Russia abducts Crimean Tatar from mainland Ukraine and ‘sentences’ him in puppet trial in occupied Crimea
Six months after Artur Memetshaev was abducted by the Russian invaders from his home in Henichesk (Kherson oblast), a Russian-controlled ‘court’ in occupied Crimea has sentenced him to six and a half years’ imprisonment. The charges are as lawless as his abduction, with the 33-year-old Crimean Tatar father of six accused only of involvement, while in mainland Ukraine, in a formation which is legal in Ukraine.
The Russians who burst into Memetshaev’s home in Henichesk on 11 April were in camouflage gear and armed with machine guns. After carrying out some kind of ‘search’, they took Memetshaev away in a white minivan with the Russian pro-war ‘Z’ on it. No explanation was provided, and for a long time there was no information about his whereabouts.
Russia used its invasion and occupation of Kherson oblast to intensify repression against all Ukrainians, with Crimean Tatars especially targeted. Since its full-scale invasion, it has sharply escalated prosecutions for supposed involvement in the Noman Çelebicihan Battalion, an unarmed formation which helped monitor the civic blockade of occupied Crimea. It is likely that the charges against many of those charged with involvement in the Battalion are baseless, however they are, in any case, thoroughly lawless. The Noman Çelebicihan Battalion is neither armed, nor illegal in mainland Ukraine where it functioned and where the peaceful actions which are used in all these prosecutions are alleged to have taken place.
The Battalion was founded by Crimean Tatar activist and businessman Lenur Islyamov on 1 January 2016, with the first members people who had taken part in the civic blockade of occupied Crimea. This blockade was initiated by Crimean Tatar leaders Mustafa Dzhemilev and Refat Chubarov, together with Islyamov, on 20 September 2015 with specifically human rights demands. Russia reacted with aggressive hysteria to the legitimate demand for an end to an absurd situation where goods and electricity were being transported to Crimea from mainland Ukraine. Moscow’s anger does not change the fact that the blockade was not illegal, unlike Russia’s occupation of Ukrainian Crimea. On 1 June this year, Russia’s Supreme Court declared the Battalion (which had already, effectively, ceased to exist) a ‘terrorist organization’. The move was doubtless aimed at justifying Russia’s abductions of people living in Kherson oblast, and at creating a new, and very dangerous, conveyor belt of repression in areas under Russian occupation. The Supreme Court ruling essentially enables the FSB to generate multiple prosecutions without any evidence of an actual crime. No proof is needed even of genuine involvement in the Battalion as Russia uses anonymous ‘witnesses’ whose identity is concealed and who may never have set eyes on the person charged. On 21 July, Russia’s FSB [security service] added the Battalion to its notorious list of so-called ‘terrorist and extremist organizations’. All of this unfortunately will likely to lead to an increase in the sentences imposed, however at present these are roughly the same as when Russia first began fabricating such cases in 2018.
The FSB claimed that Memetshaev had been a member of the Battalion since 2016, and that, “together with other members, he checked people and cars on bordering territory.” Even if true, there would be nothing illegal about such behaviour yet on 17 October, the occupation ‘Kievsky district court’ in Simferopol sentenced Memetshaev to six and a half years’ imprisonment in a harsh-regime prison colony.
Memetshaev is one of an ever-growing number of Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians illegally taken for such grotesque ‘trials’ to occupied Crimea after either being abducted by the Russian military from occupied parts of the Kherson or Zaporizhzhia oblasts or illegally seized by the Russian FSB or the administrative border between mainland Ukraine and Crimea. In at least one case, that of 20-year-old Appaz Kurtamet, the Russians seized him and held him incommunicado for several months before formally ‘detaining’ him (details here).
Arsen Ibraimov was abducted on 6 April and held incommunicado for three days before the FSB finally admitted to his ‘detention’. It is likely that the FSB used that period to torture the 34-year-old Crimean Tatar who has told his lawyer, Alexei Ladin that he had nothing to do with the Battalion. He says that during the period when the FSB claimed that he was taking part in the blockade (basically from the beginning of 2016 onwards), Ibraimov asserts that he was working in Kherson, Kyiv, Georgia and the Astrakhan oblast (Russia). This was of no concern to either the Russian-controlled ‘prosecutor’ or the same ‘Kievsky district court’ which, on 25 August 2022, sentenced him to 10 years’ imprisonment.
31-year-old Ruslan Abdurakhmanov was sentenced to 5 years and 25-year-old Ruslan Osmanov got six years.
The lack of any good reason for the difference in sentences merely reflects the legal nihilism of all these ‘trials’.