“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

Yevgenia Litvinova: Stop the Crackdown in Crimea!

litvinova placard“Stalinist prison sentences. Crimean Tatars: 7, 8, 12, 12, 18, 19 years. Network Case: 6, 9, 10, 13, 14, 16, 18 years. Coming soon to a location near you!” Photo by Yevgenia Litvinova

Yevgenia Litvinova
Facebook
February 18, 2020

#StopCrackdownInCrimea #FreeCrimeanTatars

Strategy 18

Today I will go to Nevsky Prospect and do a solo picket as part of Strategy 18’s indefinite protest campaign in support of the Crimean Tatars.

My placard addresses the huge sentences handed out to people convicted of far-fetched “crimes.”

My family went through all of this once upon a time. My grandfather was arrested in 1934 and shot in 1937, while my grandmother was imprisoned for nearly 20 years in the Gulag. It is a good thing there is a moratorium on the death penalty, and the arrests have not yet become widespread. But otherwise, the same thing is happening.

In November 2019, the following Crimean Tatars—ordinary people, ordinary believers—were sentenced to monstrous terms of imprisonment:

  • Arsen Dzhepparov, 7 years in prison
  • Refat Alimov, 8 years in prison
  • Vadim Siruk, 8 years in prison
  • Emir-Usein Kuku, 12 years in prison
  • Enver Bekirov, 18 years in prison
  • Muslim Aliyev, 19 years in prison

In February 2020, the defendants in the Network Case—ordinary young men, anarchists—were sentenced to the following monstrous terms of imprisonment:

  • Arman Sagynbayev, 6 years in prison
  • Vasily Kuksov, 9 years in prison
  • Mikhail Kulkov, 10 years in prison
  • Maxim Ivankin, 13 years in prison
  • Andrei Chernov, 14 years in prison
  • Ilya Shakursky, 16 years in prison
  • Dmitry Pchelintsev, 18 years in prison

I will remind you of the famous quote: “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.” And so on.

What is happening now with the Crimean Tatars—86 of them have been arrested for being from the “wrong” ethnicity and having the “wrong” faith—tomorrow could happen to anyone.

What is happening now with the lads from the Network Case—they were convicted based on testimony obtained under torture—tomorrow could happen to anyone.

Let’s show solidarity with those who have been marked out as sacrificial victims today.

Let’s try and pull these people out of the dragon’s mouth.

When we are together, we have a chance.

Today’s Strategy 18 protest in support of the Crimean Tatars will take place on the corner of Nevsky Prospect and Malaya Sadovaya at 7 p.m.

Join us!

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Network Case in Context

Scenes from the reading of the verdict in the Network trial in Penza on February 10, 2020. Filmed by Vlad Dokshin, edited by Alexander Lavrenov. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

Vladimir Akimenkov
Facebook
February 10, 2020

Today’s verdict in Penza was terribly inhumane, exorbitantly vicious, and so on, of course. The Putin regime handed out humongous sentences to members of the anti-authoritarian scene, punishing them for exercising their right to be themselves. Anarchists and non-official antifascists were severely and cruelly punished by the dictatorial regime—acting through the FSB and a kangaroo court—for their DIY activities, for making connections outside the official, formalized world, for dissenting, for rejecting all hierarchies. These political prisoners have been sent to the camps for many years, and it will take an enormous effort to keep them alive, if they are sent to the north, to keep them healthy and sane, and to get them released early. I wish them and their relatives and friends all the strength in the world.

Unfortunately, many people have reacted to the verdict in the Network Case as if it were utterly unprecedented, as if the bloodbath in Chechnya, and the torture and savage sentences meted out to defendants in other “terrorist” cases had never happened. It as if, even recently, their own government had not committed numerous crimes against the people of Ukraine and Syria, against prisoners in camps and other “others,” against National Bolshevik party activists and a range of other movements, against young radicals and people who professed the “wrong” religion, and on and on and on.  People, including political activists, have been surprised by the torture of the defendants, the rigged trial, and the harsh sentences in Penza, as if they lived in a happy, prosperous society, not a totally toxic, brazen empire whose security forces are the heirs of a centuries-long tradition of butchery and fanatical cruelty.

You are not supposed to say out loud what I am about to write, but if the young men had attacked government offices, there would probably have been no national and international solidarity campaign on behalf of these political prisoners. Or they would simply have been tortured to death or subjected to extrajudicial executions. If the Networkers had gone to jail for direct actions, a good number of Russian “anarchists” and “antifascists” would have disowned them, stigmatized them, urged others not to help them, and denounced them to western socialists. This was what really happened to the Underground Anarchists a hundred years ago: they were condemned by their “allies,” who wanted to go legal and curried favor with the Red despots.  The same thing has happened in our time: there were anarchists who hated on the young Belarusians sentenced to seven years in prison for setting fire to the KGB office in Bobruisk, the political refugees in the Khimki Forest case, the persecuted activists of the Popular Self-Defense, and Mikhail Zhlobitsky. Or, for example, some of the people in the ABTO (Autonomous Combat Terrorist Organization) case, who were sent down for many years for arson attacks: they were tortured and accused of “terrorism,” and we had to work hard to scrape away the mud tossed at them by the state and “progressive” society. Oddly enough, the attitude of “thinking people” to “incorrect” political prisoners is matched by the Russian government’s refusal to exonerate Fanny Kaplan or the revolutionaries who blew up the Bolshevik Party city committee office on Leontievsky Lane in Moscow on September 25, 1919. (After the bloodshed in Moscow in 1993, however, Yeltsin made the populist move of exonerating the people involved in the Kronstadt Rebellion.)

