• Topics / Human Rights Abuses in Russian-occupied Crimea
Russia demands 12-year sentence against Crimean Tatar scholar for studying religion
The same prosecutor who sought an 11-year effective death sentence against Oleh Prykhodko for his open opposition to Russia’s annexation of Crimea has demanded a 12-year sentence against Crimean Tatar Arabic scholar and civic activist, Vadim Bektemirov. The latter is not accused of any recognizable crime and the ‘evidence’ is manifestly flawed, yet on 1 February 2022, prosecutor Sergei Aidinov once again claimed that ‘guilt’ has been proven and that Bektemirov should be sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment in Russia’s harshest-regime penitentiary institutions, with the first three years in the appalling conditions of a Russian prison.
Bektemirov has been imprisoned now for almost two years. His third child and first son was born 19 days after his arrest on 7 July 2020 (his 39th birthday). He was also not present for the funeral of his father who died of a heart attack two weeks after armed and masked ‘enforcement officers’ had burst into the family’s home and then taken his son away.
Bektemirov is a graduate in Islamic Studies (specializing in Arabic literature and humanitarian sciences), but worked as a translator to support his family. He also led prayer meetings in support of political prisoners; attended politically-motivated court hearings and helped in gathering and sending food parcels to political prisoners held in occupied Crimea or Russia. All of the above has been sufficient for very many Crimean Tatars to be targeted by the FSB, and on 7 July 2020, Bektemirov became one of seven victims, almost all of whom were civic activists.
Like the majority of Russia’s Crimean Tatar and other Ukrainian political prisoners, Bektemirov is accused only of unproven involvement in the peaceful transnational Islamic party Hizb ut-Tahrir which is legal in Ukraine and most countries. It is likely that the Russian Supreme Court’s secret ruling in 2003, finding Hizb ut-Tahrir ‘terrorist’, was passed for political reasons, with Moscow looking for a way of forcibly sending Uzbek refugees back to Uzbekistan where they faced religious persecution. The lack of any proper explanation, or grounds under Russian legislation, for labelling Hizb ut-Tahrir terrorist, is just one of the reasons why the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre considers all Muslims convicted merely of ‘involvement’ in this organization to be political prisoners. In the case of Crimean Muslims, Memorial also points out that Russia is in grave violation of international law by applying Russian legislation on occupied territory and imprisoning Crimeans in Russia. In declaring Bektemirov a political prisoner, Memorial wrote that he was being persecuted for peacefully practising his faith and that “he has been deprived of his liberty despite the absence of elements of a crime, in order to stop his religious activities, and also to crush civic activism in annexed Crimea.”
In each of these conveyor belt prosecutions, a person is accused either of the more serious ‘organizing a Hizb ut-Tahrir group’, under Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code or with ‘involvement’ in such an alleged group, under Article 205.5 § 2. Bektemirov is charged under the latter.
As Memorial pointed out, “Vadim Bektemirov is not accused of planning or of carrying out a terrorist attack, or of making terrorist threats or calls to violence. Instead of this, the indictment mentions such evidence as participation in a meeting of believers and invitation of new people to this; discussion of religious topics; and reading of Islamic literature.”
The ’terrorism’ charges are linked solely with the 2003 Supreme Court ruling. During one of the hearings, Aidinov expressed indignation when Dmitry Dubrovsky from Amicus Curiae stated that there was no proof of terrorism in Hizb ut-Tahrir ideology and practice. How could Dubrovsky - Aidinov asked - in his capacity as expert (testifying for the defence), assert that Hizb ut-Tahrir is not a terrorist organization when there is the 2003 Supreme Court ruling?. Dubrovsky’s answer was brief and to the point: “Because science, unlike jurisprudence, is not willing to accept a court ruling without evidence and the latter, unfortunately, does not provide any proof of terrorism in the practice and ideology of Hizb ut-Tahrir .” Dubrovsky also noted that the so-called Islamic State has criticized Hizb ut-Tahrir for rejecting violence.
Dubrovsky was also scathing about the competence (or lack of such) of the supposed experts whom the FSB got to carry out an assessment of the transcript in this case. He noted, for example, that such an assessment needed to include the study of audio and video recordings, and had not, with the authors having merely taken the presence of such recordings, asserted by the prosecution, on faith.
Essentially the only ‘evidence’ in this case has been provided by two ‘secret witnesses’ whose testimony cannot be verified. They claim that, from 2015 to 2018, Bektemirov took them to ‘conspiratory meetings’ of the supposed Hizb ut-Tahrir group, recruited new followers; held explanatory discussions in mosques; and also discussed the persecution of Muslims in Crimea.
Bektemirov’s lawyer Emil Kurbedinov is convinced that one of these individuals is Adnan Masri, and says that he is appearing as a ‘secret witness’ not because he has anything to fear, but because he is, in fact, an FSB agent. Kurbedinov has amassed evidence demonstrating that Masri has played a similar role in at least five other ‘trials’, including those that resulted in huge sentences against recognized political prisoners Ruslan Zeytullaev and Enver Seitosmanov.
In one of Bektemirov’s statements to the court, he described the armed ‘search’ of his home on 7 July 2020, during which he was prevented from having a lawyer present and threatened with a longer sentence if he did not agree to the largely formal ‘services’ of a state-provided ‘lawyer’.
Bektemirov told the court how he had seen and immediately objected to a religious book being planted by the FSB officers. The situation was especially absurd as the officers later genuinely found all of his books which he had no reason to hide.
“You can say that the operation was carried out successfully. They found what the person had not even concealed,<> It is not even clear why they needed to be hidden, and what is wrong with them. Probably just because we have found ourselves in the legal realm of the Russian Federation where there has long been the rotten stench of godless communism”.
The ’trial’ now ending at the notorious Southern District Military Court in Rostov (Russia) was under presiding judge Aleksei Abdulmazhitovich Magomadov, together with Kirill Nikolaevich Krivtsov and Sergei Fedorovich Yarosh. Although the reasons for acquitting and releasing Bektemirov are compelling, the judges’ behaviour in allowing secret witnesses and rejecting valid applications that would highlight flawed evidence gives no grounds for optimism.
The next hearing, where Bektemirov himself and Kurbedinov are due to take their part in the closing ‘court debate’, is scheduled for 10 February.
Please write to Vadim Bektemirov!
The letters tell him and Moscow that he is not forgotten and that Russia’s treatment of him is under close 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 he can answer.
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. ]
344022, Россия,, Ростовская обл., г. Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219, ФКУ СИЗО-1
Бектемирову Вадиму Заидиновичу, 1981 г. р.
Or in English
344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1
Bektemirov, Vadim Zayidinovich, b. 1981