Mass detentions as Russia upholds huge sentences against three Crimean Tatar political prisoners
Even the repressive legislation that Russia is illegally imposing upon occupied Crimea does not prohibit people from trying to attend open court hearings. Unless they are Crimean Tatars and the hearing is on political prisoners, in which case they can now expect to be detained and, at very least, fined.
19 Crimean Tatar men and women were detained on 1 November, including one journalist. All of them were standing apart from one another outside the occupation Crimean Garrison Court, where the open appeal hearing was taking place against huge sentences imposed on three recognized political prisoners: Crimean Solidarity activist Rustem Emiruseinov; Arsen Abkhairov and Eskender Abdulganiev. Since they were not allowed to be present at the hearing, which was taking place by video link with a Moscow region court, they wanted to await the result outside the court and were standing in full compliance with Russian legislation and with restrictions linked to the pandemic. All were wearing masks and maintaining proper distance and there was simply no excuse for detaining them and doing so quite roughly.
This is the fourth occasion in the last two months that Crimean Tatars have been detained en masse, without any offence, and since officers arrived with a police van, the detentions were clearly planned from the outset. 12 men and 7 women were detained, including a woman with a very small child (whose mother managed to pass the child to her mother). Among the detained was Grani-ru journalist Kulamet Ibrayimov, who had informed the officers that he was a journalist carrying out his work. Everybody was held at a police office for several hours before finally being released. In the end, the officers did not initiate any administrative proceedings against either the journalist or a young diabetic woman dependent on insulin injections. 11 men and 6 women, however, are now facing administrative prosecution and fairly steep fines, despite the lack of any offence.
Instead of falsely claiming that the men and women were infringing the rules for holding public events, the occupation authorities have yet again used the pandemic as the pretext. All 17 men and women have been charged under Article 20.6.1 of Russia’s Code of administrative offences with supposedly ‘not complying with the rules of behaviour in an emergency or threat of one’. The use of this charge is especially cynical since it was precisely the detention and the conditions in the van that posed a Covid-19 threat, not the behaviour of any of the men and women standing peacefully outside.
This was the third scheduled appeal hearing in the case, with the previous two (on 11 October and 25 October adjourned, but only after mass detentions, including of one of the lawyers who arrived to represent those detained, Edem Semedlyaev. He and 21 other men were held for the next 22 hours in police stations, with most of them found ‘guilty’ of “organizing a mass presence at the same time of citizens in public places, bringing about an infringement of public order’ (Article 20.2.2 of the CAO). These detentions alone mean that the occupation authorities could bring another gravely flawed article of Russia’s criminal code against several of the men who have thus been prosecuted three times. Article 212.1 of Russia’s criminal code enables the criminal prosecution and imprisonment for up to five years of a person who has received three administrative convictions within six months. It has been used in the past against two civic activists, Ildar Dadin and Konstantin Kotov, both of whom had tirelessly spoken out against Russia’s persecution of Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians and its aggression against Ukraine.
Such indiscriminate and mass detentions are part of a worrying escalation in Russia’s repression in occupied Crimea. Both on 4 September, after the apparent abduction of Crimean Tatar Mejlis leader Nariman Dzhelyal and four other Crimean Tatars, and on 11 October, fathers or other close family members were detained. On 11 October, for example, 71-year-old Reshat Emiruseinov whose civic activist son, Rustem Emiruseinov has been sentenced to 17 years’ imprisonment, was detained, although he had arrived in the hope of attending the hearing into his son’s appeal. On that occasion, only men were detained, although the wives and children of the men were also prevented from entering the court. The earlier hearings were scheduled, and the hearing on 1 November took place at the Military Court of Appeal in the closed urban settlement Vlasikha (Moscow region), with the political prisoners themselves involved by video link from Novocherkassk in the Rostov oblast (Russia) where they are imprisoned. For the men’s parents in particular, it is brutal that they are prevented even from being present at the appeal hearings.
This is not the only form of brutality. With the men’s sentences due on 3 November 2020, their mothers Emine Abdulganieva Zelikha Abkhairova and Zurye Emiruseinova attempted to hold single-person pickets, in different parts of the Krasnogvardiisk district on 31 October 2020. Each held a placard with a photo of their son and the words “My son is not a terrorist”. Even Russia’s repressive laws against peaceful assembly allow single-person pickets, so the police claimed that the three women, standing alone in different places had somehow taken part in a “mass unauthorized public event”. All were prosecuted and fined.
Amid all the detentions, it is hard to know whether the Military Court of Appeal in Russia made any pretence of considering the appeal against the horrific sentences passed on the three political prisoners. Any real examination should have resulted in the sentences being overturned and the men released.
The arrests, imprisonment and ‘trial’ of Rustem Emiruseinov (b. 1979); Arsen Abkhairov (b. 1987) and Eskender Abdulganiev (b. 1997) was probably the result of at least two of the men having attracted FSB attention through their demonstration of solidarity with other victims of repression. Emiruseinov is a Crimean Solidarity activist who had visited political trials, taken part in flash-mobs protesting against mounting repression and in other ways helped political prisoners. Abdulganiev, who was just 21 when arrested, had, nonetheless, actively attended political trials.
The charge of ‘terrorism’ is as mendacious as Stalin’s attempt in 1944 to justify the Deportation of the entire Crimean Tatar people by falsely claiming them to be ‘traitors’. None of the men was accused of any recognizable crime, with the charges solely of unproven involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a peaceful pan-Islamist organization which is legal in Ukraine. The Russian Supreme Court declared it ‘terrorist’ in 2003 in a highly irregular, secretive ruling probably aimed at helping the authorities send victims of religious persecution back to Uzbekistan. This ruling is now being used in occupied Crimea as a weapon, in particular against Crimean Tatar civic journalists and activists.
Emiruseinov was charged under Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code (‘organizing a Hizb ut-Tahrir group’) , with Abkhairov and Abdulganiev accused of ‘involvement’ in this non-existent ‘group’ under Article 205.5 § 2. The Russian FSB also added the even more surreal charge (under Article 278) of ‘planning to violently seize power’.
There was no proof to back the illegal charges, with the FSB having its own ‘linguistic experts’ who will listen to any illicitly taped conversation and claim that this word, or that subject, means that a person is a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir. In this case, the conversation was about bringing up children in a Muslim family. Emiruseinov has a son and two daughters, Abkhairov – a daughter who is now five, and son who was just over six months old when his father and the other men were arrested on 14 February 2019. The FSB also used a book planted during the armed ‘searches’ carried out with lawyers prevented from being present, as ‘evidence’, and ‘secret witnesses’ whose ‘testimony’ cannot be checked.
Despite the lack of any crime and totally flawed nature of the ‘evidence’, presiding judge Ruslan Plisko, together with Igor Kostin and Yevgeny Zviagin from the Southern District Military Court in Rostov (Russia) on 3 November 2020 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. Rustem Emiruseinov was sentenced to 17 years; Arsen Abkhairov to 13 years and Eskender Abdulganiev to 12 years.
The three men were declared political prisoners by the authoritative Memorial Human Rights Centre back in January 2020, and their release has been demanded in numerous international resolutions and statements from western countries.
It is likely that the men will now be moved to prisons in Russia, so there is little point in giving addresses for letters, however please remember the men’s names and check here in a few weeks.