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Russia effectively sentences veteran Crimean Tatar activist to death for somebody else’s voice on a tape
A second Russian court has found no problem in passing an effective death sentence, without any crime and without the defendant’s voice even on the tape of an innocuous conversation presented as ‘evidence’ against him. The Russian ‘judges’ were undoubtedly aware that 60-year-old Azamat Eyupov, who suffers from heart disease, cannot survive the 17-year sentence that has now, tragically, come into force.
On 24 May 2023, the Military Court of Appeal in Vlasikha (Moscow region) upheld in full the 17-year sentence passed on 19 July 2022 by ‘judges’ Kirill Kravtsov (presiding); Alexei Magomadov and Vladimir Tsybylnik from Russia’s Southern District Military Court. That sentence included 3 years in a prison, the harshest of all Russian penal institutions, with the rest of the sentence in a harsh-regime prison colony. The ‘court’ chose to pretend that he could survive this and added a further one year’s restricted liberty at the end of the sentence.
All of Russia’s trials of Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainian Muslims in occupied Crimea are of immense cynicism since the claim of ‘terrorism’ and massive sentences are based solely on charges of involvement in a peaceful organization which is legal in Ukraine. Russia’s Supreme Court has never explained why, in 2003, it passed a highly secretive ruling declaring Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization not known to have committed acts of terrorism anywhere in the world ‘terrorist’. Russia’s FSB is using that ruling in occupied Crimea as a weapon against Crimean Tatars in general and, specifically, the Crimean Tatar human rights movement.
In this sense, it was typical that they would target Eyupov, a veteran of the Crimean Tatar national movement who was one of around 20 Crimean Tatars, most in their fifties and sixties who took part in a peaceful picket on Red Square in Moscow on 10 July 2019, calling for an end to ethnic and religious persecution in Russian-occupied Crimea. That was quite enough for the FSB to target and imprison Eyupov.
One detail does make this ‘trial’ stand out. All such FSB prosecutions hinge on illicitly taped conversations on religious or political topics which get sent to FSB-loyal ‘experts’, as well as on FSB-dictated ‘testimony’ of secret witnesses who may not even known the defendant. In this case, even the taped conversation should have been dismissed as Eyupov’s voice was not on it. As his lawyer Emil Kurbedinov explains, the defence presented proof during the original ‘trial’ that the voice was not Eyupov’s. These included an interview with a citizen of another country (seemingly, Uzbekistan) who states that it was him on the tape, and that, while he had been at the meeting, Eyopov had not. This testimony received backing from two independent phonographic specialists who confirmed that the voice on the tape did not belong to Eyupov, but to the person who has stated that it was his voice.
Russia’s FSB thus based its arrest and the more serious charge of ‘organizing a supposed Hizb ut-Tahrir group (under Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code) on a conversation that Eyupov had nothing to do with. The 60-year-old in poor health was also accused of ‘planning to violently seize power’ (under Article 278). This extra charge has become standard in occupied Crimea where virtually all those arrested reject the charges and refuse to ‘cooperate’ with the investigators (by agreeing to plead guilty and give false testimony against others). No attempt is ever made to justify the charge and not one of the armed searches has ever found any weapons or plans to commit acts of violence.
Eyupov was even deprived of the opportunity to study the case file in advance of the appeal hearing. This would almost certainly have made no difference, but it was his right. So too is his right to medical treatment and to life, with these also flagrantly violated. Eyupov had been under medical care before his arrest due to coronary artery disease, and he almost certainly suffered a stroke while in SIZO [remand prison]. In the appalling conditions of Russian imprisonment, and with total lack of healthcare, his state of health has radically worsened.
Kurbedinov is not alone in believing that Eyupov was persecuted for his human rights activism, his faith, and also for his position on the political situation in occupied Crimea and in Russia.
It was on 17 February 2021 that Russia’s FSB came for Eyupov on identical charges to those against the Crimean Tatar political prisoners whom he had spoken in defence of. He was added to ‘a case’ which had already resulted in monstrous sentences against three recognized political prisoners from Bilohirsk (Russian Belogorsk): Enver Omerov and his son Riza Omerov, and Aider Dzhapparov. The three were sentenced to 18; 13 and 17 years, respectively, on 11 January 2021, with these sentences upheld by the court of appeal in March 2022. Eyupov was one of six men from different parts of Crimea arrested on 17 February, after ‘armed searches’ which again targeted civic activists. The armed and masked enforcement officers, as always, illegally prevented lawyers from entering, and in several cases, including that of Eyupov, planted the ‘prohibited’ religious literature they then claimed to have found. The fact that Eyupov was accused of the more serious charge of being an ‘organizer’ is especially absurd given that the FSB arrested him two years after the other men.
Azamat Eyupov had seen Russia’s machine of repression at action in occupied Crimea, and he knew the risk that all human rights activists take when they speak out in defence of political prisoners. He has paid a huge price for his refusal to look the other way. Please help to ensure that his situation, and the serious health concerns, receive publicity. An address for writing letters will be posted here as soon as it becomes known.