One of the places we should look for the roots of the savage trial of the Penza prisoners is the disgusting newspeak that people in the RF have been taught—”the president’s orders have not been implemented,” “the government has sent a signal,” “the annexation of Crimea,” “the conflict in Donbass,” “the clash in the Kerch Strait,” “s/he claims s/he was tortured,” “s/he claims the evidence was planted,” “the terrorists of the People’s Will,” “Chechen terrorists,” “the Russophobe Stomakhin,” “the neo-Nazi Astashin,” “the guerrilla band in the Maritime Territory,” “the terrorist attack in Arkhangelsk,” and so on.

Various people, including people from the anarchist scene, have written that the Network Case has shattered them and the people they know. If this is so, it is even worse than the outrageous criminal case itself. Yes, I am a living person, too, and yes, I find it very hard myself. But we cannot let the circumstances bend and break us: this is exactly what they want. This is especially the case if you are a consistent foe of systematic oppression, if you are an anarchist. Really, people, what would you do if the regime launched a truly massive crackdown on dissenters of the kind we have seen in the past, from tsarist Russia to Erdogan’s Turkey, from America at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to the Iran of the ayatollahs? However, a massive crackdown would entail having a mass liberation movement, something that does not exist in today’s Russia. By the way, it would appear that our half-strangled semi-free media have been doing an excellent job of spreading fear among the atomized masses by regaling them with stories of the state’s repressive policies, of its crimes and nefarious undertakings, instead of using the news to instill people with righteous anger.

We can assume that the brutal verdict in the Network Case and other instances of rough justice on the part of the state will have direct consequences for the Kremlin both at home and abroad. Generally speaking, evil is not eternal. Over time, people will be able to overcome their disunity, believe in themselves, and finally destroy the thousand-year-old kingdom of oppression. “The jailed will sprout up as bayonets.”

politzeki1“Russia’s political prisoners: the jailed will sprout up as bayonets.” A banner hung over Nevsky Prospect in Petersburg by the Pyotr Alexeyev Resistance Movement (DSPA) in August 2012. Photo courtesy of Zaks.ru

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

Elena Zaharova
Facebook
February 10, 2020

I don’t understand.

You can throw a brick at me, you can ban me, you can do what you like, but I don’t get you. Why this sudden mass fainting spell? When the authorities started abducting, murdering, and imprisoning the Crimean Tatars in 2014, you didn’t notice. Okay, you couldn’t care less about Crimea and Ukraine. The authorities have long been imprisoning members of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Kazan and Bashkortostan, but there’s the rub—we defend Jehovah’s Witnesses, not Hizbites. And the authorities have been sentencing the Crimean Tatars and the Hizbites to ten years, twenty years, twenty-two years in prison. But you haven’t heard about that. And suddenly today you say, “Oh the horror!!! It’s fascism!!!”

It’s the same with the Constitution. The authorities long ago trampled it into the dust, killing it off with Federal Law No. 54 [on “authorization” for  demonstrations and public rallies] and giving us the heave-ho. No one noticed. For the last couple of weeks, however, everyone has been calling on people to defend the Constitution—that is, to defend what it is written in a booklet that everyone was too lazy to read before.

Need I mention the wars no one has noticed yet?

Only don’t remind me about the dozens of people who have been picketing outside the presidential administration building in Moscow for two years running. I have nothing but praise for them, but they are the exception.

Vladimir Akimenkov was one of the defendants in the Bolotnaya Square Case and currently raises money for Russian political prisoners and their families. Elena Zaharova is an anti-war and civil rights activist. Translated by the Russian Reader

Oleg Sentsov: “Don’t Believe Putin”

sentsovOleg Sentsov and David Sassoli at the Sakharov Prize award ceremony. Photo courtesy of Deutsche Welle

“Don’t Believe Putin,” or, What Advice Sakharov Prize Winner Sentsov Gave the European Union
Yuri Sheyko
Deutsche Welle
November 26, 2019

Andrei Sakharov, Nelson Mandela… Oleg Sentsov could never have imagined his name would be on a par with these people.

“This is a great honor and a great responsibility,” the Ukrainian filmmaker said during his appearance at the European Parliament.

It was there on November 26 that he was finally given the Sakharov Prize he had been awarded in 2018. This was the second award ceremony. There was an empty chair in the plenary hall in Strasbourg a year ago because Sentsov was still being held in a Russian penal colony. After the exchange of prisoners between Ukraine and Russia in early September, the European Parliament held a new ceremony in which the Ukrainian was able to participate.

Sentsov Warns EU Politicians
The ceremony on Tuesday was simple. The president of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, spoke before yielding the floor to the prizewinner. Sentsov briefly mused about what the Sakharov Prize meant to him before quickly segueing to his main message.

“There is a lot of talk nowadays about reconciliation with Russia, about negotiations. I don’t believe Putin, and I would urge you not to believe him. Russia and Putin will definitely deceive you. They don’t want peace in Donbass, they don’t want peace for Ukraine. They want to see Ukraine on its knees,” Sentsov said.

His words were in stark contrast to the high expectations for the summit of the so-called Normandy Four, scheduled for December 9 in Paris, as well as French President Emmanuel Macron’s desire to normalize relations with Russia. Sentsov thus had advice for all EU politicians.

He said that every time one of them thought about extending the hand of friendship to Putin over the heads of Ukrainians, they should also think about every one of the thirteen thousand people who have perished in the war in Donbass, about the Ukrainian political prisoners still held in Russia, about the Crimean Tatars, who face arrest at any minute in annexed Crimea, and about the Ukrainian soldiers “in the trenches, risking their lives for our freedom and your freedom.”

Laconic as usual, Sentsov spoke for less than five minutes, but it was enough to elicit applause from both MEPs and visitors. The balcony was nearly full with visitors and journalists. Most MEPs were also present for the ceremony. There were only empty seats on the edges of the assembly hall, where left and right populists sit. Members of both groupings took their places several minutes after Sentsov left the dais so they could take part in voting.

