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The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

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Crimean Tatar veteran’s civic journalist son sentenced to 16 years by Russia on same charges as Stalin used against her grandfather

06.01.2022   
Halya Coynash

Seiran Saliyev in court Photo Crimean Solidarity

There was never any possibility that Seiran Saliyev would look the other way as repression mounted in Crimea under Russian occupation and he has paid a huge price for refusing to remain silent.   Seiran is the son of Zodiye Saliyeva, a veteran of the Crimean Tatar national movement, and had attended his first peaceful protest as a small baby in her arms.  Her grandfather had been executed for refusing to join a collective farm which Stalin’s regime deemed an ‘attempt to overthrow the Soviet regime’.  Eighty years later, the Russian occupation regime came for her son, with the charges against the civic journalist, who had visited and reported on political trials and other forms of repression, also of trying to violently overthrow the state’.  There was no evidence to back such charges, nor indeed was Saliyev ever accused of any recognizable crime, yet he was sentenced by a Russian court to 16 years’ imprisonment in the worst of Russian penal institutions.

Seiran and his wife Mumine became actively engaged in human rights and journalist work from 2014 and were both involved in the important Crimean Solidarity civic initiative from 2016.  Both visited the ever-increasing number of political trials, and Saliyev would invariably ensure coverage of armed searches and arrests of fellow Crimean Tatars.  Mumine Saliyeva says that they were aware of the likely consequences but recalls that her husband spoke of this being their duty, a matter of integrity and, even, of honour.

Administrative prosecutions as first warning

Russia has used essentially the same methods against all Crimean Tatars or other Ukrainians in occupied Crimea, with initial harassment and / or administrative prosecutions aimed at forcing them to leave Crimea or, at least, fall silent.  When they refuse to be silenced, they face imprisonment and huge sentences.

First administrative prosecution

On 12 May 2016, Saliyev used the loudspeaker in a Bakhchysarai mosque to alert people to the latest armed searches and arrests of four Crimean Tatars: Rustem Abilltarov; Zevri Abseitov; Enver Mamutov; and Remzi Mememov.  The four recognized political prisoners remain in Russian prisons despite international calls for their release.  Saliyev had merely informed people of what was happening, but was later prosecuted and fined 20 thousand roubles for having supposedly ‘organized an unauthorized demonstration’ through his use of the loudspeaker.

On 26 January 2017, the FSB carried out an armed search of the family home, terrifying the couple’s elder children (Salikh; Samiya and Suriya).  Mumine was at the time pregnant with their third daughter, Safiye.  This was clearly an operation aimed at intimidation, with Emil Kurbedinov, one of two lawyers who sped to Saliyev’s home also detained.  Saliyev was jailed for 12 days on absurd charges regarding purportedly ‘extremist’ material; Kurbedinov for 10 days over an innocuous video posted on social media before Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea.   At the time, the family told Crimean Realities that one of the FSB officers had threatened that if they couldn’t find any reason to accuse Saliyev of links with the so-called ‘Islamic State’, they would try ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’, the peaceful transnational Muslim organization which is legal in Ukraine, but which Russia has labelled ‘terrorist’ without providing any grounds.

The other reason for all of these repressive measures is to present Crimean Tatars who take a clear civic stand as being dangerous ‘terrorists’ or ‘extremists’.  The Russian state media gave a grossly distortion account of the events that did with one channel (at least) even using an FSB video that had nothing to do with Crimea to try to back their lies.

Seiran Saliyev did not leave occupied Crimea, nor did he stop his Crimean Solidarity work, and the next attack, as threatened, was over alleged links with Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Arrest on 11 October 2017 

This was Russia’s first overt attack on civic journalists and activists.  Seiran and three other civic journalists were arrested that day: Marlen Asanov; Ernes Ametov and Timur Ibragimov; as well as two civic activists Memet Belyalov and Server Zekiryaev.  On 21 May 2018, they also came for well-known Crimean Solidarity coordinator and civic journalist Server Mustafayev and Edem Smailov.  Russia is now also using absolutely identical ‘evidence’ against two other Crimean Tatar activists: Oleh Fedorov and Ernest Ibragimov.

Charges

As mentioned, neither Saliyev nor any of the other men were accused of any recognizable crime. Russia is using ‘terrorism’ charges purely on the basis of a flawed Supreme Court ruling from February 2003 which declared Hizb ut-Tahrir to be ‘terrorist’.  No explanation was provided then, nor has it been since, for why a party that is not known to have committed any acts of terror anywhere in the world should be banned as ‘terrorist’.  It has been illegally using these charges against Ukrainian Muslims, most of them Crimean Tatars, since 2015, with the charges now systematically used as a weapon against civic journalists and activists.

Initially, only Marlen Asanov was charged with the more serious ‘organizer’ role under Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code, however in February 2019, the same charge was also brought against Memet Belyalov and Timur Ibragimov. Seiran Saliyev; Ernes Ametov; Server Mustafayev; Edem Smailov and Server Zekiryaev were charged with ‘involvement in such an alleged ‘group’ (Article 205.5 § 2).  All eight men were also charged (under Article 278) with ‘planning to violently seize power’. 

Evidence

In any real sense of the word, there was absolutely none..   

