war crimes in Ukraine

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Crimean Solidarity activist and political prisoner in critical condition in Russian prison hospital

Halya Coynash
Russia has already killed one of the 25 Crimean Tatar civic activists and journalists arrested in its 2019 attack on the human rights movement, and it is now placing Tofik Abdulgaziev’s life in danger

Tofik Abdulgaziev in court earlier Photo Crimean Solidarity

Tofik Abdulgaziev in court earlier Photo Crimean Solidarity

Tofik Abdulgaziev, a 41-year-old Crimean Solidarity activist and recognized political prisoner, is in a critical care ward in a Russian penal service hospital in Chelyabinsk oblast.  The diagnosis is not known, but there have been serious concerns about Abdulgaziev’s state of health since October 2023.  Russia has already caused the death of Dzhemil Gafarov, one of the 25 Crimean Tatar civic journalists and activists whom Russia arrested on 27 March 2019 or soon afterwards, and it is clear that Abdulgaziev has long been denied urgently needed medical care.

It is typical that Abdulgaziev’s family war not informed of his condition. Aliye Kurtametova only learned that her husband was in hospital when she became anxious after hearing nothing from him for some time and rang the prison in Verkhneuralsk, Chelyabinsk oblast.  That was on 7 March, and she was told that he had been “taken to hospital with a high temperature”, but was not told which hospital.  She was forced to scour the Internet and phone all hospitals in the region until she received confirmation that her husband was in the Russian penal service’s No. 3 Tuberculosis Clinic in the Cherlyabinsk oblast.  Back then, a doctor at the hospital told her only that Tofik had been admitted, and that his condition was of medium severity.

On 22 March, Aliye managed to get through again and, this time, was told that Abdulgaziev was in a grave state and that he had been moved to a critical care unit.  It remains unclear what, if any, diagnosis has been made with the source at the hospital saying only that Abdulgaziev was suffering from some of poisoning, and that he was receiving intensive infusions.

Like almost all of Russia’s Crimean political prisoners, Abdulgaziev is held prisoner thousands of kilometres from his family and home.  In October 2023, Aliye and the couple’s son Amir made the gruelling 2,500 kilometre journey to Chelyabinsk oblast.  Aliye then told Crimean Solidarity that Abdulgaziev had lost about 15 kilograms and was suffering severe pain in the joints of his hands and feet.  While there must be an underlying cause, Abdulgaziev’s condition will not be helped by the conditions in the prison.  It is much colder in Chelyabinsk oblast, than in Crimea, yet the men are forced, through the lack of any ventilation in their cell, to keep the window open all the time in temperatures that fall very low.

In February 2024, lawyer Emil Kurbedinov visited Abdulgaziev and reported still further loss of weight.  Abdulgaziev’s joints caused such acute pain that he was unable to move about and had difficulty even holding a spoon.

Tofik Abdulgaziev (b. 19.06.1982) is one of a huge number of Crimean Tatar civic activists and journalists whom Russia has imprisoned after they refused to be silenced or leave occupied Crimea.  He was active in the vital Crimean Solidarity human rights movement, and in the linked Crimean Childhood organization, which particularly provides support to the children of political prisoners.  Abdulgaziev actively visited political trials, organized parcels for political prisoners, was sound operator for recordings, and organized activities for children traumatized by the armed raids and arrests of their fathers.

He and his family were subjected to a first armed search on 4 May 2017.  That was, presumably, the FSB’s warning of what would happen if he refused to leave the peninsula or end his civic activities.  With Russia’s religious and political persecution mounting, this was not a warning he could heed.