Sentsov: “No Happy Ending”
The ceremony lasted less than half an hour: no speeches by or questions from MEPs were on the program. Many of them thought this was not enough, however, so the day before the ceremony, on the evening of November 25, the foreign affairs and development committees, along with the human rights subcommittee, which are responsible for the Sakharov Prize, hosted a conversation with Sentsov.

When Sentsov arrived at the event, MEPs lined up to greet him or have their picture taken with him. The session was thus delayed for five minutes or so.

Many of the MEPs who spoke at the meeting praised Sentsov’s courage.

“I admire and respect you not only for your courage, but also for your perseverance. You emerged a winner. And so we are very happy that you are free. By your example, you can inspire people to fight for freedom not only in Ukraine and Europe, but also around the world where there are dictatorships,” observed Sandra Kalniete, a Latvian MEP for the European People’s Party.

However, the praise did not make a big impression on the Ukrainian. He thanked the MEPs for supporting Ukraine in the struggle against Russian aggression, but reminded them the struggle was not over.

“There was no happy ending when I was released,” Sentsov said, reminding the MEPs that over one hundred Ukrainian political prisoners were still behind bars in Russia, and Russian-backed separatists in Donbass held over two hundred captives.

Sentsov’s Creative Plans
Kalniete’s voice was filled with emotion, and she even apologized for being so flustered. Perhaps it was emotion that made foreign affairs committee chair David McAllister mistakenly identify Sentsov as a “Russian” filmmaker, but he immediately corrected himself.

“As a Ukrainian filmmaker and writer, you have been a very harsh critic of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea,” McAllister said.

The MEPs peppered their guest with questions and requests for political advice, but after the first round of speeches by representatives of all the factions who wished to attend the event, Sentsov had nothing more to say.

McAllister decided to take a creative approach.

“There is a second round [of speeches] in this ‘movie.’ You’re a director, and I’m an actor, but this time it’s the other way around. You can say whatever you want, especially about your experience with the Russians,” he said.

After a few more questions, Sentsov no longer refrained from comment.

Speaking about the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, under which Ukraine relinquished the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal in exchange for assurances regarding its territorial integrity, Sentsov said, “Since they [Russian] took Crimea from us, they can return our bombs.”

If the MEPs had reacted enthusiastically to many of the Sakharov Prize laureate’s statements, there was a heavy silence in the room after he said this. Subsequently, he had to explain what he meant more than once. In an interview with Deutsche Welle, he assured us it had not been an “actual” proposal.

“It’s not a call to return [our] nuclear weapons, but an argument in negotiations: where it all began and what we need to get back to,” Sentsov underscored.

He believes negotiations in the Normandy and Minsk formats are a dead end, and sees the possibility of a real solution to the problem of Donbass and Crimea when Vladimir Putin ceases to be the president of Russia.

“And then Ukraine, Europe, and the whole world should be ready to take a tough stance on the return of those territories,” he said.

The MEPs also asked Sentsov about his plans for the future. The director confirmed he intends to finish shooting the film Rhino first. He interrupted work on the film when the Euromaidan protests, in which he was involved, kicked off. The director has written screenplays for five films, which he would like to shoot in five years. Sentsov warned, however, that he did not mix creative work with public life, so we should not expect him to make films about his time in prison, Maidan or Crimea.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Strategy 18: Solidarity with the Crimean Tatars

75446606_2661252097260912_2388569229000441856_o“Strategy 18 is three years old. Crimean Tatars, we are on your side.” Photograph courtesy of Yevgenia Litvinova

Yevgenia Litvinova
Facebook
November 18, 2019

Our indefinite campaign in support of the Crimean Tatars is three years old today.

Strategy 18 holds monthly solo pickets on the eighteenth day of every month in solidarity with the Crimean Tatars and provides daily updates on human rights violations in Crimea on its Facebook page and VK page.

Today we will again be going to Nevsky and standing with placards. My placard is shown on the photo, above.

The topic of this week’s picket is particularly sad: the Stalinist prison terms handed down to six Crimean Tartars on November 12:

  • Muslim Aliyev, 19 years
  • Inver Bekirov, 18 years
  • Emir-Usein Kuku, 12 years
  • Vadim Siruk, 12 years
  • Refat Alimov, 8 years
  • Arsen Jepparov, 7 years

We look forward to seeing everyone who sympathizes with the Crimean Tatars today, November 18, at 7:00 p.m., on the corner of Nevsky Prospect and Malaya Sadovaya Street. Join us!

_________________________________________________

Russia: Emir-Usein Kuku and five co-defendants from occupied Crimea slapped with long sentences
Amnesty International
12 November 2019

The Russian authorities have shown remarkable cruelty in sentencing Crimean human rights defender Emir-Usein Kuku and his five co-defendants to lengthy prison terms on trumped-up charges after lengthy unfair trial, said Amnesty International, reacting to today’s decision of the Southern District Military Court.

“This decision brings to a close what can only be described as a sham trial. Since they were arrested three years ago, Emir-Usein Kuku and his five co-defendants have faced a catalogue of grave injustices. They were shipped from their homes in Crimea to the Russian mainland, accused of ‘terrorist’ crimes, and tried in front of a military court,” said Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Director.

“Emir-Usein Kuku is behind bars simply for speaking out for the rights of the Crimean Tatar community. It is devastating that he has fallen victim to the overt repression of the occupying power. The Russian authorities must immediately quash the unjust convictions and release Emir-Usein and the other five men sentenced today.”

Background
On 12 November, the Southern District Military Court found Emir-Usein Kuku and five his co-defendants, Muslim Aliyev, Vadim Siruk, Enver Bekirov, Refat Alimov and Arsen Dzhepparov, guilty of “organizing of the activities of a terrorist organization” and “attempted forcible seizure of power” (Part 2 Article 205.5 and Article 30, Article 278 of Russian Criminal Code). Muslim Aliyev was sentenced up to 19 years in a penal colony, Enver Bekirov – to 18 years, Vadim Siruk and Emir-Usein Kuku – to 12 years each, Refat Alimov – to 8 years and Arsen Dzhepparov – to 7 years.

