Nariman Dzhelyal illegally taken to Russia in revenge for Crimean Tatar affirmation that Crimea is Ukraine
Russia has taken three Crimean Tatar political prisoners - Crimean Tatar Mejlis leader and journalist Nariman Dzhelyal to Russia in flagrant violation of international law. Although the fabrication of absurd charges in September 2021 was immediately recognized as in reprisal for Dzhelyal’s participation in the Crimea Platform, they were also the latest attack on the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people in an offensive that began immediately after Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea.
Moscow, and almost certainly Russian president Vladimir Putin, will not forgive the Crimean Tatars and specifically Mejlis leaders for spoiling their plan to seize control of Crimea without open invasion. It was the Mejlis who foiled this. Having learned of plans to carry out an effective coup in parliament, the Mejlis called on Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians to gather on 26 February 2014 outside the parliament building and prevent such a coup. With the plan in tatters, Russian soldiers without insignia began an armed invasion at 4 a.m. the following morning. Kremlin overtures to world-renowned Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev were as categorically rejected and the Mejlis continued to categorically oppose Russia’s invasion and insist that Crimea is part of Ukraine.
The Crimean Tatars are the main indigenous people of Crimea and their strong identification with Ukraine gets in the way of Moscow’s narrative to justify its seizure of Ukrainian territory.
Repression was swift. First Mustafa Dzhemilev, then the present Chair of the Mejlis Refat Chubarov were banned by the invader from their own homeland (and later sentenced in forced absentia to imprisonment!). In September 2014, there was an armed raid and takeover of the Mejlis building in Simferopol. Then in January, the FSB seized the First Deputy Chair of the Mejlis Akhtem Chiygoz. It was no coincidence, although an act of extraordinary legal nihilism, that the charges against Chiygoz were over the Mejlis-called demonstration on 26 February 2014.
The plan was doubtless to discredit the Mejlis, in advance of Russia’s ban of this internationally recognized body in 2016. It went badly wrong since Chiygoz was represented by Russian lawyer Nikolai Polozov. The latter understood all too well that these were politically motivated charges and that a guilty verdict was, therefore, guaranteed (and an 8-year sentence). That awareness did not stop Polozov from providing an excellent and very public defence of Chiygoz, with this exposing the methods that Moscow had used for its illegal land-grab.
Another Mejlis leader Ilmi Umerov was also prosecuted and sentenced to 2 years’ imprisonment, effectively for approving of western sanctions as a means of forcing Russia to ends its illegal occupation. Both Chiygoz and Umerov were released into exile on 25 October 2017, in a deal negotiated with the help of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. It later became clear that they had been exchanged for two suspected Russian state-deployed killers, accused of at least one political killing in Turkey (details here).
By late in 2017, Nariman Dzhelyal was the highest-ranking member of the Mejlis not banned from his homeland. He and his wife, Leviza, understood all too well that he could be, at best prevented from returning home from mainland Ukraine, or arrested at any time and on any fabricated charge. That day came on 4 September 2021, with two Crimean Tatars, civic journalist Asan Akhtemov and his cousin, Aziz Akhtemov, also abducted, tortured and charged in this same ‘case’.
Nariman was seized six months before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. During one of the final hearings in his show trial, he stated that, had they not come for him in revenge for the Crimea Platform inaugural meeting (where he spoke about deoccupation of Crimea with high-ranking representative of 46 countries), he would have been arrested for speaking out against the war.
The three men, all of whom have small children, have now, in direct violation of international law been forcibly transferred to the invading state’s country. According to the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute, this is a war crime.
For details about the fabricated charges and grotesque sentences (17, 15 and 13 years) see:
This case has demonstrated a terrifying level of lawlessness in occupied Crimea, and of the methods, including torture, used to extract false testimony.
There is international awareness of this, with the EU recently adding some of those Russians involved in Dzhelyal and the others’ persecution to their sanctions list.
Much more publicity is needed to secure the men’s release, perhaps as part of an exchange of prisoners.