The Hobbits

Dmitry Strotsev
Facebook
October 18, 2020

What happened today in Minsk looks like a confident victory for the people. Warned that they could be shot and killed, two hundred and fifty thousand people joyfully and freely walked through their city. A few stun grenades couldn’t dampen the mood.

The hobbit,* in his capacity as Grandpa Mazai, navigated the streets adjacent to Partizansky Prospekt, hoping to catch a few hares. But people left the march inspired and in no need of rescue. The tikhari [KGB agents disguised in civilian clothing] were not on the prowl as usual, they did not kettle people by the side of the road. Apparently, the command to stand down had been issued. It wasn’t the protest that fizzled out, it was the regime that fizzled out. The slaboviki [literally, “weaklings,” a play on the word siloviki, referring to the security forces in Belarus, Russian, and other post-Soviet states] saw that further escalation of violence only brings them closer to a tribunal. Long live Belarus!

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Sasha Razor for explaining the hobbit reference, to wit:

* “Our people’s character is strange and hard to grasp. Our national archetype is the partisan — a clandestine person who hides in the forest and fights his oppressors. Have you ever seen truly clandestine characters raise their voices to represent themselves? As a partisan, you can foil the entire operation by exposing your identity. This is why nobody hears or knows much about the Belarusians these days. My people simply do not like to be looked at. They are hobbits in their essence, akin to the hard-working hobbits from J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, who prefer to stay out of sight. And one can understand why. When you have had Mordor to the East for 500 years, when there are hordes of orcs racing back and forth through Middle Earth, all you want to do is put on a magic invisible hat. Of course, at the moment, there is a lot of fear among Belarusians regarding a possible Russian invasion.” (Artur Klinau, quoted in Sasha Razor, “From the Sun City of Dreams to the City of Angels: A Conversation with Belarusian Artist and Author Artur Klinau,” Los Angeles Review of Books, July 15, 2017)

Autazak

Several years ago, the autazak—the vehicle that the police use to transport detainees—became a paradoxical symbol of Belarusian art protest culture.

Autazak, by the art collective Hutka Smachnaa, published November 17, 2016

“Autazak,” a song by the band Partizansky Praspekt (Guerrilla Avenue) that was written in Belarusian and recorded on the eve of the August 9, 2020, presidential election, continues this trend.

Partizansky Praspekt consists of two people: its frontman, poet Uladzimir Liankievič and guitarist Raman Zharabcou. By August 2020, both men already had firsthand experience riding inside these vehicles and being detained overnight by the police.

“I used to write more metaphorical texts that were often contemplative,” says Liankevič, “but now the time has come for straightforward and clear messages. Raman and I chose the garage-rock form and recorded the song very quickly.”

Zhabracou was arrested a few days after the song’s release. Liankevič was arrested on September 8 during a march in support of opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova, who had been abducted a day earlier. Liankevič spent six days in the Zhodino Temporary Detention Facility and was released on September 14, 2020.

On September 16, Liankevič wrote the following on his Facebook page:

Basically, what happened is that I was illegally detained and convicted, not as a musician, writer, TV presenter, showman, leader,  activist, journalist, activist, philosopher, Instagram influencer, champion athlete, generalist, or something else very important, not for my activities or my inaction, but as a mere citizen. More precisely, I was detained and tried as if I were not a citizen, but as a person without status. (Although, generally speaking, I lucked out). Today, people are taking to the streets, flying flags, and singing “Kupalinka” in the name of ordinary civil rights and even universal human rights.

At such moments, I simply do not care about any of my identities, except for one—my identity as a human being.

Co-ed, programmer, resident of stairwell no. 4, chemist, surgeon, poetess, friend, enemy, female passenger, pedestrian, random drunk, Israeli national, geologist, cyclist, demobbed soldier, vocational college student, unregistered person, cap wearer, bag toter, backpack schlepper, female opera employee, flower holder, posterless, professor, minor, disabled person, birthday girl, hot-tempered lout, post-surgical recoverer, deceiver, handsome man, deadbeat, ex,  show-off, foolish woman, smart-ass, intellectual, believer, classmate, talented lady, goofball, long-haired hippie, childless man, prostitute, drug addict, and freeloader, what is it that you want?