Emir-Usein Kuku is a human rights defender and prominent member of the local Crimean Tatar community in Crimea. After the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, he joined the Crimean Human Rights Contact Group, exposing evidence of coercion and threats to the members of the community. In February 2016, he was arrested and charged on the accusation that he was a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist movement that is banned as “terrorist” in Russia but not in Ukraine.

Five Crimean Tatars Sentenced to as Long as 17 Years in Prison in Rostov-on-Don

800px-Flag_of_the_Crimean_Tatar_people.svgThe Crimean Tatar national flag. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Five Crimean Tatars Sentenced to as Many as 17 Years in Prison in Rostov-on-Don
Anton Naumlyuk
Radio Svoboda
June 18, 2019

The North Caucasus Military Court in Rostov-on-Don has rendered a verdict in the Simferopol Hizb ut-Tahrir trial.

Five Crimean Tatars were detained after searches of their homes in October 2016. They were charged with involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization that has been banned in Russia. One of the five defendants, Teimur Abdullayev, was also charged with organizing cells for the organization in Simferopol.

During closing arguments, the prosecution has asked the court to sentence the defendants to between 11 and 17 years in prison. However, except for Abdullayev, who was sentenced to 17 years in a maximum-security prison camp, the other four defendants were given longer sentences than the prosecutor had requested. Uzeir Abdullayev was sentenced to 13 years in prison. Emil Jemandenov and Ayder Saledinov were sentenced to 12 years in prison, while Rustem Ismailov was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

The convicted men had pleaded innocent to the charges. Their defense team plans to appeal the verdict.

“We are not terrorists. We have not committed any crimes,” Uzeir Abdullayev said in his closing statement. “I would also like to say that the criminal case [against us] was a frame-up, a fabrication. The secret witness alone was proof of that—and he was proof of our innocence. […] I thus want to show that human rights are violated in Russia and you violate your own Constitution.”

Nearly 70 individuals have been arrested in Crimea, occupied by Russia since 2014, as part of the criminal investigation into Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization that is not illegal in Ukraine and most European countries. Most of the suspects and defendants in the case, include the Crimean Muslims convicted today, have been declared political prisoners by the International Memorial Society, an alliance of human rights organizations headquartered in Moscow.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Beat the Crimean Tatars, Save Russia!

simferopolThe defendants in the Simferopol Hizb ut-Tahrir trial in Rostov-on-Don. Photo courtesy of Crimean Solidarity and Krym.Realii

Numerous Searches Underway in Crimean Tatar Homes in Connection with “Terrorism” Case, Several Men Detained
OVD Info
June 10, 2019

Police have been carrying out numerous searches in the homes of Crimean Tatars in several Crimea towns and villages. One man has been charged with organizing a terrorist organization or involvement in one. This news was reported on the Facebook page of Crimean Solidarity activist Luftiye Zudiyeva and the movement’s official Facebook page.

It is known that four people have been detained. Eldar Kantimirov was taken from the village of Zarechnoye in an unknown direction. According to activists, he was charged with organizing a terrorist organization or involvement in one (Russian Criminal Code Article 205.2). The particulars of the case, like Kantimirov’s whereabouts and his official status in the case, are still unknown. They may have to do with the religious organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, which has been declared a terrorist organization in Russia.

Riza Omerov, who lives in Belogorsk, was taken to FSB headquarters. His sister is married to Rustem Ismailov, a defendant in the Simferopol Hizb ut-Tahrir trial. Omerov has three children. His wife, who is seven months pregnant, has now gone into premature labor.

Ayder Jepparov was detained in the village of Zuya in the Belogorsk District. He was also taken to FSB headquarters.

Eskender Suleymanov was detained in Stroganovka, a village in the Simferopol District. He is the brother of Ruslan Suleymanov, a defendant in the Hizb ut-Tahrir trial. The activist was taken to FSB headquarters in Simferopol.

The homes of Ruslan Mesutov, in the village of Maly Mayak, and Lenur Halilov, chair of the religious community in the village of Izobilnoye, both located in the Alushta District, were also searched.

UPDATE. Ruslan Mesutov has been detained. Like Eldar Kantimirov, he has been accused of involvement in a terrorist organization (Russian Criminal Code Article 205.5 Part 2).

Lenur Halilov has been accused of organizing terrorist activities (Russian Criminal Code 205.5 Part 1).

Ayder Jepparov, Riza Omerov, and Eskender Suleymanov remain in police custody. It is still not known whether they have been charged as part of the criminal case.

A search has also been underway in the home of Enver Omerov, Riza Omerov’s father. FSB officers stopped his car and detained him during the night. OVD Info has been unable to ascertain whether the security forces have released him.

FSB investigator Sergei Makhnev, who has been involved in the case of the second Simferopol Hizb ut-Tahrir group, led the search. Makhnev has already stated Suleymanov’s case would be incorporated into this case.

UPDATE 2. Crimean Solidarity has reported that Riza Omerov, Enver Omerov, Ayder Jepparov, and Eskender Suleymanov were remanded in custody until August 5.

Russia has declared Hizb ut-Tahrir a terrorist organization. Its members have been charged and sentenced to long terms in prison only for gathering at people’s homes, reading religious books, and recruiting new members.

According to numerous experts, Hizb ut-Tahrir was wrongly declared a terrorist organization since its members in Russia have never advocated violence or been involved in terrorist attacks.

_________________________________________________

Rostov: Prosecutors Ask Court to Sentence Simferopol Hizb ut-Tahrir Trial Defendants to 17 Years in Prison
Krym.Realii
June 10, 2019

Our correspondent reports the prosecution in the first Simferopol Hizb Ut-Tahrir trial has asked the North Caucasus Military District Court in Rostov-on-Don to sentence the defendants to long terms in prison camps.

