happened on 23 August, while he was in Kyiv. The only evidence for this comes, furthermore, from extremely vague ‘confessions’ given by the other two men so far arrested, Asan and Aziz Akhtem, who were held incommunicado and prevented from seeing independent lawyers. In his first letter from prison, Dzhelyal writes that he saw one of the men and was able to ask if he had been beaten – the person nodded his head.
Russia is also demonstrably flouting the UN’s International Court of Justice which has ordered it to revoke its ban on the Mejlis. Instead it has overtly targeted both Dzhelyal and the Mejlis in general. On 8 September, another former Mejlis member, 51-year-old Eldar Mensitov was subjected to an armed ‘search’ and then taken away, just as Dzhelyal and four other men had been. Mensitov’s lawyer Rifat Yakhin was forced to report his abduction and search for him throughout the day, before he was finally released from what proved to have been FSB custody at around 21.00. Mensitov had very recently appeared as defence witness in the entirely surreal ‘trial’ of veteran Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev whom Russia banned from his homeland soon after its invasion and annexation.
The Russian occupation police also came looking for Crimean Solidarity journalist Aider Kadyrov, and he was then forced to undergo interrogation initiated by the so-called ‘Centre for countering extremism’. The aim was purportedly to establish who had organized the spontaneous gathering of people outside the FSB building in Simferopol on Saturday afternoon and evening. Kadyrov was present with lawyer Rifat Yakhin, who explained to Crimean Solidarity that “they don’t want to believe that each person is worried individually and that for this purpose there is absolutely no need to organize any kind of mass events, unauthorized events. Each person who felt concerned and who came to the FSB building wanted to know the fate of their compatriots”.
Kadyrov and his lawyer explained that he had been there on journalist work, covering the events taking place in Simferopol.
This was, in fact, clearly stated on 4 September, but did not stop the occupation enforcement bodies from detaining Kadyrov and Nury Abdurashitov, both of whom are journalists for Crimean Solidarity and for Grani.ru. Both had media ID hanging around their neck.
Crimean Solidarity reported on 9 September that the occupation police have been ‘visiting’ the homes of other people who took part in the gathering on 4 September. Each is handed ‘a warning about the inadmissibility of committing crimes’ and a summons to appear for questioning. They are aware, so far, of four such visitation, including to the father of former political prisoner Ismail Ramazanov, Seitnebu Ramazanov. The latter refused to speak with them without a lawyer being present and the officers left, saying that they would see him on 10 September in court.
More than 50 people were detained on 4 September merely for gathering near the FSB office in the hope of finding out what had happened to the five men taken away after FSB raids. There had been no information about Eldar Odamanov since early on 3 September, nor about the three men seized during the following night – Asan and Aziz Akhtem and Shevket Useinov. Although Nariman Dzhelyal had only been taken away in the morning of 4 September, the behaviour of the FSB in deliberately preventing his lawyer from following the car was disturbing. Concern was, in all cases, fully justified given the FSB’s previous treatment of people it takes into custody, as well as the number of Crimean Tatar activists and others who have disappeared without trace. In the case of Ervin Ibragimov, there is CCTV video footage showing him being stopped and seized by men wearing traffic police uniform.
Most of those detained on 4 September were released that evening, but now face administrative prosecution and reasonably large fines. Two men, however, Eskender Akhtem, father of Aziz Akhtem, and Asan Akhtem’s brother, Arsen Akhtem were held in custody and charged with ‘disobeying an enforcement officer’. A Russian-controlled court on 5 September jailed Eskender Akhtem for 10 days, Arsen to 15.
Now the occupation regime is hunting down those who it alleges had to organize a gathering so that fathers, mothers, brothers and other relatives would come to find out who was holding the men who had disappeared and whether they were safe.