To be called people.

Аўтазак

Па горадзе гойсаюць банды ў цывільным,
Твары схаваныя, позірк звярыны.
Пакуюць карціны, пакуюць людзей –
Няправільна стаў, не так паглядзеў.
Душаць, загадваюць, рукі ламаюць.
Час разагнаць незаконную зграю!

Краіну спакавалі ў аўтазак,
Яны за гэта мусяць адказаць.

Мы сёння разам, і нішто не спыніць гэтай хвалі.
Мы вернем тое, што ў нас забралі.
Пасля дажджу гуляюць промні па небакраі,
Мы вернем тое, што ў нас забралі.

Крадуць галасы без сораму, стабільна
Чыняць беззаконне, судзяць нявінных.
Ганяць, прыніжаюць, хлусяць кожны дзень.
З суддзямі таксама сустрэнемся ў судзе.
Святкуюць перамогу занадта рана –
Ніхто не застанецца беспакараным.

Краіну спакавалі ў аўтазак,
Яны за гэта мусяць адказаць.

Мы сёння разам, і нішто не спыніць гэтай хвалі.
Мы вернем тое, што ў нас забралі.
Пасля дажджу гуляюць промні па небакраі,
Мы вернем тое, што ў нас забралі.

Autazak

Gangs in plainclothes roam the city,
Their faces hidden, their eyes like beasts.
They pack away pictures, they pack away people:
You stood the wrong, you gave the wrong look.
They choke us, shout orders, twist our arms.
It’s time to drive away this lawless herd!

The country has been packed into an autazak.
They must answer for this.

We are together today, and nothing will stop this wave.
We will get back what was taken from us.
After the rain, rays shine across the sky
We will get back what was taken from us.

They steal our voices, our votes without shame,
They violate the laws, they persecute the innocent.
They chase us, humiliate us, and lie every day.
Our judges will also face us in court.
It is still too early to celebrate:
No one will escape unpunished.

The country has been packed into an autazak.
They must answer for this.

We are together today, and nothing will stop this wave.
We will get back what was taken from us.
After the rain, rays shine across the sky
We will get back what was taken from us.

Introduction, commentary and translation from the Belarusian by Sasha Razor

Against Xenophobia and Islamophobia (The Lost Portraits of Bradford)

Thanks to my wonderful British “cousin” AC for bringing my attention to this lovely, sweet, humane and profoundly democratic 2019 BBC TV documentary about a now-defunct photo portrait studio in Bradford and its incredible archive of the city’s changing human face. It’s welcome tonic to my soul as the leading liberal lights in my adopted former “homeland” of Russia indulge in yet another orgy of Islamophobia over horrible crimes committed in completely different countries.

I wish they would watch this documentary and take its message to heart. It might surprise them to learn that not all “westerners” are rabid racists, xenophobes, and Islamophobes. People can learn to live together, learn “conviviality” and unlearn “post-imperial melancholia,” as the great Paul Gilroy (a world-famous contemporary scholar whose works are totally absent in Russian translation, unsurprisingly) has called them. |||| TRR

Thirty years ago, thousands of portraits from a small studio in Bradford were saved from a skip. They form a unique collection of photographs that records the changing face of a British industrial city in the middle of the 20th century. Many of the people in the portraits were new arrivals from the Asian subcontinent, eastern Europe and the Caribbean, attracted by the offer of work in wool mills. The names of these people are a mystery – only their faces survive.

A small studio, Belle Vue, in the middle of Bradford, built a business on taking portraits of the newly-arrived migrants. Photographer Tony Walker used a battered Victorian camera to take images of his customers, which were often sent back to relatives in the countries they’d left behind.

Working alongside staff from museums in Bradford, presenter Shanaz Gulzar identifies and tracks down the people in the portraits, and uncovers dramatic social change and the hidden stories behind the portraits.