The prosecutor asked that Teimur Abdullayev be sentenced to 17 years, Rustem Ismailov, to 13 years, Uzeir Abdullayev and Ayder Saledinov, to 12 years, and Emil Jemadenov, to 12 years.

On October 12, 2016, five homes in Crimea were searched by police and security services. Consequently, the five men currently on trial in Rostov-on-Don were detained and charged with involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization that was banned in Russia and Crimea, which Russia occupied in 2014.

On December 6, 2018, it transpired the five men had been transferred to a remand prison in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.

On February 19, 2019, a secret witness was interrogated during a hearing of the Simferopol Hizb ut-Tahrir case by the North Caucasus Military Court in Rostov-on-Don.

Hizb ut-Tahrir, an international Islamic political organization, says its mission is to unite all Muslim countries in an Islamic caliphate, but it rejects terrorism as a means of attaining their goal. They claim they have been unjustly persecuted in Russia and Crimea, which was occupied by Russia in 2014.

The Russian Supreme Court banned Hizb ut-Tahrir in 2003, placing it on a list of organizations deemed “terrorist.”

Defenders of the Crimeans convicted and arrested in the Hizb ut-Tahrir case argue they have been persecuted on religious grounds. Lawyers note that, while it has mainly been Crimean Tatars who have been persecuted by Russian law enforcement as part of the case, Ukrainian, Russians, Tajiks, Azeris, and non-Tatar Crimeans who practice Islam have also been persecuted.

International law forbids an occupying power from enforcing its own laws in occupied territory.

Translated by the Russian Reader

They Are Who They Are

gorzhush“Tomorrow, the whole world will write about this. I am proud of my profession. #FreeIvanGolunov…” Vedomosti.ru: Vedomosti, Kommersant, and RBC will for the first time…” Screenshot of someone’s social media page by Ayder Muzhdabaev. Courtesy of Ayder Muzhdabaev

Ayder Muzhdabaev
Facebook
June 9, 2019

Russia’s “liberal opposition journalists” have been vying to praise each other as they celebrate a feast of “disobedience.” They just stood in the crossfire, that is, in timid solo pickets. And now, risking having their offices torched, three newspapers have produced editions with the same headline in defense of a colleague detained by police on trumped-up charges.

They have never nor would they ever publish a newspaper with the headline “I Am/We Are Crimean Tatars,” a people their country has been murdering and imprisoning on trumped-up charges by the hundreds for the last five years.

They have never nor would they publish a newspaper with the headline “I Am/We Are Ukrainians,” a people their country has been murdering by the thousands and imprisoning by the hundreds on trumped-up charges for the last five years.

It suffices to say they would even find printing the headline “I Am/We Are Oleg Sentsov” terrifying. It would never occur to them because they know how life works in the Reich, where Ukrainians are “fascists,” and Crimean Tatars are “terrorists,” just like Oleg Sentsov. So “I-ing” and “we-ing” is taboo to them.

They are delicately integrated into the Russian Reich. They feel it in their bones. They are one of the regime’s vital props. The hybrid dictatorship badly needs to pretend there is a political struggle in Russia and the country has a free press. They help it in its quest to destroy the western world and attack other countries.

They always only do things that won’t get them in serious trouble. They would never do anything that poses the slightest risk of exposing them as real enemies of the Reich.

We enter this in #TheChroniclesOfTheRussianReich.

Translated by the Russian Reader

i-we

The front page of Vedomosti, June 10, 2019: “I Am/We Are Golunov.” Courtesy of Vedomosti

Joint Communique on the Ivan Golunov Case by the Editors of Vedomosti, Kommersant, and RBC 
We Demand Maximum Transparency from Investigation
Vedomosti
June 9, 2019

Ivan Golunov, an investigative reporter with Meduza, was detained on June 6 on suspicion of attempting to produce and distribute narcotics.

We welcome the fact that the court has ordered house arrest for Golunov rather than remanding him in custody in a pretrial detention facility.

However, we do not find the evidence of Golunov’s guilt, as provided by police investigators, convincing, while the circumstances of his arrest raise serious doubts that laws were not broken in the conduct of the initial investigation.

We cannot rule out the possibility that Golunov’s arrest has something to do with his work as a journalist.

We demand a detailed inquiry into whether the Interior Ministry officers who were complicit in Golunov’s arrest acted legally. We insist that the outcome of this inquiry be provided to the media.

We expect law enforcement to comply strictly with the law. We demand maximum transparency from the investigation. We will closely monitor the investigation’s progress. We encourage relevant public organizations to join us.

We believe implementation is fundamentally important not only to Russa’s journalism community but also to Russian society as a whole. We demand that everyone obey the law and the law be obeyed with regard to everyone.

Translated by the Russian Reader

upside down cake

Pineapple upside-down cake. Stock photo

Nearly the entire leftist and liberal Russian intelligentsia have thrown their ferocious but scattered energies into a campaign to free a well-known journalist on whom the cops planted narcotics. It is obviously a frame-up and rightly makes folks in the world’s largest country indignant.

But it also makes people think they are fighting the good fight when most of the fights they should be fighting or should have been fighting long ago they ignore altogether, like the fight against what their own government and armed forces have been doing in Syria, or the kangaroo court trials against antifascists in Penza and Petersburg (the so-called Network trials), and the alleged (Muslim Central Asian) accomplices of the alleged suicide bomber who, allegedly, blew himself up in the Petersburg subway in April 2017.

I shouldn’t even mention the case of the so-called New Greatness “movement,” an “extremist group” set up, concocted, and encouraged from its miserable start to inglorious finish by the FSB (the newfangled KGB). Its so-called members did nothing but attend a couple of “political” discussions organized by the selfsame FSB.

