Surreal twist in Russia’s lawless ‘trial’ of Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev
Russia’s ‘trial’ of veteran Crimean Tatar leader and Ukrainian MP Mustafa Dzhemilev for trying to enter his native Crimea was already a record-breaker in lawless cynicism, but last week it hit new depths. With even Russia’s own ‘border’ guards having confirmed that Dzhemilev did not cross their illegal ‘border’ on 3 May 2014, the prosecution has now sought to have the indictment, and specifically the coordinates of that same ‘border’, changed. The latest ‘hearing’ in this grotesque trial, it should be noted, came just days after Poland’s Sejm [parliament] put Mustafa Dzhemilev forward for the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize.
All of the charges against Dzhemilev are absurd, and with the trial in absentia, since Russia banned the world-renowned Crimean Tatar leader from his homeland soon after its invasion, Moscow was presumably hoping for a swift ‘conviction’. Thanks to lawyer Nikolai Polozov, that has certainly not happened. Each hearing has exposed, not only the lack of substance to the charges, but the evident attempts by the Russian occupiers to stir up trouble on the relevant day in 2014.
After the hearing on 11 February, Polozov reported that prosecutor Anton Marchenko had applied to include in the court documents a response from the border guard department of Russia’s FSB. According to this curious document, the coordinates of the so-called ‘state border’ differ from those given in the indictment. The prosecutor, therefore, also indicated that they wished to change the indictment in order to include these altered coordinates.
The defence objected, pointing out that, in accordance with a Russian government resolution, the only body authorized to determine the boundaries of the ‘state border’ is the Federal Agency for Cartography and Geodesy. Polozov later noted that this was not just in contradiction of the law, which clearly states that a state border is crossed at the relevant checkpoint, but also of sheer common sense. Unfortunately, in political trials, judges seldom buck the prosecutor or FSB, and Marchenko’s application was allowed. This may, conceivably, improve the prosecution’s paperwork, however it has no chance of even improving the optics of this shoddy travesty of a trial.
3 May 2014
As soon as Moscow understood that it could not break the opposition from Mustafa Dzhemilev and the Crimean Tatar Mejlis to Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea, it turned to repression. Dzhemilev was banned from his homeland on 22 April 2014, shortly after his first act on returning to occupied Simferopol was to order the reinstatement of the Ukrainian flag which had been removed from the central headquarters of the Mejlis. The ban was first applied on 2 May, when Dzhemilev attempted to fly from Kyiv to occupied Crimea via Moscow. The Mejlis, or self-governing body of the Crimean Tatar people, immediately called on all Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians to come to the administrative border with mainland Ukraine in Armyansk on 3 May to meet Dzhemilev and to peacefully escort him to Simferopol. Russia sent in huge contingents of enforcement officers, etc., and demonstrated every intention to violently disperse the five thousand people who arrived that morning. For that reason, Dzhemilev, in consultation with members of the Mejlis who were present, decided to return to Kyiv in order to prevent bloodshed.
Russia’s first political trials against Crimean Tatars were over the events on 3 May 2014, with these coinciding with further repressive acts against the Mejlis and its leaders, as well as enforced disappearances, many of the victims of which have never been found.
Then in January 2016, it was learned that criminal charges had been laid against Dzhemilev and an arrest warrant issued against a man whom Russia had itself banned from his homeland. The first charge was under Article 322 § 3 of Russia’s criminal code, namely of “illegally crossing Russia’s state border’. It is claimed that Dzhemilev, as “a foreign national” knew that he had been banned from entering “the Russian Federation”. This illegal crossing was purportedly carried out “by a group according to prior conspiracy”.
There neither was a ‘Russian state border’ to cross, since by Ukrainian and international law, backed by the UN General Assembly and all democratic countries, there was, and remains, only the administrative border between the Kherson oblast and Crimea. Not only was the ban illegal, but Dzhemilev had not even been adequately informed of it, with the only document a scrappy piece of paper which was unsigned.
The ‘trial’ began at the Russian-controlled Armyansk Municipal Court under ‘judge’ Venera Ulugbekovna Isroilova on 23 July, 2020. There have been over 40 hearings since, with even prosecution witnesses giving testimony that essentially refuted the charges. On 13 November 2021, for example, Artem Latyshev testified that he had been working at the checkpoint (seemingly within the Russian FSB border guard forces) and that he had not seen any signs, etc. identifying Russia’s alleged ‘state border’. Nor had he seen Dzhemilev attempt to pass through their barrier.
Numerous defence witnesses have given damning testimony about the events that day. All confirm that Dzhemilev was, at all times, on ‘neutral territory’ between checkpoints; that there were no clear signs delineating Russia’s illegal claim to the territory; nor did the men in military gear have any identifying insignia. According to Ali Ozenbash, the events that day bore all the markings of “a planned provocation, aimed at inciting inter-ethnic enmity”.
Russia is now foisting an entirely illegal document by a body without any authority presumably in order to claim that Mustafa Dzhemilev did cross some line which they illegally claim to be their ‘state border’.
Mustafa Dzhemilev is also accused of illegal possession of a firearm under Article 222 § 1 and carelessly storing a firearm, creating a danger to others, if that resulted in the death of a person or other grave consequences (Article 224 § 1), The latter two charges are presumably connected with a tragic accident in which Dzhemilev’s son, Khaiser accidentally killed a man. The accident had happened long before annexation, and Russia had no right to prosecute Khaiser Dzhemilev or imprison him in Russia. According to Polozov, Russia followed up its invasion and annexation, with an illegal ‘‘constitutional law’ which envisages retroactive prosecution under Russian legislation even where the pre-annexation actions were completely legal. Moscow’s obvious use of Khaiser as a hostage, to put pressure on his father, was condemned by the international community, however the young man was forced to serve an illegal sentence in a Russian prison to the very last day. Russia is now using this tragic incident as pretext for further absurd charges against Mustafa Dzhemilev as well. During the hearing on 11 February, a ballistics expert confirmed that the bullet in question was not for military use, etc.
The next hearing is scheduled for 1 March.