war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Russian justice: murderers pardoned for killing Ukrainians, Crimean Tatas sentenced to 17 years for defending political prisoners

Halya Coynash
The clear message in occupied Crimea that opposition to occupation or human rights activities can get you horrific prison sentences, is now accompanied by another: kill for the Russian state, and all real crimes will be wiped clean

From left Rustem Taiirov, Dzebbar Bekirov, Ruslan Murasov and Zavur Abdullayev in court Photo Crimean Solidarity

From left Rustem Taiirov, Dzebbar Bekirov, Ruslan Murasov and Zavur Abdullayev in court Photo Crimean Solidarity

The news that a Russian ex-police officer convicted over the murder of Anna Politkovskaya had been pardoned and freed in exchange for fighting Russia’s war against Ukraine rightly aroused outrage and revulsion.  In fact, Sergei Khadzhikurbanov is one of very many Russian convicted criminals, including multiple killers, who have been freed, pardoned and had their criminal records quashed in exchange for killing Ukrainians. This is while Russia is imprisoning its own nationals for protesting against its aggression against Ukraine and abducting Ukrainians from occupied territory and sentencing many of them to decades in prison.  While some of the pretexts for fake ‘trials’ appeared after Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the conveyor belt ‘trials’ and huge sentences against Crimean Tatars from occupied Crimea began back in 2015.  Since 2017, Russia has been using them as a weapon against the Crimean Tatar human rights movement, with the majority of those targeted having taken part in the Crimean Solidarity human rights movement.

The victims include four Crimean Tatars in their fifties whose 12-17-year sentences without any crime have just been upheld by the Vlasikha military court of appeal in Moscow region. Zavur Abdullayev (b. 1973); Dzhebbar Bekirov (b. 1970); Rustem Murasov (b. 1972) and Rustem Taiirov (1970) had all been active in attending political trials, both in occupied Crimea, and in Russia, and took part in flash mobs and other peaceful acts of solidarity with the victims of repression.  Rustem Murasov was actually arrested almost immediately after he returned home from travelling to Rostov for the sentencing of four other recognized political prisoners.  This was, in fact, the second time that Murasov was targeted.  He had been detained after an armed search back in February 2016 during the first huge and gratuitously violent ‘operation’.  On that occasion, he was released, unlike renowned human rights activist Emir-Usein Kuku and five other Crimean Muslims.

Murasov was arrested on 17 August 2021 together with the other men, and Raif Fevziev (who was ‘tried’ separately and sentenced to 17 years). In all cases, the charges are under Russia’s ‘terrorism’ legislation, however, as  lawyer Emil Kurbedinov notes, all such prosecutions are aimed at stifling the peaceful activities of civic activists and religious figures, and at simply persecuting people for their religious or political views.

The use of ‘terrorism’ legislation is immensely cynical, since the charges are based solely on unproven allegations of involvement in the peaceful, transnational Muslim  Hizb ut-Tahrir organization.  While we may not agree with the views expressed by real members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, there is no evidence of them having committed any acts of terrorism or violence anywhere in the world, and they are a legal organization in Ukraine.  A highly secretive and probably politically motivated Supreme Court ruling in 2003 made Russia the only country in the world to declare Hizb ut-Tahrir ‘terrorist’.  Since 2014, that ruling has been used as the pretext for persecution and ever-increasing sentences against Muslims both in Russia and in occupied Crimea.  The situation in Crimea is especially shocking, not only because Russia is evidently targeting civic journalists and activists, but because its use of Russian legislation on occupied territory is in flagrant violation of international law.   

There is always one person, in this case, Dzhebbar Bekirov, who is accused of ‘organizing a Hizb ut-Tahrir cell’ (under Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code).  The others faced the lesser charge of ‘involvement’ in such an entirely unproven ‘cell’ (under Article 205.5 § 2).  The four men were also charged under Article 278 with ‘planning to violently seize power and change Russia’s constitutional order’.  The charge may sound alarming, but is, in fact, based on the same 2003 ruling, and is unrelated to any specific allegations against any of the defendants.  There are no specific allegations, nor are any of the men accused of actual crimes, and it is noticeable in all such cases that the FSB do not even pretend to look for anything during their armed searches, except so-called ‘prohibited literature’.  These are, in fact, searches in name alone, as the FSB increasingly bring the ‘prohibited books’ which they then claim to have found, with this undoubtedly one of the reasons why lawyers are always illegally prevented from being present.

There is no need for real proof even of ‘involvement’ in Hizb ut-Tahrir, as the prosecution uses: i) such planted ‘prohibited literature’ ii) FSB-loyal ‘expert’ assessments of innocuous conversations which the FSB illicitly taped and iii) ‘secret witnesses’.  Judges from the Southern District Military Court invariably ignore the entirely innocuous nature of the illicitly taped conversation (about calls to Islam and how one speaks and argues with those of different faiths, with the consensus being that this should be politely, with respect and without angry interrogation.  Russia’s use of ‘secret witnesses’, whose testimony cannot be verified and who may not even know the defendants, is always shocking.  In this case, the court proved willing to adjust such testimony when this, probably inadvertently, proved inconvenient to the prosecution’s case.

Despite the lack of any proof even to back the flawed charges, and the fact that the trial was in breach of international law, prosecutor Igor Nadolinsky demanded a 19-year harsh-regime sentence against Bekirov and 15-year sentences against the other three men.  On 31 May 2023, ‘judges’ Sergei Gorelov (presiding), together with Nikolai Gulko and Timur Mashukov from the Southern District Military Court sentenced Dzhebbar Bekirov to 17 years’ harsh-regime imprisonment, with the first four years in a prison, the worst of Russia’s already appalling penal institutions.  The court then added a 18 month term of restricted liberty.  Zavur Abdullayev, Rustem Murasov and Rustem Tairov were sentenced to 12 years, also with the first four in prison, and later a one-year term of restricted liberty.  The rejection of the men’s appeals on 20 November 2023 by the Military court of appeal in Vlasikha means that these monstrous sentences have now come into force.

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