Abdulgaziev was one of 25 Crimean Tatar civic journalists and activists arrested on 27 March 2019, in the worst attack to date on Crimean Solidarity and the Crimean Tatar human rights movement in general.  It was clear that this was an attempt to silence men involved in highlighting repression and helping the victims of persecution in occupied Crimea and the arrests received international condemnation.  Human Rights Watch called the arrests “an unprecedented move to intensify pressure on a group largely critical of Russia’s occupation of the Crimean Peninsula” and stated unequivocally that attempts “to portray politically active Crimean Tatars as terrorists” is aimed at silencing them. There was similar criticism from the US State Department ; the EU ; Freedom House and Civil Rights Defenders, and the Memorial Human Rights Centre was swift to declare all the men political prisoners and denounce the attempt “to crush the Crimean Tatar human rights movement”.

All of the men were charged only with ‘involvement’ in the Hizb ut-Tahrir movement, a peaceful transnational Muslim organization which is legal in Ukraine and not known to have carried out acts of terrorism anywhere in the world. Russia has never provided any grounds for its highly secretive 2003 Supreme Court ruling that declared Hizb ut-Tahrir ‘terrorist’, yet this inexplicable ruling is now being used as justification for huge sentences on supposed ‘terrorism charges’.  Five of the men faced the more serious charge of ‘organizing’ a Hizb ut-Tahrir group (Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code), while the others, including Abdulgaziev were accused of ‘taking part’ in such an unproven group.  The aggressor state, which invaded and annexed Crimea also charged the 25 Ukrainian citizens with “planning a violent seizure of power and change in Russia’s constitutional order” (Article 278). 

The prosecution claimed that the ‘proof’ to back these charges came from innocuous discussions about religion, politics, courage which were illicitly taped back in early 2016.  Three years elapsed before the FSB carried out the arrests, making the ‘terrorism’ charges seem especially preposterous.  Faulty transcripts of these conversations were sent to FSB-loyal ‘experts’ who are chosen for their willingness to ‘find’ whatever the FSB demands of them. The defence obtained independent expert assessments by people actually qualified in their field.  Their analysis of the supposed expert assessments was damning, but ignored by the court. 

As in all of these ‘trials’, the judges collaborated with prosecutor Yury Konstantinovich Nesterov in allowing anonymous or secret witnesses despite the lack of any evidence that these ‘witnesses’ would be in danger if they testified openly.  There is considerable evidence that ‘anonymous witnesses’ are often people who have themselves been tortured and / or threatened with imprisonment if they do not collaborate with the FSB.  It is invariably these alleged witnesses who claim to have heard the defendants admit to being members of Hizb ut-Tahrir , or similar.  They almost always claim to remember particular ‘incriminating conversations’ while demonstrating total ‘amnesia’ about everything else.  In the last report on occupied Crimea from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres , there was particular criticism of Russian convictions based almost exclusively on anonymous testimony, and of the role played by Russian judges in upholding such practice and preventing the defence from exposing the flaws in this alleged ‘testimony’. 

Russia split the 25 political prisoners into five groups, staging the same cloned ‘trial’ with each.  Tofik Abdulgaziev was found ‘guilty’ on 12 May 2022, together with four other civic activists: Bilyal Adilov (b. 1970); Vladlen Abdulkadyrov (b. 1979): Izet Abdullayev (b. 1986),; and Medzhit Abdurakhmanov (b. 1975).  Presiding judge Rizvan Zubairov, together with Maxim Nikitin and Roman Saprunov from the Southern District Military Court sentenced Adilov to 14 years; Abdulgaziev and the other men to 12 years.  In all cases the first five years were to be in a prison, the worst of all Russia’s penal institutions.

These monstrous sentences against innocent men were upheld on 17 May 2023 by ‘judge’ Anatoly Solin and two colleagues from the Military court of appeal in Vlasikha (Moscow region).

Tofik and Aliye have three children – Amar (b. 2005); Medina (b. 2010) and Yarmina (2015) and were also bringing up Aliye’s daughter, Sayire from her first marriage. 

Russia has not stopped at persecuting Tofik Abdulgaziev, but has also, repeatedly, targeted his son.  See: Crimean Tatar political prisoner’s child told by Russian officer that they’ll come back for him – and they have

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