war crimes in Ukraine

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Russia brings 17-year sentences without any crime to occupied Crimea

Halya Coynash
Rustem Emiruseinov, Eskender Abdulganiev and Arsen Abkhairov have learned first-hand the terribly high price Russia exacts from those unwilling to look away when fellow Crimean Muslims are facing persecution

From left Rustem Emiruseinov, Arsen Abkhairov and Eskender Abdulganiev Photo Crimean Solidarity

The appeal hearing has again been adjourned against monstrous sentences passed on three Crimean Tatar political prisoners, two of whom were almost certainly targeted for their active civic position.  Rustem Emiruseinov (b. 1979); Arsen Abkhairov (b. 1985) and Eskender Abdulganiev (b. 1997) were sentenced to 17, 13 and 12 years, respectively, without being accused of any recognizable crime and with the ‘evidence’ provided by a highly questionable ‘religious expert assessment’ and a ‘secret witness’ who appeared unable to distinguish one defendant from another.  The appeal hearing had been scheduled for 25 October, but was moved to 1 November because Abdulganiev had a high temperature, however one of the men's lawyers, Edem Semedlyaev and 21 other Crimean Tatars, including two journalists carrying out their professional duties are now also in detention  (details here).

Crimean Solidarity

After the armed ‘searches’ and arrests on 14 February 2019, Aliye Emiruseinova was asked if her husband had been involved in the important civic initiative Crimean Solidarity which both helps political prisoners and their families, and reports on repression in occupied Crimea. She answered: “Can you tell me how it is possible in Crimea to not be involved in Crimean Solidarity if you have a conscience?”

As repression mounted in occupied Crimea, Rustem Emiruseinov became a Crimean Solidarity activist who visited political trials, took part in flash-mobs protesting against mounting repression and in other ways helped political prisoners.  A week before his arrest, he had travelled to Rostov (Russia) for the latest court hearing against five Crimean Tatar political prisoners and was planning to go there again.  Russia has unleashed its repressive machine against Crimean Solidarity civic journalists and activists, and it was probably Emiruseinov’s active civic position that prompted the FSB to target him.

Rustem and his wife have three children – Ali (b. 2003); Aishe (b. 2007) and Khatidzhe (b. 2010).  He was doubtless aware that he was exposing himself, and them, to danger, but how can you not react when others are unjustly arrested and thrown in prison?

After his imprisonment, he wrote the following: “A lot changed after 2014. It became clear that if you don’t agree with the politics of the regime, that you will be targeted by the FSB. And if you are also a Muslim, then you’re already the carrier of a double risk. Therefore, in 2015, as soon as the arrests began, I and many concerned  began their peaceful struggle to stop this lawlessness.”

Arrest and charges

Armed ‘searches’ were carried out at the homes of three men in the town of Oktiabrske in the Krasnohvardiisk district of Crimea on 14 February 2019, with the FSB bringing some of the so-called ‘prohibited religious literature’ that they claimed to have found in the Emiruseinov home. Although the ‘searches’ are over supposed ‘terrorism’, the FSB and other enforcement officers never make any pretence of looking for anything but ‘prohibited literature’.  Akhairov’s son and daughter were very small and hopefully did not understand what was happening.  Emiruseinov’s son and daughters were, however, deeply traumatized. Eskender Abdulganiev was only 21, and just beginning his adult life.

The three Crimean Tatars became the latest of many victims of Russia’s most cynical conveyor belt ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’ prosecutions.  Hizb ut-Tahrir is a peaceful pan-Muslim party which is not known to have committed any acts of terrorism or violence anywhere in the world.  It is legal in Ukraine, however back in 2003 the Russian Supreme Court declared it ‘terrorist’ without providing any proper grounds and then kept the ruling secret until it was too late for the organization and human rights NGOs to appeal against it.  An expert from the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre, Vitaly Ponomaryov believes that Russia may have declared the organization terrorist to make it easier to extradite people to Uzbekistan where they faced religious persecution. 

It is literally on the strength of this ruling that men who have committed no crime are arrested and tried under Russia’s ‘terrorism’ legislation.  These are virtually copy-paste cases for the FSB and Russian prosecutor, with at least one person designated ‘organizer’ of an entirely unproven Hizb ut-Tahrir  group, with this falling under Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code and carrying sentences of up to 20 years.  Others are charged under Article 205.5 § 2 with ‘involvement’ in the alleged ‘group’, with this still carrying a huge sentence.  As has become standard, the FSB also added the overtly surreal charge (under Article 278) of ‘planning to violently seize power’. 

Here Emiruseinov was supposed to be the ‘organizer’, with Abkhairov and Abdulganiev taking part in the supposed group.


In any law-based court, it would immediately be recognized that there is no evidence at all for the charges.  As far as the Supreme Court ruling is concerned, its secretive motivational part provided no grounds for labelling Hizb ut-Tahrir  ‘terrorist’, and no attempt is ever made to prove the elements of terrorism that are, in fact, clearly set out in Russian legislation.