You Go, Girl! (Reading about the Belarusian Women’s Protests)

Sasha Razor
Facebook
October 10, 2020

In solidarity with the International Women’s March for Belarus, which is taking place today, I am offering this collection of texts about the Belarusian women’s protests. If I overlooked some sources, send me your suggestions.

August 31, 2020
Ousmanova, Almira. “Belarus’s quest for democracy has a female face.”

September 16, 2020
Laputska, Veranika. “From Beauty Queens to Freedom Fighters: Belarusian Women’s Political Evolution.”

September 17, 2020
Moore, Ekaterina. “Despite Women-Led Resistance, There is a Long Road to Gender Equality.”

Solomatina, Irina, and Luba Fein. “Women and Feminism in Belarus: The Truth Behind the Flower Power.” An Interview with Irina Solomatina by Luba Fein.

September 20, 2020
Shparaga, Olga, and Elena Fanailova. “‘Avtoritarizm — ne takaia prostaia shtuka’: Belarus i zhenskii protest.” An Interview with Olga Shparaga by Elena Fanailova.

September 22, 2020
Fürst, Juline, Anika Walke, and Sasha Razor. “On Free Women and Free Belarus. A Look at the Female Force Behind the Protests in Belarus.”

September 23, 2020
Tikhanovskaya, Svetlana. “I was a Stay-at-Home Mom. Now I’m Leading a Revolution.”

October 6, 2020
Solomatina, Irina and Nina Potarskaia. “U protesta ne zhenskoe litso: Interviu s Irinoi Solomatinoi.”

Belarusian Environmentalist Marina Dubina Abducted by Unknown Men in Uniform in Minsk

Marina Dubrina

Marina Dubina, Director of NGO Ekodom, Detained, Unknown Men Used Teargas
Incident took place around 4 p.m. at Korpus Cultural Center in Minsk
Zjaljony partal
October 6, 2020

According to witnesses, unidentified men in uniform with no identifying marks, dragged the executive director of the NGO Ekodom outside, employing a tear gas canister in the process. She was dragged from building no. 6 at the Gorizont factory towards a bus stop before being forced into a Volkswagen passenger vehicle on Kuibyshev Street.

There is no more information at this time, but this article n will be updated.

Earlier, on September 8, persons unknown tried to force their way into Dubina’s house.

Thanks to Sasha Razor for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader

Belarusian Children’s Writers Call for End to Violence

Belarusian Children’s Writers Against Violence
Oleg Grushetsky
Novy Chas
September 27, 2020

Belarusian children’s writers have recorded a video message in which they condemn the violent actions of the authorities, demand an end to the violence, and ask for restoration of the law.

Well-known Belarusian children’s writers, poets and translators, playwrights, publishers and illustrators, winners of numerous literary awards and creative competitions have made a video message demanding that the Belarusian authorities stop violence and restore the law. Anna Yankuta, Vera Burlak, Nadezhda Yasminska, Natalka Kharitonyuk, Nadya Kandrusevich-Shidlovskaya, Diana Balyko, Olga Akulich,  Andrey Zhvalevsky and Evgeniya Pasternak, and Maria Martysevich recorded the video message. The appeal was supported by Andrey Khodanovich, Maria Bershadskaya, Yuri Nesterenko, Anna Zenkova, and Oleg Grushetsky.

The appeal made by the children’s writers differs from a number of others: it was recorded in a way that resembles the manner of story or fairy tale.

We suggest that you read the text of the message.

Anna Yankuta

Writers can’t be outside of politics, because what we write is politics, even if we write for children. If we don’t fight evil and injustice in life, how will we write about it in books?

Vera Burlak

Children believe books. That’s why it’s important for writers to tell children what they themselves believe. I believe that freedom is necessary: freedom of thought, freedom of imagination, freedom from fear.

Nadezhda Yasminska

Children not only believe in fairy tales, but they also call writers wizards. Their faith is touching and quite precious to us. And we are ready to fight evil, violence, and lawlessness, even though in real life we don’t have magic wands.