All these young people have been framed, and many of them have plausibly claimed they were tortured by FSB officers into “confessing.”

That is, whole groups of innocent people (mind you, I am only scratching the surface here, leaving out scores if not hundreds if not thousands of the regime’s other victims at home and abroad) have been railroaded by the mighty Putinist state, but they have not been granted an audience, so to speak, by progressive Russian society because progressive Russian society cannot identify with any of them in any way.

But it can identify with the nice white middle-class reporter from Moscow. And it does want to remind itself of its essential goodness and compassion from time to time, so everyone has jumped on the bandwagon to get the reporter out of jail.

Or, rather, everyone has engaged in a frenzy of virtue signaling that may not actually get him out of jail.

Bully for them, but no one notices that many of these grassroots campaigns are patterned like hysterias and moral panics. They are also identical to other suddenly emergent internet-powered fads, like the recent craze for Game of Thrones or “Facebook flash mobs” that involve, say, posting a picture of yourself from twenty years ago and explaining what you were up to way back then.

It has to be something, anything, except the things that matter a million times more, like the Russia air force’s endless bombing of Syrian children and Syrian hospitals, and the Putin regime’s endless, vicious hunt for “extremists” and “terrorists” like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Network “terrorists,” the “New Greatness” extremists, the conspicuously othered (and, thus, forgotten) Petersburg subway “terrorists,” and on and on.

These witch hunts are discussed publicly by virtually no one, and their victims (this is especially the case with the Central Asian “subway bombers”) are mostly left to fend for themselves.

What matters about the reporter is that he is white, innocent, and “one of us.” Apparently, he doesn’t believe in “extremist” nonsense like anti-fascism, anarchism, Islam or Jehovah’s Witness doctrine.

The reaction to the case is a symptom of liberalism that is utterly white and nationalist, meaning it is not liberalism at all.

It is white nationalism with a human face, Great Russian chauvinism turned upside down.

“They cannot do this to one of us.”

But “they” have done to it to thousands of non-white, non-Russian others over the years, including Chechens, antifascists, Syrians, Crimean Tatars, businessmen, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Krasnodar’s farmers, truckers, environmentalists, anarchists, LGBTQ+ activists, Central Asian migrant workers, Ukrainians, anti-“reunification” Crimeans, the passengers of MH17, US voters, etc.

Almost no one batted an eye when they were “destroyed” (this is the regime’s pet dehumanizing verb for when it murders or obliterates its enemies), neutralized or otherwise royally fucked over by the Putin regime.

It is all over but the shouting unless the shouting quickly becomes a lot more inclusive. June 9, 2019 || THE RUSSIAN READER

redman.JPGPhoto by the Russian Reader

“This is too much, even for Russia.”
Meduza editor on BBC Radio 4 morning news broadcast, commenting on the arrest of Meduza reporter Ivan Golunov, 9 June 2019

But declaring all Jehovah’s Witnesses “extremists” and organizing a witch hunt against them is not too much, “even for Russia”?

I had it with Meduza after the hamfisted, blatantly misogynist way it handled its recent in-house #MeToo scandal. The scandal revealed the actual shallowness of the website’s liberalism.

Of course, Meduza should defend its reporter from police railroading.

But the fact it has managed to make the story go international in a matter of days and then, using this bully pulpit, suggest there is nothing worse going on in Russia than Golunov’s persecution, also reveals something about the depth of its liberalism or, rather, about what passes for liberalism in Russia.

Unlike liberalism in other countries, Russian liberalism has no time for anybody but the rather narrow segment of Russians it recognizes as full-fledged human beings.

I would guess this amounts to less than one percent of the entire population, but I am probably being too generous. June 9, 2019 || THE RUSSIAN READER

crisisRussia does not have to worry about a crisis of democracy. There is no democracy in Russia nor is the country blessed with an overabundance of small-d democrats. The professional classes, the chattering classes, and much of the underclass, alas, have become accustomed to petitioning and beseeching the vicious criminal gang that currently runs Russia to right all the country’s wrongs and fix all its problems for them instead of jettisoning the criminal gang and governing their country themselves, which would be more practically effective. Photo by the Russian Reader

Free the Network case defendants, the Jehovah’s Witnesses facing charges and the ones already doing jail time, ditto for the Crimean Tatars, Oleg Sentsov and Alexander Kolchenko, the Ukrainian sailors, Yuri Dmitriev, the Petersburg subway bombing defendants, the myriads of Russian businessmen in prison after they were set up by rivals and taken down by the FSB for a good price, the New Greatness kids, and hundreds of other Russian “outlaws” whose names I cannot remember or, worse, have never heard.

Free them first, and the day after you free them, free Ivan Golunov.

While you are at it, stop making war in Eastern Ukraine and stop bombing innocent Syrians. And bring the people responsible for shooting down Flight MH17 and killing everyone on board to justice.

The day after you have done all these things, free Ivan Golunov.

But don’t be such arrogant, self-important pricks as to appear on the world’s most respected radio and TV network and claim the Golunov case is the worst thing that has happened under Putin’s reign.

Anna Politkovskaya was murdered, for God’s sake. And so were Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova.

I could start another list of reporters, activists, politicians, etc., who were murdered, probably on the orders of the Kremlin or with its blessing, over the last twenty years.

Boris Nemtsov was murdered only a few hundred meters from the Kremlin.

God forbid I should mention “convicted pedophile” Sergei Koltyrin. Even the most hardcore human rights advocates in Russia have abandoned him and made mention of his name taboo, although I am reasonably certain he was set up just like the saint-like Ivan Golunov, only on charges so devastating that his former allies abandoned him and he abandoned himself to the nonexistent mercies of Russia’s nonexistent justice system.