There is also no evidence of the men’s involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, with this essentially all that was impugned as justification for huge sentences.  

Aliye Emiruseinova insisted on the day of the arrests that the FSB had planted the books they claimed to find, and Rustem Emiruseinov has repeatedly stated that two of the disks presented as ‘evidence’ and a book entitled ‘The concept of Hizb ut-Tahrir’ were not his.  This is not just a question of whom one chooses to believe.  The FSB always illegally bring the supposed official ‘witnesses’ of the searches with them and they prevent lawyers from being present.  There would be no reason to do this were they complying with the law.

Illicit tapes were made of three meetings where the men read a book and discussed  bringing up children, relations between men and women; and priorities in life.  Transcripts of such allegedly ‘incriminating’ discussions are then sent to FSB-loyal ‘experts’.  In this case, the individuals may know something about philology and cultural studies, but were certainly not specialists in Islam, or religion in general, and were in no way competent to carry out a religious expert assessment.

‘Secret witness’   

Russia’s political trials effectively hinge on anonymous witnesses whose ‘testimony’ cannot be verified.  The judges invariably go along with the secrecy and positively obstruct the defence when it tries to demonstrate that the testimony is false. In this case, the supposed witness with the pseudonym ‘Tatarov’ (who does not physically appear in court) was asked by Emiruseinov how the two of them had met, and was told that they had been introduced “by Emiruseinov”.  The man was able to recite details that clearly fit the indictment, while unable to answer the most obvious questions, such as where alleged meetings had taken place (more details here).  It is worth pointing out that in the Case of Vasilyev and Others v. Russia  from September 2020, the European Court of Human Rights found that Russia’s unwarranted use of such alleged ‘witnesses’ was a violation of the applicants’ right to a fair trial.  It was also condemned in the 2021 UN Secretary General’s Report on the Human Rights Situation “in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine”.

The ‘trial’

This began in January 2020 at the Southern District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don, with 21 hearings in all.  Despite the grave flaws in the case, as well as the fact that the men are all recognized political prisoners whose release has been demanded by numerous international bodies and democratic countries, prosecutors Valery Kuznetsov and Igor Nadolinsky claimed that the men’s ‘guilt’ had been proven. It had not, yet on 3 November 2020, presiding judge Ruslan Plisko, together with Igor Kostin and Yevgeny Zviagin sentenced three innocent men to terms of imprisonment far higher than those Russian judges generally pass against people convicted, on real grounds, of violent crimes.  

The men appeared in court in T-shirts, reading “Studying religion is not terrorism” and pointing to how in 1944 the Soviet regime falsely labelled Crimean Tatars ‘traitors’ in order to justify Stalin’s Deportation of the entire Crimean Tatar people.  Under Russian occupation, Crimean Tatars are increasingly labelled ‘terrorists’ or ‘extremists’, also without any justification.

As well as the reasons outlined above for considering the men to be political prisoners, it is also important to note that Russia is in flagrant violation of international law which prohibits an occupying state from applying its legislation on occupied territory. 

The appeal hearing begins in Moscow region at 10 a.m. (Moscow time) on 25 October.

Please write to Rustem Emiruseinov; Arsen Abkhairov and Eskender Abdulganiev!   

The letters tell them they are not forgotten, and show Moscow that their persecution is being followed. Letters need to be in Russian, and on ‘safe’ subjects.  If that is a problem, use the sample letter below (copying it by hand), perhaps adding a picture or photo. Do add a return address so that the men can answer.  The address below will be valid for a few more weeks.  From the end of November,  please check this site again.

The envelopes can be written in Russian or English as below.

Rustem Emiruseinov

Россия 346408, Ростовская область, г. Новочеркасск, ул. Украинская, № 1 СИЗО-3,

Эмирусеинову, Рустему Решатовичу, 1979 г.р.

[In English:  Russian Federation 346408, Rostov oblast, Novocherkassk, ul. Ukrainskaya, No. 1, SIZO-3,

Emiruseinov, Rustem Reshatovich, b. 1979 ]

Eskender Abdulganiev

Россия 346408, Ростовская область, г. Новочеркасск, ул. Украинская, № 1 СИЗО-3,

Абдулганиеву, Эскендеру Иззетовичу, 1998 г.р.

 [In English:  Russian Federation 346408, Rostov oblast, Novocherkassk, ul. Ukrainskaya, No. 1, SIZO-3,

Abdulganiev, Eskender Izzetovich, b. 1997 ]

Arsen Abkhairov

Россия 346408, Ростовская область, г. Новочеркасск, ул. Украинская, № 1 СИЗО-3,

Абхаирову, Арсену Ремзиевичу, 1987 г.р.

 [In English:  Russian Federation 346408, Rostov oblast, Novocherkassk, ul. Ukrainskaya, No. 1, SIZO-3,

Abkhairov, Arsen Remzievich, b. 1987 ]

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