Leniye Umerova, young Crimean Tatar savagely punished in Russia for trying to visit her ill father from mainland Ukraine
Russia’s FSB are clearly planning to hold 25-year-old Leniye Umerova in total isolation in Moscow’s Lefortovo Prison until her ‘trial’, with the young Crimean Tatar even prevented from having any contact with her family. If such savage treatment is aimed at breaking her will, it is not working, but it does make it even more imperative to publicize this appalling torment of a young woman, who was seized and first heard on an absurd array of administrative charges when she tried to reach her father in occupied Crimea who had been diagnosed with cancer.
On 12 September 2023, the Moscow city court, sitting behind closed doors, ‘examined’ the appeal lodged against Umerova’s detention She is to remain in custody until October when, failing a miracle, the detention will be extended. She has already been held prisoner, albeit on very different pretexts, since early December 2022, and the charges the FSB laid after five months of administrative arrests would allow Russia to imprison her for up to 20 years, with the actual charges and ‘proof’, if any, remaining a mystery. The FSB are known to favour such ‘trials’ on ‘spying’ or ‘treason’ charges as they make it possible to impose total secrecy, with even Umerova’s lawyers, Dmitry and Olga Dinze threatened with criminal prosecution if they divulge any details. This is also likely to be the real reason behind Umerova’s total isolation. Umerova was unable even to attend or participate by video link in the appeal hearing, with Olga Dinze explaining this as due to complications with moving her.
According to Olga Dinze, Leniye is coping with this awful situation thanks to support from her family, lawyers and people she had never had any contact with before, but who have written her letters of support. She is held in a cell by herself, and is trying to occupy herself by learning English and doing yoga. The SIZO [remand prison] staff even obstruct her in that, refusing to allow her to have a mat for such exercises. As a rule, , the prison personnel also refuse to pass her books and textbooks. Her parents are not only not allowed to see her, but cannot even talk with her by telephone. The only good thing is that, because of the long period during which Leniye was held on administrative pretexts, the FSB were unable to prevent her from being represented by real lawyers, not those imposed by the prosecution who all too often confine their activities to trying to persuade a person to ‘cooperate’ with the ‘investigators’ by admitting to whatever preposterous charges are laid.
As reported, Leniye Umerova’s torment began in early December 2022, soon after her father’s diagnosis and the need for serious medical treatment became clear. Leniye had left Crimea soon after Russia’s invasion and annexation and had finished her studies in Kyiv, where she was working as a marketing specialist. Prior to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, she had visited Crimea every year with this not causing problems, even though she had not taken Russian citizenship, as Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians living under occupation are effectively forced to do.
Leniye decided to travel to occupied Crimea in order to be with her parents. Because of Russia’s total war against Ukraine, Leniye could not cross directly into occupied Crimea and was forced to travel via Bulgaria, Romania to Georgia from where she was to cross into Russia, before travelling on to occupied Crimea. She was on the Tbilisi – Simferopol coach when she was detained during the night from 3-4 December 2022 at a checkpoint in Northern Ossetia.
The Russian border guards did find some photos on her telephone of ‘military technology’, but, even if it were clear, which it is not, what grounds they had to check her phone, the photos were not hers, and were instead widely available on the Internet. More importantly, they would not explain five months of administrative arrests on varied, administrative charges.
The border guards (who work within FSB jurisdiction) claimed back on 4 December 2022 that Leniye was taken from the coach “for a further check and conversation”, but took her Ukrainian internal document, passport and her telephone away from her. She was sent to the Sova Hotel outside the city but taken, by taxi, in that direction, but via a road which is off limits to foreigners, where the taxi was duly stopped by traffic police. This was clearly a set-up to enable the first administrative charge of “infringing the rules for crossing the Russian state border (Article 18.1 § 1 of Russia’s code of administrative offences). A local court found her guilty of this and fined her (the fairly small amount of) 2,000 roubles, as well as ordering her deportation. Since there is currently no mechanism for organizing such expulsion, she was simply sent to a temporary holding unit for foreign nationals. The lawyer, whom her parents found, managed to get the deportation order revoked, with this meaning that there was no longer any requirement for her to be imprisoned in the temporary holding unit. The same court even noted that the young woman did not appear to present any danger to Russia.
This did not result in her release. Instead, she was seized by unidentified individuals as she left the unit. They put a bag over her head, forced her into a car and took her to a district in Vladikavkaz where they dumped her, just in time for a police car to turn up and demand that she come with them to the police station. She tried to find out why, with her question perhaps used as the pretext for accusing her of ‘disobeying the orders of an enforcement officer’. The Leninsky district court promptly ordered a 15-day term of administrative arrest, with a second, identical protocol over ‘disobedience’ drawn up almost immediately, supposedly because Leniye refused to give the officers her phone. A third 15-day sentence was imposed on 27 March, with Leniye taken to the temporary holding unit in Beslan.
On 9 April, a fourth ‘disobedience’ protocol was drawn up, with the 15-day term of administrative arrest this time imposed by ‘judge’ Veronika Kolobkova, from the Sovietsky district court in Vladikavkaz. The fifth administrative arrest was on 26 April, By then, however, it was clear that the FSB were fabricating charges against the young woman.
On 4 May 2023, Leniye was taken to Moscow where, the following day, she was remanded in custody for two months by ‘judge’ Sergei Ryabtsev from the Lefortovo Court. The charge reported on the court’s website was of ‘state treason’ (Article 275 of Russia’s criminal code). Even if this refers to supposed ‘treason in the form of spying’, the charge makes no sense as Umerova is a Ukrainian citizen who could not commit treason against a foreign country. It is, in fact, likely that she was targeted by the FSB because she had left Crimea and had not taken Russian citizenship.
Or, and this cannot be excluded, there was no targeting, just a young Crimean Tatar woman and zealous border guards or other FSB officers who wanted ‘good statistics’ on catching ‘Ukrainian spies’.
Please write to Leniye!
The letters tell her – and her captors – that she is not forgotten. Letters need to be handwritten and in Russian. Please avoid any political subjects or mention of the war (or of the charges against her). If possible, enclose an envelope and some thin paper, as well as your return address.
If Russian is a problem, the following would be fine, maybe with a photo or card. The envelope can be written in Russian or English letters, but do add Ivan’s year of birth (as below).
Желаю Вам здоровья, терпения и успехов в изучении английского языка! Очень надеюсь на скорое освобождение. Простите, что мало пишу – мне трудно писать по-русски, но мы все о Вас помним.
[Dear Leniye, I wish you good health, patience and success with your English studies! I very much hope 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. ]
111020 Россия, г. Москва, ФКУ СИЗО-2 ул. Лефортовский вал 5.
Умеровой, Ление Резвановне, г.р. 1998
[Or in English
111020 Russia, Moscow SIZO-2, Lefortovsky Val, No. 5
Umerova, Leniye Rezvanovna, b. 1998 ]