Russia Arms Harsh Jail Phrases To Crimean Tatars After ‘Illegitimate’ Trials


A navy courtroom within the southern Russian metropolis of Rostov-on-Don sentenced 5 Crimean Tatar defendants to 13 years in a strict-regime jail on January 11, having convicted them of taking part in a “terrorist group.”

Appeals however — together with one filed with the European Courtroom of Human Rights previous to Russia’s exclusion from the Council of Europe — the sentences deliver to an finish the prosecution of the so-called “25 Case,” underneath which 25 Crimean Tatar males who had been detained in Crimea in 2019 had been sentenced to lengthy phrases in Russian prisons.

The boys had been all convicted of taking part within the actions of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamic political group that was banned as extremist in Russia in 2003 however is authorized in Ukraine. Nevertheless, Russian Prosecutor Yevgeny Kolpikov, on the sentencing of the primary 5 defendants in March 2022, summed up the accusations towards the lads fairly in another way.

“They repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with the insurance policies and the safety forces of the Russian state,” Kolpikov informed the courtroom. “Their guilt has been confirmed in courtroom.”

Supporters of the lads say they’re being silenced for his or her work with the human-rights group Crimean Solidarity, a community that has monitored and publicized proof of crimes and rights violations by the Russian occupation authorities and the Russian navy since Moscow despatched troops to Crimea and seized management of the Ukrainian area in 2014. Since that point, native and worldwide rights displays have charged that Russia has focused the Muslim Crimean Tatar minority with harassment, legal prosecutions, disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and abuse whereas in custody.

“When the repressions started in Crimea towards the native Crimean Tatar individuals, there have been searches, arrests, disappearances of Crimean Tatar activists, and so forth,” stated Khalide Bekirova, the spouse of activist Remzi Bekirov, who was sentenced to 19 years in jail in March 2022. “So my husband started working as a citizen journalist. He’s a historian by schooling, however the necessity to assist his fellow Muslims and his countrymen prompted him to take his cellphone and doc searches, arrests, and courtroom hearings.”

‘Political Prisoners’

For years, Bekirova stated, her husband obtained warnings, summonses, and threats due to his activism. Lastly, in March 2019, he was arrested as a part of an enormous marketing campaign towards Crimean Solidarity activists.

On March 27, 2019, the 25 Case received underneath method when Russian safety forces carried out searches in 26 completely different areas in Crimea. Twenty males had been arrested that day, whereas 4 extra had been arrested on March 28 and April 17. The final defendant, Eskender Suleymanov — the brother of one of many males arrested within the preliminary round-up — was arrested in June.

Crimean rights activist Lutfiye Zudiyeva stated the 25 Case is essentially the most wide-reaching legal prosecution carried out by the Russian Federal Safety Service (FSB) for the reason that area was occupied in 2014.

Crimean rights activist Lutfiye Zudiyeva (file picture)

“Prosecutors had been pressured to take the unprecedented step of dividing the defendants up into 5 teams,” she stated, noting that it could have been troublesome to position all 25 males within the particular cage the place legal defendants sit throughout Russian courtroom hearings. “In fact, the aim was to destroy the work of the Crimean Solidarity rights motion, with which a lot of the defendants had been related. That’s why the case was so broad.”

All 25 of the lads have been designated as political prisoners by the Russian human rights group Memorial, which itself was banned by the Russian state in April 2022.

Hid Witnesses

The boys had been transferred to the southern Russian metropolis of Rostov-on Don, the place their trials had been held in a navy courtroom. The trials, protection lawyer Edem Semedlyayev stated, had been “illegitimate,” based mostly on the testimony of witnesses whose identities had been hid.

“Within the indictment, there are lots of passages with ‘undetermined’ dates and ‘undetermined’ individuals and ‘undetermined’ instances,” Semedlyayev stated. “That’s, there have been many undetermined information, which made protection inconceivable. And all of the accusations had been based mostly on this, however nonetheless the judges handed down sentences of 17 or 19 years.”

A lot of the proof was based mostly on edited fragments of audio recordings during which the defendants allegedly mentioned political and spiritual matters with the hid witnesses. No unlawful or banned supplies had been discovered through the preliminary searches, protection attorneys informed RFE/RL’s Crimea.Realities.

“Beneath questioning, it grew to become clear that these witnesses didn’t even know the defendants,” Semedlyayev stated. “Every time we requested clarifying questions, they answered, ‘I don’t know.’ They didn’t understand how tall [the defendants] are. They didn’t know their approximate ages, though they testified that they met with these individuals each week within the mosque for a complete yr. However after we began digging deeper and requested them to explain the mosque — What number of tales did it have? Did it have a minaret or not? — they simply stated, ‘We don’t keep in mind.’”

The judges usually halted the hearings when the hid witnesses had been unable to reply questions, he added.

As well as, the audio recordings, which had been edited and fragmentary, had been evaluated by specialists with connections to the FSB, Semedlyayev charged.

“They’ve in-house institutes and in-house specialists who’re in a position to say that any dialog of this kind is proof of an trade between Hizb ut-Tahrir members,” he stated.

‘Such Occasions Want To Be Introduced To Gentle’

In all, greater than 80 Crimean Tatars have been accused of being linked with Hizb ut-Tahrir, and greater than 50 are serving phrases in Russian prisons, in accordance with the Crimean Tatar Useful resource Middle.

“The Russian Federation misuses its laws for political functions, specifically to suppress the nonviolent wrestle of the Crimean Tatars and their protest towards the occupation of Crimea,” the middle wrote in a July assertion. “The Crimean Tatar Useful resource Middle calls for the cancelation of all sentences towards these concerned within the Hizb ut-Tahrir case and the instant launch of different political prisoners.”

The crackdown on the Crimean Solidarity motion is an effort by the Russians to cowl up their actions in Crimea, activist Zudiyeva stated.

“An individual finds himself within the defendant’s cage and it’s completely clear they are going to be convicted and despatched to jail with a long run,” she stated. “In fact, such occasions should be delivered to gentle. Individuals should be informed about them. And that’s the reason (the Russian authorities) don’t like several human-rights or media organizations. It isn’t only a matter of Crimean Solidarity — that is how they deal with all activists and journalists in Crimea and in present-day Russia.”

Raim Aivazov with his family (file photo)

Raim Aivazov together with his household (file picture)

In his closing assertion to the courtroom in March 2022 shortly earlier than he was sentenced to 17 years in jail, activist Raim Aivazov remained defiant.

“I’ve little question that you’ll convict me,” he informed the judges. “However keep in mind, you’ll reap the fruits you will have sown. I’m certain historical past will keep in mind us as martyrs of a legal regime and also you as instruments within the palms of tyrants.”

The Crimean Tatars are a Muslim Turkish ethnic group that settled in Crimea as early because the thirteenth century. After the Russian colonization of Crimea within the 18th century, Crimean Tatars — who fashioned a big majority on the peninsula on the time — had been subjected to violent repressions and authorized discrimination. In 1944, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin forcibly deported the whole Crimean Tatar inhabitants to Uzbekistan and different elements of the Soviet Union, inflicting catastrophic lack of life. They had been solely allowed to return en masse after 1989. In keeping with the Ukrainian census of 2001, there have been 240,000 Crimean Tatars residing in Crimea.

Written by RFE/RL characteristic author Robert Coalson based mostly on reporting by RFE/RL’s Crimea.Realities.

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