But, definitely, the worse thing that has happened under Putin’s reign is the house arrest of Meduza reporter Ivan Golunov on what are undoubtedly trumped-up drug charges. June 9, 2019 || THE RUSSIAN READER

barney fife

P.S. As I was assembling this collage of reflections inspired by the collective hysteria among the Russian liberal intelligentsia over reporter Ivan Golunov’s dubious arrest, it occurred to me that, perhaps, my own reaction and that of Ayder Muzhdabaev, whose “outburst” leads off this montage, were not sufficiently charitable.

But then I read and translated what the editors of Kommersant, RBC, and Vedomosti published on the front pages of their newspapers today. Their milquetoast appeal to Russian law enforcement—a multi-headed hydra that has spent the last thirty years proving again and again it is one of the most brutal, vicious criminal gangs in the world, an army of thugs who routinely terrorize the people they have sworn to protect, a mob of degenerates who will stop at nothing, including the routine use of torture, to get their man—sounds more like an appeal to US TV sitcom cops Barney Miller and Barney Fife.

Do these hardened (?) newspaper reporters really believe an appeal like this will have a real effect on the investigation of Golunov’s nonexistent crimes?

It is also worth remembering (as Sergey Abashin did on his Facebook page earlier today) that the free press warriors at Kommersant recently fired a reporter for writing negative comments about Valentina Matviyenko, formerly Putin’s satrap in Petersburg, currently chair of the Federation Chamber, which rubber-stamps all the odious, wildly unconstitutional laws sent its way. In protest at the firing, the newspaper’s entire political desk immediately resigned as well.

That, by the way, is real solidarity, although it probably won’t get them their jobs back, quite the opposite.

Meanwhile, RBC has been a shell of its former militant self after its owners fired three top editors three years ago and, again, a whole slew of reporters resigned along with them.

RBC used to have an investigative reporting desk that would be the envy of any newspaper anywhere in the world. Nowadays, it mostly reports the kinds of “news” its oligarch owners and the Kremlin want it to report.

The 2011–2012 fair elections protests were mostly an extended exercise in virtue signaling and “creativity,” not a serious attempt by the grassroots to force the Kremlin to hold fair elections, much less to attempt regime change. Russian society has paid heavily for its frivolousness then.

Why, then, has it not yet figured out what its foe is really like? Why does it appeal for justice and fairness to authorities who have proven beyond a reasonable doubt they are hardened criminals? Finally, why does it imagine that reposting Ivan Golunov’s articles on Facebook is real solidarity? Does it think the regime will fall if, say, a million people repost these articles? Five million?

Photo of Don Knotts as Barney Fife courtesy of Wikipedia

Alexander Verkhovsky: Russia’s Campaign Against “Religious Extremism”

yaltinskoe_delo_hizb_ut_tahrir_1.jpgRussia has used its official ban on the Muslim movement Hizb ut-Tahrir to go after Crimean Tatars in occupied Crimea, such as these six men, charged in the so-called Yalta Case. The fact that the defendants are neither terrorists nor members of Hizb ut-Tahrir has not stopped Russian authorities from prosecuting them for these imaginary crimes. Courtesy of Crimean Tatar Resource Center

Russia’s Campaign Against “Religious Extremism” Has Been Expanding: It Should Be Reined In
Alexander Verkhovsky
Nezavisimaya Gazeta
March 5, 2019

The dramatic events of recent weeks surrounding the Jehovah’s Witnesses, including the harsh prison sentence handed down to Dennis Christensen, and the torture of detained believers in Surgut, make us wonder how unique what has been happening to them has been.

First, we should recall the bare facts. The Russian authorities have banned numerous texts published by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, including their translation of the Bible into Russian. All their local branches have been banned and their property confiscated. More than forty criminal cases are underway, cases in which 120 people, aged 23 to 84, have been charged. Twenty-five of those charged have been remanded in custody. All of them have been charged with going on with the work of a banned “extremist” organization (punishable under Article 282.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code), although this amounted only to holding prayer meetings and group discussions

The Russian Supreme Court decided to ban the Jehovah’s Witnesses completely on April 20, 2017. Criminal cases based on the ban were launched a year later, that is, over a hundred suspects were charged in a matter of ten months, and yet not a single case has gone to court yet.

In fact, Christensen was convicted on the basis of an earlier ban of a local Jehovah’s Witness branch. There were eight such bans of local branches. Unlike his co-religionists, convicted earlier under the same ban, Christensen was sentenced to actual prison time. After the so-called Yarovaya package was adopted by the Russian parliament, he had to be sentenced to no less than six years in prison, and this was what happened. It should make us extremely concerned about what will happen to current and future suspects, especially the ones now jailed in remand prisons.

But what has happened to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia is not unique. In exactly the same way, the peaceable followers of the fundamentalist movement Tablighi Jamaat and the peaceable followers of the quite moderate Turkish theologian Said Nursi have been banned in Russia and persecuted under the same law in the Russian Criminal Code.

The pattern was the same. First, the texts published by the groups were banned because, allegedly, they claimed the superiority of their religious doctrines to others and contained hostile descriptions of non-believers. Then, the organizations themselves were banned for the same reasons, including using the banned texts in their worship services. Finally, the Russian authorities prosecuted believers for “going on with the work” of their now-banned organizations. Moreover, the courts usually gave defendants probation sentences at first. Subsequently, however, people convicted on the same charges were sent to prison and the sentences handed down were harsher.

The Muslim activists were also tortured by Russian law enforcement. The current shock over events in Surgut can be put down to the fact that Russian society is in some sense inured to the torture of Muslims suspected of “radicalism.”

The Russian Supreme Court banned all three groups: the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the followers of Said Nusri, and Tablighi Jamaat. For some reason, it paid no mind to the fuzzy definition of “extremism” to which it resorted in all three rulings. It is true that all three religious doctrines claim only their way is the true way and that all other ways are false, and their texts occasionally contain rather harsh descriptions of non-believers. The current Russian legal definition of “extremism” is such that these things can be considered evidence of “extremism,” but you could find more or less the same things in nearly all religious doctrines. Such claims are typical of confessions of faith, and, as such, they are protected by the Russian Constitution.

