war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Russia ‘sentences’ Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev for seeking to enter his native Crimea

Halya Coynash

A Russian-controlled ‘court’ in occupied Crimea has found Mustafa Dzhemilev ‘guilty’ of three preposterous charges brought against the world-renowned Crimean Tatar leader and Ukrainian MP.  Although Dzhemilev’s lawyer, Nikolai Polozov has said that he will be appealing and will continue to demand a full acquittal, he suggests that the verdict on 22 April was as close to an acquittal as ‘judge’ Venera Ulugbekovna Isroilova from the occupation Armyansk City Court had the courage to pass. 

Although all of the charges against Mustafa Dzhemilev were absurd, it was largely thanks to Polozov that Russia did not manage to push through a show trial and sentence against the 78-year-old, albeit in his absence.  Like the Soviet regime which imprisoned the veteran Crimean Tatar activist and human rights defender for 15 years, Russian leader Vladimir Putin swiftly understood that Dzhemilev’s implacable opposition to Russia’s invasion of Crimea made him Moscow’s ‘enemy No. 1’ and banned him from his homeland early in 2014,  before initiating surreal criminal proceedings against him. 

The ‘hearings’ dragged on for almost two years, with prosecutor Anton Marchenko finally so cornered that he pushed through, as a change in the indictment, ‘new’ coordinates of the fictitious ‘state border’ between mainland Ukraine and occupied Crimea.  Marchenko still claimed that the charges had all been proven and demanded a ‘real’ three-year sentence against the forcibly exiled Crimean Tatar leader, over the main charge and nine months community service over the other two (with this waived in connection with a Russian amnesty in connection with the 70th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany).

It was this demand that ‘judge’ Isroilova refused to fulfil on 22 April.  As Polozov points out, the defence had demonstrated the lack of substance to any of the three charges against Dzhemilev, however judges “are punished” for acquittals.  To try to avoid getting into trouble, he explains, ‘judges’ often pass guilty verdicts, but waive actual punishment.  This is what Isroilova did here, with two of the sentences on nonsensical firearms charges – two fines and a one-year sentence waived on the grounds that the charges (under Articles 222 § 1 and 224 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code) were time-barred.  In fact, Polozov had pointed out from the outset that the period in which charges could be laid had long passed, with this ignored.  The charges should never have been brought, yet, instead, this was used as excuse for waiving punishment.

With respect to the main charge – of the supposed “illegal crossing of the Russian Federation border by a person who knew he was barred from entering the RF’ (Article 322 § 3), Isroilova passed a two-year conditional sentence, with the punishment waived in connection with the above-mentioned amnesty. 

Mustafa Dzhemilev, Refat Chubarov and other leaders of the Mejlis, or self-governing body, of the Crimean Tatar people have consistently demonstrated the lies behind Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea.  Russia’s revenge was swift, with Mustafa Dzhemilev the first target.  He was thrust an unsigned scrap of paper ‘banning him from entering occupied Crimea (or Russia) for five years on 22 April 2014.  This was after he visited Crimea for the first time since Russia’s invasion and immediately ordered that the Ukrainian flag be reinstated over the headquarters of the Mejlis.  With typical mendacity, high-level Russian officials claimed to know nothing about the ban, with this only changing on 2 May, when Dzhemilev tried to fly to Simferopol, via Moscow, and was prevented from proceeding.

3 May 2014

The Mejlis called on Crimean Tatars to come to Armyansk and meet Dzhemilev, who would be arriving from Kyiv on that Saturday morning. Around five thousand people turned up.  Although the occupation regime used the gathering that day as the first pretext for politically motivated arrests and trials, there were no major clashes, although not for Russia’s want of trying.  Huge contingents of enforcement officers without insignia were amassed, very evidently planning to violently disperse the crowd.  It was for this reason that Dzhemilev, in consultation with members of the Mejlis who were present, decided to return to Kyiv in order to prevent bloodshed.

It was first learned in January 2016 that Russia had issued an ‘arrest warrant’ against Dzhemilev, for supposedly ‘illegally crossing Russia’s state border”, as well, seemingly, as the ‘firearms’ charges.  It was, however, only early in 2020, that Russian ‘investigators’ simultaneously initiated or renewed criminal prosecutions against Dzhemilev; the current Chair of the Mejlis, Refat Chubarov, and businessman and activist, Lenur Islyamov.  The prosecutions were evidently in response to the Crimean Tatar leaders’ initiative for a March of Dignity from mainland Ukraine to Crimea.  Although the March of Dignity had to be postponed because of the pandemic, Russia and the puppet Crimean ‘authorities’ reacted aggressively, issuing threats and insane criminal ‘trials’ (see Crimean Tatar Mejlis leader sentenced to six years for proving Crimea did not ask for Russian annexation ).

The hearings in Dzhemilev’s ‘trial’ showed how grotesque the charges were, with even prosecution witnesses confirming that Dzhemilev had not crossed a so-called ‘state border’, that was in no way marked (nor, of course, internationally recognized).

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.   

Even by Russian standards, this ‘trial’ was going disastrously wrong, which was why ‘prosecutor Marchenko’ produced an illegal scrap of paper, issued by a body without any authority to determine ‘state borders’, in order to claim that Dzhemilev had crossed that fictitious border.

Dzhemilev was 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 charges were linked 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.  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 then made cynical use of the some tragic incident to concoct other politically motivated charges against Mustafa Dzhemilev. 

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