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64-year-old Crimean Tatar effectively sentenced to death for refusal to collaborate with Russia’s FSB
“I’m 64 years old, and you’re calling me a terrorist? Do you hear your own words?” This was how Zekirya Muratov addressed the Russian prosecutor during one of the hearings into his trial at the Southern District Military Court in Rostov (Russia). Although the charges were grotesquely absurd, and Muratov was not accused of any recognizable crime, that same court has sentenced the pensioner to eleven and a half years’ harsh-regime imprisonment, just six months less than the sentence demanded by prosecutor Sergei Aidinov. This is effectively a death sentence, since the 64-year-old Crimean Tatar has serious medical problems and the conditions in such Russian prisons are appalling.
Zekirya Muratov is a graduate from the Tashkent State Conservatory and spent most of his life as a professional musician (clarinet player) and teacher in a children’s music school. He has three children, the youngest of whom is just 14. As repression mounted under Russian occupation, he played an active role in visiting political trials, helping the families of political prisoners, etc. In his final address to the court on 9 February, Muratov said: “I and the Kremlin’s other political prisoners chose not to be silent about what was happening, not sit and wait while others struggle for a better life, struggle for their rights.”
“I want to draw the attention of those in this courtroom, those who see, read and hear us beyond this conveyor belt of ‘terrorists’, to call for common sense and for people to be honest to themselves. It’s impossible to simply live in silence, as though nothing was happening and avoid politics, remaining deaf and blind in the face of evident injustice, formally wrapped in laws that are nothing but lawlessness, thinking that it doesn’t concern you.<> Find the strength in you to look truth in the eye. Nobody will do it for you. We are all somebody’s children, we all have children, grandchildren. I don’t want my children, my people to live in a country of threats, intimidation and torture, of abductions and illegal arrests; aggression and persecution.”
During the sentencing on 11 February, Muratov was wearing a T-shirt with the words: “Dissidence is a crime in the Russian Federation”. In his case, the ‘crimes’ were also his courage and integrity since Muratov was almost certainly arrested, not only because of his civic position in support of political prisoners, but because he refused to collaborate with the FSB by giving false testimony against other victims of persecution. Essentially all the political trials in occupied Crimea are based on such false testimony, including that provided by ‘secret witnesses’.
The story of Muratov’s persecution begins in the middle of April 2020 when Ukrainian traitor turned FSB officer Aleksandr Kompaneitsev tried to ‘recruit’ Muratov for such dirty work. Muratov categorically refused and later provided details of the blackmail in court. He named Kompaneitsev and said that the latter had threatened to get him a prison sentence if he didn’t agree to collaborate with him. The FSB man, Muratov said, had complained that “there was no use” in the FSB’s previous ‘informer, and had told him that if he worked with the FSB, he’d “have a green light”. If he didn’t, he’d “go down hard”. Muratov told the court that he had refused, saying “let them imprison me, I will not go against my people, and against my religion”.
Kompaneitsev had already played a similar role in the persecution and imprisonment of human rights defender Emir-Usein Kuku; Inver Bekirov; Arsen Dzhepparov and other Crimean Tatar political prisoners, and the reprisals against Muratov were swift.
Armed FSB and other enforcement officers, many in masks, burst into Muratov’s home at around 3 a.m. on the morning of 7 July 2020. They claimed to have ‘found’ a religious book which Muratov’s wife says was not theirs and took her husband away. All such armed ‘searches’ take place without lawyers being allowed in, and with the FSB illegally bringing the supposed ‘independent witnesses’ with them.
Muratov, and the other men, were charged only with ‘involvement’ in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a peaceful, transnational Muslim party which is legal in Ukraine and which is not known to have carried out acts of terrorism anywhere in the world. Russia has never provided any grounds for a suspiciously secretive 2003 Supreme Court ruling that declared Hizb ut-Tahrir ‘terrorist’. Since 2015, the ruling has, however, been used as ‘justification’ for imprisoning and sentencing Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainian Muslims to terms of imprisonment up to 20 years on supposed ‘terrorism charges’. In each case, a person is accused either of the more serious ‘organizing’ a Hizb ut-Tahrir group (Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code, carrying a sentence of up to life imprisonment, or of ‘involvement’ in such an alleged group under Article 205.5 § 2. It was on this charge of ‘involvement’ that presiding judge Timur Khabasovich Mashukov, together with Igor Vladimirovich Kostin and Roman Konstantinovich Plisko from the Southern District Military Court sentenced Muratov on 11 February 2022 to 11.5 years. They ignored the lack of any recognizable crime and the fact that Russia is in breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention (by applying repressive Russian law on illegally occupied territory). They also repeatedly turned a blind eye to the lack of any real evidence to support the charges.
All of these ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir trials’ are based on reported or illicitly taped conversations which are then sent to FSB-loyal ‘experts’ who claim that this or that word or opinion ‘means’ that the person is involved in Hizb ut-Tahrir. Since this is manifestly poor, the FSB also claim to have found ‘prohibited literature’ when they illegally prevent lawyers from being present during the armed searches. The main source of ‘evidence’ against the political prisoner, however, comes from anonymous witnesses whose testimony cannot be verified and who may well not have known the person. This was true of at least one of the secret witnesses in this case whose physical description of Muratov was absurdly inaccurate.
It should be stressed that acting as such a ‘secret witness’ would have certainly formed part of the collaboration that Kompaneitsev was demanding. It is also clear from the methods used to prevent disclosure of such ‘witnesses’ identity, despite the lack of any grounds for concealment, that the prosecutors and judges involved in these cases are well aware that this is false testimony (details here).
Prosecutor Sergei Aidinov and judges Timur Khabasovich Mashukov, together with Igor Vladimirovich Kostin and Roman Konstantinovich Plisko were equally well-aware of Muratov’s age and state of health. He has grade three disability status, and suffers from a number of potentially life-threatening conditions, including a heart defect and cardiac insufficiency, high blood pressure; a dropped kidney, causing constant attacks of acute pain, and much more. This really is a death sentence without any crime.
Please write to Zekirya Muratov!
He will not be moved until after the appeal hearing, and letters are an important way of telling him that he is not forgotten and making sure that both the prison staff and Moscow know that their actions are 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 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 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1
Muratov, Zekirya Saitovych, b. 1957