Natalka Kharitonyuk

I don’t have a magic wand. But I have a way to take revenge on the security forces and falsifiers, and all the forces of darkness that have gone on the rampage in Belarus. The freedom of children will be my revenge—the freedom that children find in stories and fairy tales. Freedom that cannot be shot or sent to the jail on Okrestin Street.

Nadya Kandrusevich-Shidlovskaya

Children’s literature is a real art that does not tolerate censorship and ideology. Only in a free country can authentic children’s books be freely written, illustrated, and translated. We are against violence, deception and captivity.

Diana Balyko

As it is never too late to have a happy childhood, so it is never too late to realize yourself as a person, as a citizen, and start living in a free country of happy people. And we don’t have to leave Belarus to do this. All we need to do is stop the dictatorship.

Olga Akulich

Children know very well that an adult is not the one who is the strongest, the most evil, or the most cunning. Adults are objective, fair and willing to cooperate. Adults, be adults!

Evgeniya Pasternak and Andrey Zhvalevsky

In fairy tales, good always vanquishes evil. It’s the same way in real life. The evil dragon will slink back into its dungeon. Harry Potter will defeat Voldemort. The Belarusian people will find their fern flower. And a good fellow shall break Koschei’s needle. We will win!

Maria Martysevich

Quiet, mice, quiet, quiet:
We’re being held hostage by a psycho.
Don’t wake the cat with a squeak,
Don’t rock the boat with your paw—
The wolves will come out of the dark,
They’ll kick everyone’s tails.
Only our mice are punks,
Lullabies won’t put them to sleep.
Our mice are flower children,
You can’t break their bouquet like that:
Without the cat, we are in charge.
Shame on you, cats. Long live [Belarus]!

Thanks to Yulya Tsimafeyeva for the heads-up. Translated from the Russian and the Belarusian by the Russian Reader with some assistance from Yandex Translate.

Photographer Vadim Zamirovski: Fifty Days of Protests in Belarus

Minsk, August 12, 2020. A young woman talking to a law enforcement officer as he is trying to close the gates of the Okrestin jail. After street protests took place, hundreds of people went to the jail in hopes of finding their relatives who had disappeared. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

_____________________________________

Photographer Vadim Zamirovski: Fifty Days of Protests in Belarus

“I do not know the exact number of news photographers still working on the ground in Belarus right now,” says Vadim Zamirovski, a photo correspondent for TUT.BY, “but you can count them on the fingers of both hands.”

TUT.BY is the leading Belarusian independent news website. It is currently under investigation by the country’s Ministry of Information and thus might lose its accreditation as a mass media outlet.

Since the fraudulent presidential elections took place on August 9, 2020, covering the protests in Belarus has been very much like war journalism. Journalists have been shot at and detained by police, while some have been deported, and Belarusian authorities stopped admitting foreign press shortly after the elections.

Zamirovski has already been detained twice. The first time, he was held for seven hours at a militsiya station. (Belarus has retained the old Soviet name for the police, just as it still has a KGB.) The second time, he was detained for only forty minutes. That time, however, he was beaten in a microbus by police, and his flash drives were confiscated.

Vadim Zamirovski

“But that is nothing,” Vadim adds, “compared to how [my] colleagues Alexander Vasiukovich and Uladz Hridin have recently spent eleven days in jail.”

On September 17, the Belarusian independent media produced editions with no photographs to protest these arrests.

After his second detention, Vadim spent two days off with his family at the man-made lake in Minsk known among Belarusians as the Minsk Sea. On his Facebook page, he wrote:

I took a mini vacation this week. An entire two days without riot police, tikhari (the undercover police), busiki (the civilian minivans used to transport the detainees), and all the other things that have recently become a part of our reality. It felt like an impermissible luxury. But you know, when you take a break, your mind finally catches up and you begin to realize the degree to which things are messed up right now. It’s best, perhaps, to keep going.

During the past fifty days, Zamirovski has, in fact, kept going, delivering the most stunning images. It is through these images that millions of people all over the world have learnt about the plight of the Belarusians. One day, these photographs will be published in the history books of the new, free Belarus. Meanwhile, as the country remains a danger zone for the journalists on the ground, we should keep focused on Zamirovski’s clear-eyed lens and courageous voice.

