• Topics / Freedom of conscience and religion
Russia seeks 12-year sentence against Crimean Tatar claiming 'terrorism' in a religious discussion 7 years ago
A Russian prosecutor has demanded that Ametkhan Abdulvapov be sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment although Russia’s FSB have themselves, effectively, demonstrated the absurdity of the charges against the Crimean Tatar. If the FSB had genuinely believed Abdulvapov to be ‘a terrorist’, as claimed, they would hardly have waited seven years after the conversations on innocuous religious subjects allegedly took place before bringing charges against him.
Abdulvapov was arrested on 9 February 2022 and has been in custody ever since, although he is accused only of involvement in a peaceful religious organization – the transnational Muslim Hizb ut-Tahrir party which is legal in Ukraine. All of these ‘trials’ of Crimean Tatar and other Ukrainian Muslims on ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’ charges are both illegal, in that Russia has no right to apply its repressive legislation on occupied territory, and absurd. Ukrainian citizens are receiving sentences of up to 20 years in the worst of Russian penal institutions, without any crime, merely on the basis of a flawed and politically motivated Russian Supreme Court ruling from 2003. The latter declared Hizb ut-Tahrir ‘terrorist’ without providing any grounds, and kept the ruling secret until it was too late to challenge it. Since 2015, Russia’s FSB have been using the ruling to bring terror to occupied Crimea and as a weapon against Crimean Tatar civic journalists and activists, especially from the Crimean Solidarity human rights movement.
The prosecutions are, however, also known to be easy ways for the FSB to claim ‘good statistics’ (on supposedly ‘fighting terrorism’) and get bonuses or promotion. In occupied Crimea, the FSB have oiled the wheels of this conveyor belt of repression by using the same ‘secret witnesses’ in multiple prosecutions, with these individuals’ ‘testimony’ dating back to 2015.
Although the two men were arrested and different times, and ‘tried’ separately, Abdulvapov’s case is linked with that of Raif Fevziev, a local Imam and a civic activist, who held prayer services on the eve of politically motivated sentences and also attended political ‘trials’. The ‘cases’ of both men are based on an illicitly taped conversation on religious issues back in December 2015, in Fevziev’s own home and on the ‘testimony’ of one or two secret witnesses, including an individual given the pseudonym ‘Ismailov’. These have already been used to try to justify charges under Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code (‘organizing a Hizb ut-Tahrir group’) in Fevziev’s case, with that recently resulting in a (first-court) sentence of 17 years. Abdulvapov is accused only of ‘involvement’ in this entirely unproven ‘group’, under Article 205.5 § 2.
Abdulvapov, a 34-year-old mechanical engineer, who is married with two children, is, like virtually all other Ukrainian political prisoners, on trial at the notorious Southern District Military Court in Rostov (Russia). At the beginning of the final ‘court debate’ on 21 February, prosecutor Vladislav Kuznetsov claimed that Abdulvapov’s ‘guilt’ had been proven and asked for 12 years’ harsh-regime imprisonment, with a shocking 6-year term to be in a prison, the very harshest of Russia’s appalling penal institutions. At the end of this sentence, he demanded also an 18-month term of restricted liberty.
Abdulvapov is represented by lawyers Refat Yunus and Tamara Odinchenko. It was the latter who asked a critical question in court, namely, if, as claimed, Abdulvapov poses a threat to society, then why did the FSB not arrest him in 2015, instead of waiting until 2022? The defence pointed out that the entire claim about ‘terrorist activities’ is based on the testimony of ‘secret witness Ismailov’. His ‘testimony’ to the court (from other premises, with even his voice distorted) was virtually verbatim that from the original protocol. This is particularly suspect given his inability to ‘remember’ and accurately answer the simplest questions not set out in the indictment. This individual claims that he met Abdulvapov in the middle of 2015 at the home of Raif Fevziev, where meetings supposedly took place involving discussion of religious issues concerning the laws of a state with an Islamic form of government and the recruitment of new members of the ‘organization’. ‘Ismailov’ claimed that Abdulvapov gave off the impression of a person understanding ideology. He was unable to cite even one example of unlawful behaviour.
No proof has ever been provided that these alleged ‘witnesses’ need fear for their safety if they testify openly, yet the court (in this case under presiding judge Igor Kostin) invariably allows such testimony and blocks questions aimed at demonstrating that the witnesses are not telling the truth.
The court also appeared to be taking the side of the prosecution in rejecting the application to have the religious literature purportedly found during the armed search of Abdulvapov’s home tested for fingerprints. This was a legitimate application given that the defendant alleges that the books were planted, and that there were evident shenanigans with the video recording of a ‘search’ at which lawyers were prevented from being present.
Kostin announced that the next hearing, at which Abdulvapov will make his final address, will be heard on 14 March, with the sentence likely the following day.
Since 2015, Russia has arrested almost 100 men on these profoundly flawed and cynical charges. The sheer number of such cases, as well as Russia’s full-scale invasion and war against Ukraine, can make it difficult to follow each of the many political trials. This does not change the fact that all those sentenced merely for supposed involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir are recognized as political prisoners by the important Memorial Human Rights Centre (since its forced dissolution in Russia functioning as the Memorial Help Political Prisoners initiative). These trials have been condemned by international bodies and the release of all political prisoners demanded.
Please write to Ametkhan Abdulvapov!
The letters tell him that he is not forgotten and show Moscow that such political trials are under scrutiny. Letters need to be in Russian, and on ‘safe’ subjects. If that is a problem, use the sample letter below (copying it by hand), perhaps adding a picture or photo. Do add a return address so that Ametkhan can answer.
Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение. Простите, что мало пишу – мне трудно писать по-русски, но мы все о Вас помним.
[Hi. I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released. I’m sorry that this letter is short – it’s hard for me to write in Russian., but you are not forgotten. ]
344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1
Abdulvapov, Ametkhan, b. 1989