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Russia targets entire families in its savage persecution of Crimean Tatars

Halya Coynash

From left Aidar Dzhapprov, Riza Omerov, Enver Omerov Photo Crimean Solidarity

Russia’s killing of entire families since its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 is certainly of unprecedented barbarism, however its targeting of whole families is nothing new.  There are presently at least 120 Crimean Tatar and other Ukrainian political prisoners held in occupied Crimea or Russia, with these in many cases including several members of the same family.  The parents of Crimean Tatar civic journalist Ruslan Suleimanov and his brother Eskender face never seeing their only sons ever again, and this is only one of several cases where two brothers have been seized. 

All of the men in Fatma Ismailova’s family have been sentenced, without any recognizable crime, to horrific sentences.  Her husband, Rustem Ismailov, is serving a 13.5 year sentence in Russia, thousands of kilometres from her and their three children.  On 10 March 2022, a Russian court of appeal confirmed an 18-year sentence  against Fatima’s father Enver Omerov and a 13-year sentence against her brother Riza Omerov.  Since Enver Omerov is already 60, the appalling conditions of Russian prisons would be likely to make this an effective death sentence.

All of the men, as well as Aider Dzhepparov, who was sentenced to 17 years in the same trial as the Omerovs, and Azamat Eyupov, who is now facing identical charges, are victims of the conveyor belt repression that Russia has brought to occupied Crimea.

All of the men were effectively accused only of ‘thought crimes’, with the Russian FSB charging them with ‘involvement’ in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a peaceful transnational Muslim political and religious organization which is legal in Ukraine.  Russia’s Supreme Court declared Hizb ut-Tahrir a ‘terrorist organization’ in 2003, with the ruling kept secret until it could no longer be challenged.  It is likely that the ruling was aimed at enabling Russia to forcibly return Uzbek asylum seekers to Uzbekistan where they faced torture and religious persecution.  Call them ‘terrorists’ and it’s OK to persecute peaceful believers for their faith, even though Hizb ut-Tahrir is not known to have committed any act of terrorism anywhere in the world.  Since early 2015, Russia has been violating international law by using these appalling charges to imprison law-abiding and devout Crimean Muslims on ‘terrorism charges’, and, in many cases as a weapon of terror to silence Crimean Tatar civic journalists and activists, and as an attempt to drive Crimean Tatars from their Crimean homeland.

These ‘trials’, which are known to provide the FSB with promotion or bonuses, all follow a certain pattern, with one or more of the defendants designated as ‘organizers’ (under Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code) and others accused only of ‘involvement’ (Article 205.5 § 2) .  The distinction generally seems quite arbitrary, however the difference in sentences is massive, with the FSB not tolerating significant deviations from the sentences demanded in the case of the supposed ‘organizers’, in this case Enver Omerov and Aider Dzhapparov.  On 27 February 2020, it was learned that all three men were also being charged with planning violent seizure of power.  Not one of the armed searches of the men’s homes found even a weapon, nor were they accused of having planned any act of violence.  The ‘terrorism’ charges and horrific sentences related solely to a politically-motivated Supreme Court ruling in 2003.

The Omerovs and Dzhapparov have been imprisoned since 10 June 2019.  Enver Omerov was arrested at around 2 a.m. in the early hours of 10 June, while travelling to Rostov with Fatima to attend one of the hearings into the charges against his son-in-law and four other men.  Omerov became very unwell and the ambulance brigade confirmed that he had extremely high blood pressure and needed to rest.  The enforcement officers ignored this and insisted that he come with them to the Kerch police station.  When Fatma remonstrated, and said that she would bring her father there after he had rested, an FSB officer threatened to handcuff her to the generator if she didn’t stop “getting in their way”.  

The European Parliament and other international bodies have condemned all such ‘trials’ of Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians and demanded the men’s release.  In June 2020, the Memorial Human Rights Centre recognized Enver and Riza Omerov and Aider Dzhapparov as political prisoners. Memorial was scathing both about the fundamental flaws of the charges and the fact that Russia is in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention for using its legislation in occupied Crimea, It also noted that a particularly unacceptable aspect to this case was that the investigators had treated the fact that the men condemned the persecution of Muslims in Russia as proof of their ‘guilt’.  

Even had there been evidence of genuine involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, the men were still only accused of ‘meetings to discuss Hizb ut-Tahrir ideology’, of gathering material for such meetings; of circulating such ideas and trying to interest others in them. 

In fact, there was no such evidence, with the charges based on three ‘kitchen chats’ on religious and political subjects’.  These were sent to the FSB-loyal ‘experts’ used in such cases because they can be relied upon to find alleged evidence that the men belong to Hizb ut-Tahrir by the use of this or that word.  

There were also two ‘secret witnesses’ whose identity is not known and whose ‘testimony’ cannot be verified.  In August 2020, one of these supposed ‘witnesses’ was unable to give any good reason why his identity should be kept secret, and said he was not revealing it because he “didn’t want to”. Prosecutor Yevgeny Kolpikov swiftly corrected him, effectively prompting him to say that he feared for his safety.  The judges saw this, and plenty of other occasions where the man was evidently receiving prompts and said nothing.  This is despite evidence from several witnesses, who gave testimony without concealing their identity, that Riza Omerov was not present at the alleged ‘meeting’ that one of these ‘secret witnesses’ spoke of.

It is clear that FSB investigator, Sergei Bosiyev and prosecutors Yevgeny Koptilov and Dmitry Volkov were fully aware that their ‘trial’ was based on flawed charges and on fake ‘anonymous witnesses’.  The same is, unfortunately, also true of the three judges at the Southern District Military Court in Rostov:  presiding judge Roman Saprunov; together with Rizvan Zubairov and Maxim Nikitin, and the ’judges’ at the Russian Military Court of Appeal in Vlasikha (Moscow region).

Enver Omerov; Riza Omerov and Aider Dzhapparov will probably now be sent to Russian prisons.  Please check the search machine on this site for their new addresses and write to the men.

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