Sasha Razor

_____________________________________

Minsk, September 1, 2020. An elderly woman kneeling in front of a riot police officer pleading with him to release high school students detained on the first day of school. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, September 23, 2020. A young woman screaming in front of a police cordon on the day of Alexander Lukashenko’s secret inauguration. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, August 15, 2020. A young woman poses for the camera wearing make-up imitating the aftereffects of police brutality. The inscription on her dress reads, “Not enough for me.” Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, September 19, 2020. A young woman during the Women’s March, surrounded by riot police right before she was detained. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, August 14, 2020. A young woman hugging a soldier and pleading with him to lower his shield. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, August 13, 2020. The silhouettes of protesters against the evening sky. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, August 12, 2020. A young woman crying in front of a memorial to slain protester Alexander Tairakovsky. Her placard reads: “Today is my birthday. My birthday wish was for no one else to be killed. We are peaceful people! Enough violence, I beg you.” Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, August 10, 2020. Doctors and volunteers helping a wounded protester. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, August 8, 2020. A protester runs up against a cloud of tear gas. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, August 13, 2020. An elderly man bowing to participants in the Women’s March. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, August 23, 2020. More than one hundred thousand people converged on Independence Square in the center of Minsk. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, August 13, 2020. The shadow of a female protester on the historic Belarusian flag. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, August 10, 2020. A fire was sparked when several Molotov cocktails were thrown at riot police. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, August 16, 2020. More than one hundred thousand protesters came to the center of Minsk to voice their disagreement with the fraudulent election results. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

For many years I have said that solidarity is a two-way street. I cannot begin to thank Vadim Zamirovski and Sasha Razor enough for their generosity in sharing Vadim’s photographs and story with me and my readers. Paraphrasing the words of my favorite song, they have come bearing a gift beyond price, almost free. Please return them the favor by sharing this article wherever you can and doing whatever you can wherever you are to support the Belarusian revolution. || TRR

Minsk: The March of Justice

March of Justice in Minsk, September 20, 2020. Photo by Yulya Tsimafeyeva

Yulya Tsimafeyeva
Facebook
September 20, 2020

The March of Justice/Марш справядлівасці
Some photos from the 6th Sunday march. Не ведаю, як апісаць тым, хто ніколі не хадзіў на нашыя маршы, што гэта такое. Я пачала пісаць, што гэта і як, але і праўда не ведаю. :) Нерэальна дзіўныя адчуванні: пачынаючы ад дабірання да хоць нейкага месца збору пры зачыненым метро, адмененым руху транспарту, выключаным інтэрнэце і сканчаючы пошукамі бяспечнага спосабу (закрэслена: адступлення) вяртання назад… (І гэтыя загадкі штонядзелі вырашаюць тысячы дарослых людзей.) Але сарцавіна — гэта любоў, адназначна. :)

[Some photos from the 6th Sunday march. I don’t know how to describe what it is to those who have never attended our marches. I started writing about what it is like, but I really don’t know. :) Unreal strange feelings: starting from making your way to at least some kind of gathering place with the subway closed, traffic blocked, and the internet turned off, and ending with looking for a safe way (crossed out: of retreating) of getting back… (And these puzzles are solved every Sunday by thousands of adults.) But the core is love, definitely. :)]

“Put the Court on Trial.” Photo by Yulya Tsimafeyeva

Tens of Thousands Protest in Belarus Capital Against Lukashenko
Tatiana Kalinovskaya (AFP)
Moscow Times
September 20, 2020

Tens of thousands of opposition supporters marched in the Belarusian capital of Minsk on Sunday despite authorities deploying a heavy police presence.

The protest came a day after officers detained hundreds of demonstrators at a women’s march in the capital.

The opposition movement has kept up a wave of large-scale demonstrations every Sunday since President Alexander Lukashenko won a disputed victory in August 9 polls.

“Anschluss. The Putin Organized Crime Syndicate Is ‘Novichok” for the Independence of Belarus!” Photo by Yulya Tsimafeyeva

People holding red-and-white protest flags gathered at the “March of Justice” that occupied the whole of a central avenue and walked towards the heavily guarded Palace of Independence, where Lukashenko has his offices.

