war crimes in Ukraine

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Russia brings grotesque new charges against Crimean Tatar Mejlis leader Nariman Dzhelyal

Halya Coynash
Nariman Dzhelyal has explained very movingly why he had no choice but to return to occupied Crimea, even knowing the likely revenge for his involvement in the international Crimea Platform

Nariman Dzhelyal at the Crimea Platform inaugural meeting Photo

Russia has come up with yet another charge against Nariman Dzhelyal, First Deputy Head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, who has been imprisoned since shortly after he attended the inaugural meeting of the international Crimea Platform on 23 August.  That meeting, which elicited hysteria from Moscow, was attended by high-ranking representatives of 45 countries and Dzhelyal had ignored clear threats from the occupation regime by taking part and by speaking publicly about the dire huge rights situation in occupied Crimea.

Dzhelyal was arrested on 4 September 2021, with the original charge being of abetting an act of sabotage. There are serious doubts as to whether there even was such an attack on an obscure gas pipe, with the only reports coinciding with the above-mentioned inaugural meeting.  On 22 September, Dzhelyal’s lawyer Nikolai Polozov reported that the charges against the Crimean Tatar leader and journalist had been made much more serious.  He was now charged with carrying out an act of sabotage as part of an organized group (Article 281 § 2a (carrying a sentence of from 12 to 20 years), and with the illegal purchase, transfer or possession of explosives as part of an organized group (Article 222.1 § 4, with a sentence of from 10 to 15 years).

On 8 November, Dzhelyal and his lawyer were informed that he is now charged additionally with smuggling an explosive device, as part of an organized group (Article 226.1 § 1, carrying a sentence of from 7 to 12 years’ imprisonment).  As before, Dzhelyal is using his right to not answer any questions.  

Questionable ‘act of sabotage’

There are doubts as to whether the minor damage caused to a gas pipe in Perevalne on 23 August was an act of sabotage, as is now being claimed.  The report on that day suggested that “the mechanical damage to the gas pipe had, possibly, arisen as the result of illegal actions by unidentified individuals”, but the criminal investigation launched was under Article 167 § 2 of Russia’s criminal code (‘deliberate destruction or damage to property’.  There was no further mention of this damage, and to this day no photos, etc. have been made public.   The gas pipe in question was not on any central circuit and could be fixed relatively easily with this yet further reason for doubting the FSB claims that the alleged ‘sabotage’ was planned by Ukraine’s Military Intelligence together with the Mejlis.

Dzhelyal himself, and other Crimean Tatar leaders, were in Kyiv on 23 August, taking part, together with Ukraine’s President and high-ranking foreign visitors, in the Crimea Platform inaugural meeting.

‘Organized group’

Five Crimean Tatars disappeared after being taken away by the FSB on 3 or 4 September, with nothing known of their whereabouts until late on 4 September.  Two of the three men seized during the night from 3-4 September  – Asan Akhtemov and his cousin, Aziz Akthemov were only finally able to see proper lawyers almost ten days later, after the European Court of Human Rights [ECHR] intervenedEldar Odamanov and Shevket Useinov were held incommunicado until 5 September, before being jailed for 10 and 15 days on absurd charges, quite unrelated to the armed raids on their homes.  It is, unfortunately, possible that that period of captivity was used to extract, through torture and threats, false testimony.  As in essentially all of Russia’s politically motivated prosecutions of Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians, ‘anonymous witnesses’ are used, and there is known to be (at least) one such alleged witness in this case. 

The ’organized group’ claims are based solely on ‘videoed confessions’ which both the Akhtemovs retracted as soon as they were allowed to see real lawyers, as well, probably, as the ‘testimony’ of at least one alleged but anonymous ‘witness’. 

The first time the charges against Asan Akhtemov and Nariman Dzhelyal were escalated was after Asan gave a detailed account of the torture he endured.

See: “Shoot me now!” Harrowing details of Russian FSB torture of Crimean Tatars seized in revenge for 'Crimea Platform'

It is likely that the FSB will try to claim that they found something incriminating during the searches of the Akhtemovs’ homes, however suspicion is justified as these were armed raids in the middle of the night, with all mobile telephones immediately taken away so that lawyers and family could not be informed. 

Total secrecy

Russia has now forced the three men’s lawyers to sign formal non-divulgence commitments and is holding all court hearings behind closed doors.

Dzhelyal’s lawyers, Nikolai Polozov and Emine Avamileva, have lodged an appeal with the occupation Crimean High Court over both the extension of Dzhelyal’s detention and such unwarranted secrecy.  The detention hearing was held behind closed doors at the decision of ‘judge’ Yevgeny Pronin, claiming that this was due to ‘a threat to the safety of participants’ (Article 241 § 4 of Russia’s criminal procedure code).  There was nothing in the ‘investigator’s’ application to the court to justify such a claim of danger.  Polozov says that this indicates that Pronin himself arbitrarily took a decision which denies Dzhelyal and the other men their right to an open trial.

Such an appeal is undoubtedly needed, but it does seem clear that the orders to keep maximum secrecy are coming from higher up.  The blocking of any information about the case without any attempt at justification has coincided with ferocious measures against Crimean Tatars attempting to attend political court hearings, or at least wait outside courts to demonstrate solidarity.  The first mass arrests were on the evening of 4 September when members of the detained men’s families and others were simply trying to find out the men’s whereabouts (details here).

Dzhelyal is also being held separately from other prisoners, in an unheated cell, with letters not being passed to him.  Nariman Dzhelyal knew very well that it was only a matter of time before Russia came for him.  In an address to his people which his lawyers brought out of the SIZO on 8 November, Dzhelyal wrote:

“When I was asked how long I would be allowed to engage in my activities in occupied Crimea, did I not think that I would be arrested soon or expelled, I answered that I can only try to use the remaining time so as to reach my goal.

My arrest was a question of time and it wasn’t I alone who knew that. After Crimea Platform, literally before my departure for Crimea, friends yet again asked me to think whether it wasn’t better to remain on free territory.

Yet I always returned.  I knew why and for what I was doing this. Now I have become the means for the principled non-violent struggle for rights and freedom, for justice and truth.  As were Akhtem Chiygoz; Oleg Sentsov; Volodymyr Baluch and as dozens of Kremlin political prisoners now remain.

I will do everything to remain ready for the struggle.  But it is you who should do this.

I know that hundreds of kilometres from Crimea they will do this.

But what about in Crimea itself?

Friends! You don’t win the battle by hiding in the trenches.

If we wish to live in freedom and ourselves determine our fate, there is no other choice than to fight,  To struggle, using available means.

And win!"

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