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.

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Russians abduct, torture and imprison young Crimean Tatar from Kherson oblast, then come for his father

Halya Coynash
Khalil Kurtamet has not been seen since he was seized by the Russian invaders of Novooleksiivka in Kherson oblast on 8 January 2023, almost six months after Russia also abducted his son

Huge demonstration against Russian invasion in Henichesk (Kherson oblast) on 6 March 2022, Appaz Kurtamet

Huge demonstration against Russian invasion in Henichesk (Kherson oblast) on 6 March 2022, Appaz Kurtamet

Khalil Kurtamet has not been seen since he was seized by the Russian invaders of Novooleksiivka in Kherson oblast on 8 January 2023.  Since the Russians first abducted his elder brother, Ridvan ‘by mistake’ but tortured him anyway, there is every reason to fear for Khalil’s safety.  This new act of terror against Crimean Tatars by the Russians comes almost six months after Khalil’s 20-year-old son Appaz Kurtamet vanished after reaching the administrative border between mainland Ukraine and occupied Crimea.  It was three months before the Russian occupiers admitted that Appaz was in Russian custody and before he was able to see an independent lawyer.  It is next to certain that Appaz Kurtamet was tortured while being illegally held incommunicado, and it is, unfortunately, likely that his father is now facing similar treatment.

Elmaz Akimova from INzhir Media has learned from Khalil Kurtamet’s daughter that her uncle, Ridvan, was abducted in the morning of 8 January.  They burst into his home, put a bag over his head and took him away.  Not, however, before they carried out a so-called ‘search’ of the home, which involved taking any money or other valuable items that they could find.  They were clearly targeting Khalil, yet they continued to hold Ridvan in a basement and beat him for around 24 hours before releasing him the following morning.

Khalil Kurtamet, who is a local businessman, was also seized at around 4 p.m. on 8 January.  According to witnesses, the Russians grabbed him as he was leaving the mosque in the centre of Novooleskiivka, threw a bag over his head and took him away.  Typically, they also took his car away.  All the family’s attempts to find Khalil, even trying to geolocate him via his telephone, have proven fruitless. 

INzhir Media spoke with several residents of Novooleksiivka.  For obvious reasons, they did not wish to be named, but all agreed that Ridvan Kurtamet “was lucky”.  They said that many of those whom the invaders throw into the basements they use as prisons end up there for several days or several weeks.  Simply being held in such basements in the middle of winter, is tantamount to torture, with the temperature several degrees below that outside.  There’s nowhere to sit or lie down, and people who were seized in their own homes will not be dressed to cope with the cold.  The ‘interrogations’ that the Russians stage are mere pretexts for beating their victims, often until they lose consciousness.

This was not the first time that the Russians targeted Khalil Kurtamet.  Around a month earlier, they burst into the home he shares with his wife and turned everything upside down.  They also used force against both Khalil and his wife.

The Kurtamet family are convinced that Khalil has been targeted because he is a Crimean Tatar.  There were pro-Ukrainian demonstrations after the Russians seized Novooleksiivka at the beginning of the full-scale invasion, with very many Crimean Tatars taking part.  It should be said that Crimean Tatars played an extremely active role in supporting Ukrainian unity and opposing Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea, with this doubtless a major reason why they have particularly suffered persecution in occupied Crimea. 

Khalil’s daughter says that they came upon very many people whose relatives had also disappeared when they first began searching for her brother, Appaz.  Some had been seized at Chonhar, as they tried to get to occupied Crimea (after the invaders blocked any means of trying to directly reach government-controlled parts of Ukraine). In other cases, the Russians seized them in their own homes.  People in Novooleksiivka say that the Russians have a list, with this holding dozens, if not hundreds, of names of people that they will come for. 

As reported, 20-year-old Appaz Kurtamet vanished on 23 July after trying to visit relatives in occupied Crimea.  He had rung his parents when he arrived at the Russian-controlled crossing at Chonhar.  The following day, his mother received a call from a total stranger who claimed to be ringing at her son’s request and who told her that Appaz had been detained while going through the checkpoint.

There are procedural requirements when a person is detained.  None was followed, and this should certainly be considered an enforced disappearance, with Appaz’ coming up against a brick wall and false denials from the occupation ‘authorities’.

In essentially all cases known of where the Russians have held a person incommunicado, this has been to extract false ‘confessions’ or ‘testimony’ through the use of various savage forms of torture. 

On 10 October 2022, it was learned that the occupation ‘Kievsky district court’ in Simferopol had remanded Kurtamet in custody.  Up till then, he had been unlawfully held without any legal status and without access to a lawyer.  At that stage, Crimea SOS reported that he was accused of ‘financing the Ukrainian Azov Regiment’.  This extraordinary charge is under Article 208 of Russia’s criminal code *’the organization of an unlawful armed formation or participation in it, as well as the participation in an armed conflict or armed activities for purposes which run counter to the interests of the Russian Federation.’

Akimova, however, has been told that the charge of ‘financing an illegal armed formation’ is because he is alleged by the ‘investigators’ to have sent 500 UAH to a friend who, he learned later, was serving in the ‘Crimea’ volunteer battalion.

Whether the Azov or the Crimea Battalion, these are, in no way, illegal armed formations, but are battalions which are defending Ukraine against an aggressor state. It is Russia which, both with its aggression against Ukraine, and its use of enforced disappearances, torture and falsified ‘trials’ of Ukrainian citizens, is behaving like a terrorist state and flagrantly violating international law. 

The 20-year-old Crimean Tatar is believed to be imprisoned in SIZO No. 2, the new remand prison that Russia opened in occupied Simferopol after its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.  He is one of many Ukrainian citizens from occupied Kherson or Zaporizhzhia oblasts imprisoned in Crimea.  The charges that Russia is illegally bringing against him could carry a sentence of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment.

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