Russian FSB force Crimean Tatar to sign blank 'confessions' to railway sabotage or “never see his family again”
29-year-old Mambet Asan-Usta disappeared during the evening from 18 to 19 May after being stopped by the traffic police in occupied Crimea. After nine years of Russian occupation, there was literally every reason for concern. It will be seven years on 24 May since prominent Crimean Tatar civic activist Ervin Ibragimov disappeared after being seized by men who appeared, in CCTV footage, to be wearing traffic police uniform. He has never been seen since. Among those who sounded the alarm about Mambet Asan-Usta’s disappearance late on 19 May was his cousin, Mavile Aivazova, the wife of political prisoner, Raiim Aivazov, who was seized and tortured by the FSB on 17 April 2019. He later faced the more serious of the charges that the FSB uses against Crimean Tatar civic activists and journalists because he refused to remain silent about the torture which he endured.
Mambet Asan-Usta was one of the lucky ones, as he did not disappear without trace, and was eventually released. He is also one of those courageous enough to speak about the methods that the FSB uses to extract false ‘confessions’. to the Crimean Solidarity human rights initiative that he was stopped by the traffic police near the urban settlement Kirovske at around 20.00 on 18 May. This was supposedly just a check which found that he did not have insurance, with the officers claiming that they did not have the protocol forms with them. They said they would take him to the police station nearby and would then drop him back to his car.
An administrative offence protocol was drawn up over the lack of insurance, but instead of taking Mambet back to his car, the officers took him out through the back door, where he was set upon by around six masked men in camouflage gear. They forced his hands behind his back and covered his eyes and his mouth, to stop him calling out for help, as they forced him into a Volkswagen minivan. They put a bag over his head, securing it with scotch tape and dealt him several blows during the journey. He assumes, from the amount of time that they drove and the direction, that he was taken to Simferopol, but does not know what the building was where he was taken.
There they began the ‘interrogation’, during which they threatened he would never see his family again if he did not sign various documents, apparently ‘confessing’ to the explosion on a railway track in the village of Chystenke, nine kilometres from Simferopol, early in the morning on 18 May. They also demanded he tell him about any “links with Ukraine”.
Mambet confirmed that he had been in Chystenke that day, but stressed that this was in connection with work and that he had nothing to do with any explosion. A man in military gear told him that if he denied it, he would not see his family again, and demanded that he sign the supposed ‘confessions’. They tried to force him to take a so-called lie detector test, but he refused, fearing that it would be either wrong or positively falsified, especially since he was clearly very wound up after being abducted in this way.
It is very likely that Mambet was finally released because around 40 relatives and friends, as well as civic activists, gathered around the police station. His wife had also reported the abduction to the police.
At 2 a.m. he was able to contact his family and tell them that he was at a petrol station in Simferopol where his captors had dumped him.
The explosion on the railway track in Chystenke derailed a train and caused damage to the track between Simferopol and Sevastopol. Although the occupation authorities claimed that several train carriages carrying grain had been derailed, the railway line is used for carrying the weapons that Russia is using in its war against Ukraine. In fact, Andriy Yusov, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s Military Intelligence [HUR] on Thursday evening that the railway tracks had “got tired” from all the weapons.
Had the Russian FSB or police genuinely suspected Mambet Asan-Usta of involvement, they could have openly summoned or even detained him for questioning. The fact that this was effectively an abduction meant that he had every reason to fear for his life if he did not cooperate by signing effectively blank ‘confessions’.
As reported, an explosion on 23 February 2023 has been used over recent months as excuse for a large number of armed raids and effective abductions of Crimean Tatars, including some prominent members of the Crimean Tatar community. There was no reason at all to suspect Crimean Tatars of being behind the explosion and the manner in which people essentially disappeared for many hours give grounds for concern about the means of pressure brought to bear on men held completely incommunicado.
Later, on 3 May, the FSB in occupied Crimea claimed to have thwarted attempts on the lives of three Russian-installed Crimean leaders and to have detained eight men. It was asserted at the time that the men had also been responsible for the explosion on 23 February. No attempt was made to explain why the FSB had spent so many months detaining Crimean Tatars, only to come up with an entirely different story altogether - one that also rouses deep scepticism (details here)..
Although abductions and torture have been used for fabricating prosecutions since Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea, the FSB became even more brazen during and after the arrest in September 2021 of Crimean Tatar leader Nariman Dzhelyal, just days after he had met with high-ranking representatives of 45 countries participating in the Crimea Platform. There have been many occasions where men were taken away after armed ‘searches’ and disappeared for 12 hours or more. It is even unclear what kinds of documents the men are coerced into signing, with these very possibly agreements to give false testimony against others. The ‘courts’ in occupied Crimea and Russia work in close collaboration with the FSB and prosecutor; invariably ignore evidence of torture, and allow cases to be built on the ‘testimony’ of anonymous ‘witnesses’. It is no wonder that those targeted by the FSB do very often sign the documents demanded of them. While impossible to independently verify each individual account of threats, torture, etc., the pattern is known, as is the enormous danger that those speaking out face, danger they would surely not expose themselves to lightly.