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Russian invaders raid Kherson oblast home of member of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis and former political prisoner

15.04.2022
Halya Coynash
Edem Bekirov in ’court’ in 2019 Photo Anton Naumliuk (RFERL)

Russia has demonstrated yet again the repression that Crimean Tatars in particular, but all Ukrainians can expect in any Ukrainian territory that falls under Russian occupation.  In the early morning of 14 April, armed men in military uniform burst into the Kherson oblast home of Edem Bekirov, a disabled former political prisoner and his wife, Gulnara Bekirova-Aldinova, Deputy Head of the Henichesk District State Administration and a member of the Mejlis, or representative assembly, of the Crimean Tatar people.

The armed and masked Russians appeared at the family’s home in Novooleksiivka (Kherson oblast) at 7 a.m. and forced their way, over the fence, into the courtyard.  Only Gulnara Bekirova’s  84- and 82-year-old parents were home, but that did not stop the invaders who ransacked the building, garage and courtyard, and took away folders, notebooks and books.

According to Refat Chubarov, Chairperson of the Mejlis, the Russians asked all kinds of questions about Gulnara Bekirova, and about the couple’s daughter Eleonora Bekirov who is an advisor on Crimean Tatar Issues to Lyudmyla Denisova, Ukraine’s Human Rights Ombdusperson.  Most ominously, they demanded that they all return home immediately.

Gulnara Bekirova is with her husband in hospital where he is undergoing treatment.  Edem Bekirov’s disability and his extremely poor health did not stop Russia’s FSB from seizing and imprisoning him back in December 2018, and there is every reason to fear for his and Gulnara Bekirova’s safety were they to fall into Russian hands.

Edem Bekirov was seized by the FSB on 12 December, 2018, when he tried to cross into Crimea to visit his elderly mother and other relatives. He was held incommunicado until well into the evening, and without food or water until the ‘court hearing’ the following day that ordered his detention for two months.  Then aged 58, Bekirov was himself a well-known member of the Kherson oblast Crimean Tatar community, but it seemed likely that the FSB had targeted him because his wife is a member of the Mejlis.  The Mejlis and its leaders thwarted Russia’s plan to achieve an effective coup d’état, without openly deploying Russian soldiers, and their opposition to Russian occupation has made them a particular target of Russian persecution.

The political trials of all Mejlis leaders have been grotesque, as were the charges against Edem Bekirov.  He had undergone quadruple coronary artery bypass surgery back in January 2018, and had been due to have open-heart surgery again in December,  He suffers from type 2 diabetes and other serious medical problems, and is also an amputee, with the wound where his leg was amputated needing constant care to prevent it from becoming infected. 

Russia’s FSB was undeterred and accused an amputee with a life-threatening heart condition which makes him walk with difficulty and swiftly become breathless with a bizarre ‘action’ that he was physically incapable of carrying out.  They charged him with circulating and transporting more than 10 kilograms of DNT and 190 bullets ((under Article 222 § 2 of Russia’s criminal code).  According to the FSB’s ‘secret witness’ whom they called ‘Memetov’, Bekirov passed the explosives and bullets – all 14 kilogram worth - to him in May 2018. ‘Memetov’ had purportedly placed them in a secret hiding place around Krasnoperekopsk and then in August revealed this place to the Russian FSB and gave testimony against Bekirov.

Bekirov was finally released in September 2019, as part of the exchange of Ukrainian political prisoners and prisoners of war that the Kremlin agreed to, mainly in exchange for MH17 witness (and possible suspect) Vladimir Tsemakh.

Russia continued with the farce, with a Russian-controlled ‘court’ in occupied Crimea sentencing him (in absentia) to seven years’ imprisonment on 9 June 2021 (with this predictably upheld by the ‘Crimean High Court’ on 17 September that year).

Chubarov reported at the same time that the Russians had also carried out such totally illegal ‘searches’ of the homes of other residents of Novooleksiivka and various places in the Henichesk raion.  Citing the same reports reaching the Mejlis, he mentioned that several Crimean Tatars living in these areas had been detained.  At present there is no further information about those others.

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