They held placards with slogans such as “Cowards beat up women” and “Get out!”.

Before the march, police and internal troops had positioned military trucks and armored personnel carriers in the city center and set up barbed wire.

March of Justice in Minsk, September 20, 2020. Photo by Yulya Tsimafeyeva

Riot police in black balaclavas sporadically detained protesters carrying flags and signs at the start, while some people took shelter in a shopping mall and in a fast-food restaurant to escape arrest.

The Viasna rights group said at least 16 had been detained in Minsk as well as eight at protests in other cities.

The government ordered a reduction in mobile internet coverage during the event while central metro stations were closed.

Demonstrator at March of Justice in Minsk, September 20, 2020. Photo by Yulya Tsimafeyeva

The mass protest came after riot police cracked down on peaceful women demonstrators on Saturday who were wearing shiny accessories for their so-called “Sparkly March.”

They dragged protesters into vans, lifted some women off their feet and carrying them.

Belarusian interior ministry spokeswoman Olga Chemodanova said Sunday that police had detained 415 people on that march in Minsk and 15 in other cities for breaking rules on mass demonstrations. She said 385 had been released.

“Wake up, cities! Our motherland is in distress!” Photo by Yulya Tsimafeyeva

‘Worth fighting for’
The scale of Saturday’s detentions prompted the opposition’s Coordination Council to warn of a “new phase in the escalation of violence against peaceful protesters

Among those detained was one of the most prominent faces of the protest movement, 73-year-old activist Nina Baginskaya, although she was later released.

“From Khabarovsk to Brest There Is No Place for Dictatorship!” Photo by Yulya Tsimafeyeva

The aggressive police tactics prompted an opposition Telegram channel, Nexta, which has more than 2 million subscribers, to publish what it said was a list of the names and ranks of more than 1,000 police.

Protesters have sought to expose the identity of police who appear at demonstrations in plain clothes or in uniforms without insignia or name badges, trying to pull off their masks and balaclavas.

March of Justice in Minsk, September 20, 2020. Photo by Yulya Tsimafeyeva

Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who claimed victory over Lukashenko in the polls and has taken shelter in Lithuania, on Saturday said Belarusians were ready to strip police obeying “criminal orders” of anonymity.

Lukashenko has dismissed opposition calls for his resignation and sought help from Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who has promised law enforcement backup if needed and a $1.5 billion loan.

“Fear the indifferent! It is with their tacit consent that all evil on earth is committed!” Photo by Yulya Tsimafeyeva

Tikhanovskaya is set to meet European Union foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday as the EU prepares sanctions against those it blames for rigging the election and the regime’s violent crackdown on protesters.

Authorities have jailed many of Tikhanovskaya’s allies who formed the leadership of the Coordination Council or driven them out of the country.

One of her campaign partners, Maria Kolesnikova, has been imprisoned and charged with undermining national security.

She released a message to protesters on Sunday saying: “Freedom is worth fighting for. Don’t be afraid to be free!”

Go to Yulya Tsimafeyeva’s Facebook page to see the rest of her photos from the March of Justice and other dispatches from the events in Belarus. || TRR

“Goszakaz”: Crimean Tatar Activists Sentenced to Monstrous Prison Terms by Russian Occupation Regime


Reading of the sentence on 16.09.2020. The men are each wearing one letter each of the word ГОСЗАКАЗ (“commissioned by the state”). Photo by Crimean Solidarity. Courtesy of khpg.org

Acquittal and monstrous sentences in Russia’s offensive against Crimean Tatar civic journalists & activists
Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group
Halya Coynash
September 17, 2020

In the last decades of the Soviet regime, dissidents received 7-10-year sentences for so-called ‘anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda’. Modern Russia, persecuting Ukrainian citizens on illegally occupied territory for their religious beliefs and political views, is doubling such sentences. Seven Crimean Tatar civic journalists and activists have received sentences of up to 19 years, without any crime. Justice had not been expected from a Russian court, however absurd the charges and flawed the ‘trial’, so the only – wonderful – surprise was the acquittal of Crimean Solidarity civic journalist and photographer Ernes Ametov. If Russia was hoping, in this way, to prove that these are real ‘trials’ before independent courts, there is no chance. All eight men have long been recognized as political prisoners, and all should have been acquitted.

