war crimes in Ukraine

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Crimean Tatar political prisoner diagnosed with tuberculosis, other life-threatening conditions contracted in Russian captivity

Halya Coynash
Tofik Abdulgaziev is no longer in a critical care ward, however he is suffering many life-threatening conditions, with these effectively part of Russia’s reprisals for his human rights activism
Tofik Abdulgaziev in court earlier Photo Crimean Solidarity
Tofik Abdulgaziev in court. The caption on his T-shirt in full reads ’Torture, arrests, fines. RF reality Photo Crimean Solidarity

A month after imprisoned Crimean Solidarity civic activist Tofik Abdulgaziev was placed in intensive care in a Russian prison hospital, he has been diagnosed with tuberculosis and several health issues, some of them life-threatening.  His lawyer Emil Kurbedinov is planning to apply to the court and the Chelyabinsk oblast human rights ombudsperson in connection with Abdulgaziev’s condition.  While this is, undoubtedly, needed, the appeals may well go unheeded.  Russia has already caused the death of two Ukrainian political prisoners, and is directly jeopardizing the life of several others whose existing medical conditions should, even according to Russian legislation, have precluded their detention.  Tofik Abdulgaziev is 41 and was in good health until Russia arrested him as part of its worst attack to date on the Crimean Tatar human rights movement in 2019.

There had been serious concern about Abdulgaziev’s health for several months, with the imprisoned civic activist having lost 15 kilograms and suffering severe joint pain, making it hard for him to move about.  It is typical of the Russian penal system that his wife only learned that he had been placed in hospital when she grew anxious that there was no contact from him.  She was forced to find out herself, by phoning all hospitals in the region that Abdulgaziev was in the penal service’s No. 3 Tuberculosis Clinic in the Cherlyabinsk oblast.  She was initially told that her husband’s condition was only moderately serious, however on 22 March, she learned that he had been moved to a critical care ward in a grave state.  A week later, he was moved to an intensive care unit where at least his family were able to visit him.  Aliye Kurtametova reported that her husband looked extremely drained, and his speech at times seemed disjointed.  By then, he had lost 40 kilograms.  Aliye was appalled and says it was like seeing two different people.  Her husband had always been in blooming health and was now haggard and frail.

Kurbedinov has now informed Crimean Solidarity that Abdulgaziev has been diagnosed as having tuberculosis, something he clearly contracted in the appalling conditions of Russian penal institutions.  The doctors also found that Tofik is suffering from double pneumonia; fluid in the lungs; medium severity anaemia; connective tissue dysplasia with damage to the mitral valve (valvular heart disease); chronic heart failure; chronic gastritis and kidney stones.  Kurbedinov is preparing the necessary applications to the court, and will be asking Chelyabinsk regional ombudsperson Yulia Sudarenko to ensure that Abdulgaziev receives the treatment he urgently requires.

Aliye has again not heard from her husband who probably has no way of contacting his family, and there is immense concern about his present state of health.  Russia is illegally holding Abdulgaziev and well over a hundred other Ukrainian political prisoners thousands of kilometres from their homes and families, with even those visits that are allowed gruelling and exorbitantly expensive.

Like very many other Crimean Tatar civic journalists and activists, Tofik Abdulgaziev (b. 19.06.1982) is imprisoned because he refused to leave occupied Crimea or fall silent about Russia’s mounting repression. 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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