Effective death sentence against Crimean Tatar civic journalist reporting on repression in Russian-occupied Crimea
The ‘judges’ who sentenced Amet Suleimanov to 12 years’ harsh regime imprisonment on 29 October are well aware that the first months would likely kill him. They are doubtless equally aware why the civic journalist was targeted. In his final address to this Russian court on 27 October, Amet Suleimanov stated that “if you ask me if I would behave differently if given the chance … I can confidently say that I would still come to the searches carried out against my compatriots. I would provide coverage of injustice; I would go to mosques, would sacrifice my time and property in order to help my neighbour. ..”’
It was Amet Suleimanov’s concern for his neighbours, for his fellow Crimean Tatars facing persecution that prompted him to join Crimean Solidarity and report on the ever-mounting arrests, armed searches and political trials under Russian occupation. It was this concern too that resulted first in administrative prosecution and, when he refused to be cowered, his arrest on grotesque charges. It was his integrity and refusal “to call black white and injustice the law” that Russia is punishing with what can only be a death sentence.
Amet Suleimanov is only 37, but he suffers from a heart condition so serious that even the Russian FSB agreed to placing him under house arrest back in March 2020. His was the first of only two such cases, despite many political prisoners having life-threatening conditions. Suleimanov suffers from chronic rheumatic heart disease, aortic insufficiency, coronary artery disease and third level mitral valve prolapse. The latter leads to degeneration of the heart valve, and he should have already had an operation to replace the valve. He had, since 2008, been receiving treatment and consultation on an annual basis both at the Amosov Institute of Cardio-Vascular Surgery in Kyiv and at the Semashko Hospital in Crimea, and had third group invalid status. The latter was, however, withdrawn in 2015 after Suleimanov refused to have an operation in Moscow, despite well-founded doubts about such an abrupt move after years of treatment in Kyiv. The fact remains, however, that, at very least, Mitral valve prolapse is on Russia’s list from 2017 of conditions precluding imprisonment.
The occupation courts clearly knew this and kept renewing his house arrest. There was, however, an attempt in December 2020 to force him to undertake the gruelling journey from Crimea to Rostov and be present in person at the ‘trial’. This had to be abandoned because of Suleimanov’s condition and, even with his present by video link from Crimea, the hearings have often needed to be adjourned because he needed a doctor. Prosecutor Igor Nadolinsky had fairly recently sought to have Suleimanov taken into custody, with presiding judge Igor Kostin at that time rejecting this.
Yet, in passing sentence on Suleimanov and three other recognized political prisoners on 29 October 2021, Igor Kostin; together with Roman Plisko and Yevgeny Zviagin, sentenced Suleimanov to 12 years’ imprisonment in the harshest of Russia’s penal institutions (one year less than the sentence that Nadolinski had demanded.) The fact that he was not immediately taken into custody, as is generally the case, is yet further proof that the judges, and prosecutor, are well-aware that this is a death sentence, which has merely been delayed until after the appeal hearing. It is unclear only whether they had instructions from above to demand / pass a real sentence or merely assumed that anything else could get them into trouble.
It should be stressed that the Russian judges from the Southern District Military Court passed a sentence that is significantly higher than that typically passed on people found guilty of crimes of violence. Here there was basically no crime at all.
Suleimanov, together with three members of one family: Seitumer Seitumerov and his brother Osman Seitumerov, together with their uncle Rustem Seitmemetov, were accused merely of unproven involvement in a peaceful organization which is legal in Ukraine. Russia’s Supreme Court gave no reason for its extraordinary and deliberately secretive decision in 2003 to declare Hizb ut-Tahrir ‘terrorist’. The latter is not known to have committed any acts of terrorism anywhere in the world, yet the FSB are using that ruling to charge Crimean Muslims under Article 205.5 of Russia’s criminal code (involvement in an organization declared terrorist) and even add Article 278 ‘planning a violent uprising’ although they made no attempt to claim that the me had been guilty of any actions or direct plans to commit any action aimed at ‘overthrowing the Russian constitutional order’.
The charges were based solely on two conversations in a mosque held three years before the men’s arrest on 11 March 2020; on ‘prohibited literature’, planted at the men’s homes, and on the ‘testimony’ of two supposedly secret witnesses whose identity, multiple uses by the FSB and motives for such collaboration are known.
The sentences passed on 29 October (Seitumer Seitumerov – 17 years; Osman Seitumerov – 14 years; Rustem Seitmemetov – 13 years and Amet Suleimanov – 12 years, are the latest in Russia’s ongoing persecution of Crimean Tatars civic activists and journalists, with three of the men having actively helped political prisoners, attended political trials, etc.
Suleimanov had already faced administrative prosecution in October 2017 for streaming information about the armed searches and arrests of six Crimean Tatars, almost all of whom were Crimean Solidarity civic journalists and / or activists, seeking to ensure that the world knew what was happening in Crimea and to help the victims of persecution, including around 200 children whose fathers have been arrested and imprisoned.
Several dozen Crimean Tatar and other Ukrainian political prisoners have paid a huge price for their courage and refusal to remain silent. Suleimanov will pay with his life, if enough pressure is not brought to bear on Moscow. Please help in seeking the intervention of politicians and journalist organizations in your country.
From Amet Suleimanov’s final address
“I believe that we are being persecuted today merely for our civic initiative in upholding justice and truth. Crimea today has not become “a hotbed of terrorism”, as some like to claim. It has become fertile ground for courageous men and women, willing to tell the truth and uphold justice, even at the risk of their own imprisonment, torture and abduction. Many of those detained are activists, some of whom help the families of political prisoners, others provide coverage of injustice in the social media and news sites, while some simply express their indignation. And that alone is enough for them to burst into the homes of such people, point weapons at them and take them away.
My activities were no exception. On a voluntarily basis, I was a journalist for Crimean Solidarity. It was because of that that I began having problems. And this is by far the first time that they try to silence our voices about what is happening in Crimea. It is no crime to tell the truth.”’