The sentences passed on 16 September by judges Rizvan Zubairov (presiding); Roman Saprunov; and Maxim Nikitin from the Southern District Military Court in Rostov (Russia) were all lower than those demanded by the prosecutor Yevgeny Kolpikov, but still shocking.

Crimean Solidarity civic journalist Marlen (Suleyman) Asanov: 19 years

Crimean Solidarity activist Memet Belyalov: 18 years and 18 months restriction of liberty

Crimean Solidarity civic journalist Timur Ibragimov: 17 years and 18 months restriction of liberty

Crimean Solidarity Coordinator and journalist Server Mustafayev: 14 years and 1 year restriction of liberty

Crimean Solidarity civic journalist Seiran Saliyev: 16 years and 1 year restriction of liberty

Edem Smailov (the leader of a religious community): 13 years and 1 year restriction of liberty

Crimean Solidarity volunteer Server Zekiryaev: 13 years

In Soviet times, dissidents received a term of imprisonment, then one of exile. Now they add ‘restriction of liberty’ (ban on going outside Crimea and attending events, as well as having to register with the police). In all of the above cases, the sentences are for maximum security prison colonies, although not one of the men was even accused of an actual crime. They are also sentences that Russia, as occupying state, is prohibited by international law from imposing.

The armed searches and arrests of the men in October 2017 and May 2018 were the first major offensive against Crimean Solidarity. This important civic organization arose in April 2016 in response to the mounting persecution of Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians in occupied Crimea. The initiative not only helped political prisoners and their families, but also ensured that information was streamed onto the Internet and in other ways circulated about armed searches, arrests, disappearances and other forms of repression. Given Russia’s crushing of independent media in occupied Crimea, the work that Crimean Solidarity activists and journalists do is absolutely invaluable. It has, however, subjected them to constant harassment, including administrative prosecutions, and, when that has not stopped them, to trumped-up criminal charges.

The charges
The men were essentially accused only of ‘involvement’ in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a peaceful Muslim organization which is legal in Ukraine. In declaring all Ukrainian Muslims arrested on such charges to be political prisoners, the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre has repeatedly pointed out that Russia is in breach of international law by applying its own legislation on occupied territory. It has, however, also noted that Russia is the only country in the world to have called Hizb ut-Tahrir ‘terrorist’ and the Russian Supreme Court did so in 2003 at a hearing which was deliberately kept secret until it was too late to lodge an appeal.

In occupied Crimea, the Russian FSB are increasingly using such prosecutions as a weapon against civic activists and journalists, particularly from Crimean Solidarity.

Initially, the FSB designated only Asanov as ‘organizer of a Hizb ut-Tahrir group’ under Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code. The other men were all charged with ‘involvement in such an alleged ‘group’ (Article 205.5 § 2). Then suddenly in February 2019 it was announced that Belyalov and Ibragimov were now also facing the ‘organizer’ charge.  The essentially meaningless distinction is reflected in the sentences passed on 16 September, with the difference in sentence between Timur Ibragimov as supposed ‘organizer’ only one year longer than that passed on fellow civic journalist, Seiran Saliyev (accused of being a member of the so-called Hizb ut-Tahrir cell).

All eight men were also charged (under Article 278) with ‘planning to violently seize power’. This new charge also appeared only in February 2019, with no attempt ever made to explain how the men were planning such a ‘violent seizure’. The charge only highlights the shocking cynicism of any such ‘terrorism’ charges when the only things ‘found’ when armed searches were carried out of the men’s homes were books (not even Hizb ut-Tahrir books), no weapons, no evidence of plans to commit violence. Russian prosecutors simply claim that this follows from Hizb ut-Tahrir ideology. Memorial HRC notes that the extra charge is often laid where political prisoners refuse to ‘cooperate with the investigators’. Since all the Crimean Muslims prosecuted in these cases have stated that they are political prisoners and have refused to ‘cooperate’, the extra charge is becoming standard.

