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.

Russia hit new depths in its persecution of Crimean Tatar leader and Ukrainian patriot Nariman Dzhelyal

Halya Coynash
Nariman Dzhelyal is turning 44 on 27 April, his third birthday in captivity with the 17-year sentence in revenge for his involvement in the Crimea Platform and unwavering support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity

Nariman Dzhelyal in ’court’ Photo shared by his wife

Nariman Dzhelyal in ’court’ Photo shared by his wife

It was Nariman Dzhelyal, journalist, civic activist and Crimean Tatar Mejlis leader, who came forward in November 2018 to help 24 Ukrainian seamen whom Russian had opened fire at and then seized.  Despite the fear of Russian repression, his call for aid was heeded by a huge number of Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians in occupied Crimea.  His act of courage then was doubtless noted, but it was his participation in the vital international Crimea Platform in August 2021 proved to be, as he has put it, a ‘red line’ for Russia.  Within ten days of his return, after speaking with high-ranking representatives of 45 countries about the situation in occupied Crimea, the FSB came for him.

Both Nariman and his wife, Leviza, had known from the beginning of Russian occupation that he could be arrested at any moment.  Despite that, his wife says, there was never any question of their leaving Crimea.  Nariman’s own father had been a child during the 1944 Deportation of the entire Crimean Tatar people, a crime recognized by Ukraine as an act of genocide.  Nariman was born in exile, in Uzbekistan, on 27 April 1980, and was nine when the family returned to Crimea in 1989.  It was clear to him that his family, and his people, had suffered too much to return to their homeland for him to now leave. 

After Russia’s ban on some Crimean Tatar leaders and political persecution of others, Nariman was the highest-ranking leader of the Mejlis, or representative body, of the Crimean Tatar people left in Crimea. Following Russia’s revenge ban of the Mejlis (which had unwaveringly opposed Russia’s invasion and affirmed that Crimea was part of Ukraine), this made him an obvious target.  There were, in fact, multiple ways in which he could be targeted, as he has himself written, with Russia also likely to accuse him, as it has others, of ‘calls to violate Russia’s borders’ by uphold Ukraine’s territorial integrity’.  Claims of ‘extremism’ were also a popular tool for repressive measures.  He was, nonetheless, staggered by the “foul insanity” of the charges that the Kremlin came up with and writes that “the trip to the Crimea Platform was, undoubtedly, a ‘red line’. 

Although there was a lot of bluster at home, Moscow could not avenge itself against the 45 states whose representatives had attended a meeting dedicated to Crimea’s de-occupation. It is unclear whether frustration over this led to the savagery of the revenge against Dzhelyal, or whether the Kremlin was already building up to its full-scale invasion of Ukraine was rapidly dropping any concerns about international reaction to its repression.  There is, however, another very ominous aspect to Russia’s attack on him.  As he stated in his final address to the occupation ‘Crimean high court’ in August 2022, “The criminal charges against me, an activist of the Crimean Tatar national movement, a delegate of the Qurultay [National Congress] and First Deputy Head of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, are aimed at outlawing and labelling as ‘terrorist’ the entire system of representative bodies of the Crimean Tatars.  And, in this way, opening the way to mass repression against the indigenous people of Crimea.  This is not simply an obvious and logical conclusion.  I was told about such an intention, whether deliberately or inadvertently, within the FSB building. “

The ‘sabotage’ charges that Russia came up with would have always been insultingly absurd, but this was exacerbated by the fact that the alleged act of sabotage’ to a gas pipe took place on 23 August 2021, the day Dzhelyal was in Kyiv for the Crimea Platform.  There are, in fact, legitimate grounds for suspecting that there never was an act of sabotage, yet the FSB first seized five Crimean Tatars and then claimed, not only that the minimal damage to an unimportant gas pipe had been ‘sabotage’, but that it had been planned Ukraine’s Military Intelligence together with the Mejlis.  