The charges were based on illicitly taped conversations in a mosque.  There was not one mention during these conversations of Hizb ut-Tahrir, however the FSB used its own supposed ‘experts’ willing to claim that the subject matter, particular words, etc. gave grounds for concluding that the men were at a ‘conspiratorial meeting’ and were members of Hizb ut-Tahrir .  None of the three ‘experts’ Yulia Fomina; Yelena Khazimulina and Timur Zakhirovich Urazumetov possessed the professional competence to provide such assessments.  In the case of the two ‘linguists’, Fomina and Khazimulina, this was explained in a comprehensive report and then to the court by forensic linguist, Yelena Novozhilova.

This suspect ‘evidence’ as then backed by the even more dubious testimony of two ‘secret’ or anonymous witnesses.  Russia essentially bases all its political trials of Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians on such alleged witnesses, with this strongly criticized 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”.  Although the prosecutor is invariably backed by the court in Rostov in maintaining secrecy and blocking any questions that probe the worth of their ‘testimony’, the identity of both men is, in fact, known.  They are Narzulayev Salakhudin, an Uzbek  living in occupied Crimea without the proper documents and Konstantin Tumarevich, a fugitive from justice in his native Latvia.  In both cases, it was clear that the FSB had levers to use to ‘persuade’ the men to cooperate with them, and they are believed to have been used as such anonymous ‘witnesses’ in all cases involving Crimean Tatars from Bakhchysarai.

‘Trial’ and sentences

The trial took place at the same Southern District Military Court in Rostov used in almost all political trials of Ukrainian citizenships since Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov was sentenced to 20 years in 2015.

All of the above-mentioned flaws in the case, as well as Russia’s violation of international law in applying its legislation on occupied territory, were systematically ignored by prosecutor Yevgeny Kolpikov and judges Rizvan Zubairov (presiding); Roman Saprunov and Maxim Nikitin.

There is simply no possibility that any of these individuals seriously believed that the men on trial were guilty as charged yet Kolpikov demanded monstrous sentences against all eight men and the judges provided them against seven of them.  This was the first such ‘trial’ when one of the eight, civic journalist and photographer Ernes Ametov was acquitted, with this probably one of the reasons why the FSB later brought the same charges against another ‘Ernest’ (Ernest Ibragimov and Oleh Fedorov).  

On 16 September 2020, Zubairov; Saprunov and Nikitin passed huge sentences with each of these, which will be in Russian prisons, to be followed by 12 – 18 months’ restriction of liberty in occupied Crimea.  Marlin Asanov was sentenced to 19 years in a harsh regime prison colony; Memet Belyalov – 18 years; Timur Ibragimov – 17 years; Seiran Saliyev – 16 years; Server Mustafayev – 14 years; Edem Smailov – 13 years and Server Zekiryaev – 13 years.

Appeals

The appeals are, as of January 2022, still being heard by the Russian Military Court of Appeal in Vlasikha (Moscow region).  This is a closed city, and the men are communicating with the court from the SIZO [remand prison] in Novocherkassk where the conditions are particularly appalling, even by Russian standards.   

International condemnation

All of the men have been recognized as political prisoners by the Memorial Human Rights Centre and Amnesty International has also run urgent appeals on behalf of Server Mustafayev whom it has declared an AI prisoner of conscience.

The men’s release has been demanded on many occasions by, among others, the US Mission to the OSCE; the US State Department; the EU; Human Rights Watch and Frontline Defenders.  In its statement following the sentences in September 2020, HRW wrote that the verdict “once again, shows just how determined Russian authorities are to make Crimean Tatar activists – and their families – pay the price and how they will subvert the law and courts to do so.”

PLEASE WRITE TO SEIRAN SALIYEV AND THE OTHERS

The addresses below will be current until after the appeal hearing, and will be updated.

Letters are an important lifeline for any political prisoner and they also send a vital message to Moscow demonstrating that its treatment of the men is under scrutiny.

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.

Sample letter

Привет,

Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение. Простите, что мало пишу – мне трудно писать по-русски, но мы все о Вас помним.

[Hi.  I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released.  I’m sorry that this letter is short – it’s hard for me to write in Russian., but you are not forgotten. ] 

Addresses

Seiran Saliyev

346408 Russian Federation, Rostov oblast, Novocherkassk, ul. Ukrainskaya, No. 1, SIZO-1

Saliyev, Seiran Alimovich, b. 1985 ]

Marlen  Asanov

346408 Russian Federation, Rostov oblast, Novocherkassk, ul. Ukrainskaya, No. 1, SIZO-1

Asanov, Marlen Rifatovich, b. 1977 ]

Memet Belyalov

346408 Russian Federation, Rostov oblast, Novocherkassk, ul. Ukrainskaya, No. 1, SIZO-1

Belyalov, Memet Reshatovich, b. 1989 ]

Timur Ibragimov

346408 Russian Federation, Rostov oblast, Novocherkassk, ul. Ukrainskaya, No. 1, SIZO-1

Ibragimov, Timur Izetovich, b. 1985 ]

Server Mustafayev

346408 Russian Federation, Rostov oblast, Novocherkassk, ul. Ukrainskaya, No. 1, SIZO-1

Mustafayev, Server Rustemovich,  b. 1986 ]

Edem Smailov

346408 Russian Federation, Rostov oblast, Novocherkassk, ul. Ukrainskaya, No. 1, SIZO-1

Smailov, Edem Nazimovich, b. 1968 ]

Server Zekiryaev

346408 Russian Federation, Rostov oblast, Novocherkassk, ul. Ukrainskaya, No. 1, SIZO-1

Zekiryaev, Server Zekievich, b. 1973 ]

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