‘Evidence’
The prosecution’s case was based on the testimony of Nikolai Artykbayev, a Ukrainian turncoat, now working for the Russian FSB; two secret witnesses whose identity and motives for testifying are known, and the ‘expert assessments’ of three people with no expert knowledge of the subject.

Russia is now using so-called ‘secret witnesses’ in all politically-motivated trials of Crimeans and other Ukrainians. No good reason is ever provided for concealing the alleged witnesses’ identity, and the bad reason can easily be seen in this case where their identity was understood.  Konstantin Tumarevich (who used the pseudonym ‘Remzi Ismailov’) is a Latvian citizen and fugitive from justice who could not risk being sent back to Latvia after his passport expired. It is likely that the FSB realized this back in May 2016 and have used his vulnerable position as blackmail, getting him to testify both in the earlier trial of four Crimean Tatars from Bakhchysarai, and now in this case.

There is a similar situation with Narzulayev Salakhutdin (whose testimony was under the name ‘Ivan Bekirov’).  He is from Uzbekistan and does not have legal documents.

These men gave testimony that in many places was demonstrably false, yet ‘Judge’ Zubairov constantly blocked attempts by the defendants and their lawyers to ask questions demonstrating that the men were telling lies.

As mentioned, the main ‘material evidence’ was in the form of three illicitly taped conversations in a Crimean mosque. These were supposedly understood to be ‘incriminating’ by Artykbayev, although the latter does not know Crimean Tatar (or Arabic) [or] who transcribed them. That transcript, of highly questionable accuracy, was then sent to three supposed ‘experts’: Yulia Fomina and Yelena Khazimulina, and Timur Zakhirovich Urazumetov. Without any professional competence to back their assessments, all of the three ‘found’ what the FSB was looking for.

While the judges also lack such professional competence, they did hear the testimony of Dr Yelena Novozhilova, an independent and experienced forensic linguist, who gave an absolutely damning assessment of the linguistic analysis produced by Fomina and Khazimulina.

This was only one of the many pieces of testimony that the court ignored. Zubairov actually refused to allow a number of defence witnesses to appear and used punitive measures against the defendants and their lawyers.

All such infringements of the men’s rights will be raised at appeal level, although this will also be before a Russian court, with the charges of justice being minimal.

PLEASE WRITE TO THE MEN!
They are likely to be imprisoned at the addresses below until the appeal hearing and letters tell them they are not forgotten, and show Moscow that the ‘trial’ now underway is being followed.

Letters need to be in Russian, and on ‘safe’ subjects. If that is a problem, use the sample letter below (copying it by hand), perhaps adding a picture or photo. Do add a return address so that the men can answer.

Sample letter

Привет,

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

[Hi.  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.]

Addresses

Marlen  Asanov

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Асанову, Марлену Рифатовичу, 1977 г. р

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Asanov, Marlen Rifatovich, b. 1977]

Memet Belyalov

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Белялову, Мемету Решатовичу, 1989 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Belyalov, Memet Reshatovich, b. 1989]

Timur Ibragimov

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Ибрагимову, Тимуру Изетовичу, 1985 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Ibragimov, Timur Izetovich, b. 1985]

Server Mustafayev

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Мустафаеву,  Серверу Рустемовичу, 1986 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Mustafayev, Server Rustemovich,  b. 1986]

Seiran Saliyev

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Салиеву,  Сейрану Алимовичу, 1985 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Saliyev, Seiran Alimovich, b. 1985]

Edem Smailov

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Смаилову,  Эдему Назимовичу, 1968 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Smailov, Edem Nazimovich, b. 1968]

Server Zekiryaev

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Зекирьяеву, Серверу Зекиевичу, 1973 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Zekiryaev, Server Zekievich, b. 1973]

Thanks to Comrades SP and RA for the heads-up. The text has been very lightly edited for readability. || TRR