Although the obvious target of the FSB’s repressive measures, Dzhelyal was the last of five Crimean Tatars seized from early morning on 3 September 2021, to the morning of 4 September.   Civic journalist Asan Akhtemov (b. 1989) and his cousin, Aziz Akhtemov (b. 1996) were seized during the night from 3-4 September. Both were held incommunicado and prevented from seeing independent lawyers until the European Court of Human Rights [ECHR] intervened almost ten days later. The two men immediately retracted their ‘confessions’ and gave shocking accounts of the torture used to obtain this.  As well as electric shocks and other physical torture, the FSB had also threatened reprisals against the men’s families.  

Both Eldar Odamanov, who had disappeared after the armed search of his home earlier on 3 September, and Shevket Useinov, seized during the following night, were held incommunicado until 5 September. They were then jailed for 10 and 15 days on absurd charges, quite unrelated to the armed raids on their homes.  As feared, the two latter men had been forced into ‘testifying’ against Dzhelyal and the Akhtemovs.  During the men’s trial, however, both men described the illegal methods of duress that the FSB had used to obtain such ‘testimony’.  There had earlier been public statements from two Crimean Tatars who found the courage to refuse to collaborate with the FSB and provide false testimony. 

With the scantest of grounds even for calling the damage to a gas pipe ‘sabotage’, it is hardly surprising that there was no evidence to back the extraordinary charges against Nariman Dzhelyal; Asan and Aziz Akhtemov.  The entire ‘case’ hinged on ‘confessions’ which the men had retracted, and on the ‘testimony’ of so-called secret witnesses.

Despite this, the charges became more and more serious, with the first increase coming immediately after the Akhtemovs ignored FSB threats and spoke of the torture they had endured.

On 21 September 2022, ‘judges’ Viktor Ivanovich Zinkov; Aleksei Viktorovich Kozyrev and Sergei Nikolaevich Pogregniak from the Russian occupation ‘Crimean high court’ sentenced Nariman Dzhelyal to 17 years’ imprisonment; Asan Akhtemov – to 15 years; and Aziz Akhtemov to 13 years, with all in harsh-regime prison colonies. Steep fines were also imposed: 700 thousand roubles (around 9 thousand euros) in Nariman’s case, 500 thousand roubles against Asan and Aziz Akhtemov.  The sentence against Dzhelyal was two years longer than that demanded by ‘prosecutor’ Roman Lobov.

On 28 July 2023, the size of the sentences was upheld by three court of appeal ‘judges’ - Yelena Urod (presiding); German Aleksandrov and Ilona Stohniy – while the conditions imposed were made even worse.

There is simply no possibility that any of the individuals involved in this case genuinely believed the charges to be justified.  They knew that they were imprisoning innocent men and shattering three families.  Nariman has four children, Asan – two and Aziz a small daughter.  Nariman’s father died not long after he was taken prisoner, with Russia preventing him even being present at the funeral.


Please post information about Nariman Dzhelyal and the Akhtemovs and ask representatives of your country to demand their release. 

Write to Nariman and, if possible, to Asan and Aziz.  Letters are a lifeline for political prisoners and send an important message to Moscow that its treatment of the men is under scrutiny and that they are recognized as political prisoners.

The letters need to be handwritten and in Russian.  If this is a problem, try the sample letter below, perhaps with a photo or picture and remember that publicity can help put pressure on Moscow to release the men.

Sample letter


С днем рождения!  Желаю Вам крепкого здоровья, мужества и терпения, и надеюсь на скорое освобождение. Простите, что мало пишу – мне трудно писать по-русски, но мы все о Вас помним.

[Hi and Happy Birthday!  I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that 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. ] 


Nariman Dzhelyal

Dzhelyalov, Nariman Enverovich (b. 1980)

662606 Russian Federation, Krasnoyarsk region, Minusinsk, 114 Gorky St, Krasnoyarsk region prison

Asan Akhtemov

Akhtemov, Asan Islamovich (b. 1989)

600020 Russian Federation, Vladimir region, Prison No. 2, Vladimir, 67 Bolshaya Nizhegorodskaya St

Aziz Akhtemov

Akhtemov, Aziz Eskenderovich (b. 1996)

662606 Russian Federation, Krasnoyarsk region, Minusinsk, 114 Gorky St., Krasnoyarsk region prison

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