With regard to criminal cases of incitement to hatred, including religious hatred, in 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that criticism of religious convictions, religious rituals, and religious groups is not a criminal offense. For some reason, however, this ruling has not been applied in civil cases banning religious literature and organizations, although the conflict between the procedure for banning religious “extremism” and Russia’s constitutionally enshrined freedom of conscience is striking. Perhaps unraveling this conflict is a job for the Russian Constitutional Court?

Returning to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, we should again pay attention to the scale of their persecution. The number of accused Jehovah’s Witnesses in terms of one calendar year has been much greater than the numbers of the two Muslim groups mentioned. It is more comparable to the persecution of the radical movement Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islaami.

Hizb ut-Tahrir was banned in 2003 as a terrorist group, although it has not been implicated in terrorism. The Russian authorities were clearly in a hurry to ban it, so the actual danger it posed or did not pose to the constitution was not even at issue. Members of the movement have been charged under the anti-terrorist laws in the criminal code, and so their prison sentences have been even harsher. But there are similarities with the other religious groups we have been discussing: participating in group gatherings and reading the same texts were offered as evidence of their criminal deeds.

Another serious conflict emerges in this case between the Russian Constitution and the articles in the Russian Criminal Code dealing with “extremist” (Article 282.2) and “terrorist” (Article 205.5) groups. Let us assume for simplicity’s sake that a group has been banned altogether legitimately. When this happens, the group’s formal and informal members are obliged to honor the court’s ban. But they have not changed their views, and they still associate with the same group of people. It is likely they would want to discuss what to do in the circumstances: perhaps, for example, establishing a new group based on slightly different principles. If we are dealing with a dangerous group that has been rightfully outlawed, such discussions and meetings could not help but interest the police and security services, but they are hardly criminal in their own right, for these people have not been deprived of their basic civic rights, including the right to assemble. Besides, not only active members could take part in these meetings but also outsiders, and yet law enforcement does not especially distinguish between the two groups of people in practice.

These problems are more apparent when we speak of religious communities. The Russian Constitution enshrines the right to practice one’s religion both alone and in the company of others. The work of any religious organization mainly consists in praying together and other joint activities, such as confessing and preaching as part of religious services. If a religious association has been banned, its members are in effect barred from exercising their constitutional right. If Russia’s current anti-“extremist” laws are meant to enact such severe restrictions of a fundamental human right, this have never been explicitly stated. So, again, one would like the Russian Constitutional Court to issue a clarification. It is, after all, a matter of tens of thousands of Russian nationals potentially facing criminal charges.

Since there have not been any clarifications, and the current crackdown has only been picking up steam, many have wondered how it happened. There is hardly a single, simple answer to this question. We might say that in their campaign against potentially dangerous movements, the Russian authorities have gone much too far and made a considerable number of mistakes. One of the reasons is that they listened to politically and religiously biased “experts,” and they continue to heed their advice, judging by the way the anti-“extremist” campaign has progressed in the religious realm. Our many years of experience with these cases have shown that counterarguments by religious studies scholars and legal experts rarely reverse the current tendency. They prove useful only when the authorities are willing to listen to them for reasons of their own.

The growing campaign against the Jehovah’s Witnesses has been horrifying, but there is also the chance that this time someone in the elite will finally come to their senses and change their mind. The Jehovah’s Witnesses clearly pose no threat whatsoever to Russian national security. Moreover, it is clearly just as impossible to eradicate their religion in Russia, since it would be wrong to jail or force over 100,000 people to emigrate, especially since Russia’s Jehovah’s Witnesses did not give up their faith in the worst of times.

The problem, however, is whether the officials who make key decisions about large-scale crackdowns could find acceptable means for reconsidering their earlier decisions. If this does happen, it matters, given the constitutional conflicts described above, whether anti-“extremist” policies will be reconsidered, if only in the religious realm.

Alexander Verkhovsky is director of the SOVA Information and Analysis Center. Thanks to Nikolay Mitrokhin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Free Edem Bekirov!

15447318032279451Edem Bekirov.  Photo courtesy of Vector News

Ayder Muzhdabaev
Facebook
December 28, 2018

Watch the footage we shot of Edem Bekirov. Then read what the well-known Kyiv musician Mitya Gerasimov has written.

“I’m sitting in my parents’ kitchen in Kazan. In its news bulletin, Echo of Moscow, a supposedly liberal radio station, reports that a terrorist has been detained on the Crimean border, the member of an armed band. He has been accused of storing and transporting weapons and explosives. His name is not mentioned, but it is clear they are talking about our friend Edem Bekirov, a Crimean Tatar from Novooleksiivka in Kherson Region.

“Edem is an ill, elderly man who has had heart bypass operations and a leg amputated due to diabetes. Before the latest operation, he went to Kyiv to see his mom. On the border, he was abducted by men in masks. For a time, nothing was known about his whereabouts. Then they let him call home from the FSB’s Simferopol office. He had not been given anything to eat or drink for two days or been taken to the bathroom. He was not permitted to take bandages to dress the unhealed wound on his stump or the medicines that keep him alive. He needs to take sixteen pills a day.

“The Russian authorities have been slowly killing Edem in a remand prison for over two weeks. The day before yesterday, the so-called court dismissed the appeal in his case. The radio reports the detained man associated with the terrorist group led by Lenur Islamov. They apparently meant the Crimean Tatar TV channel ATR, where Edem’s daughter works.

“Everyone knows Crimean Tatars do not kill anyone or carry out terrorist attacks. They have a principled stance of nonviolent resistance to the occupiers. The cartridges and twelve kilos of explosives that Edem, one-legged and ill, was supposedly taking somewhere is the same nonsense they made up about the so-called terrorist militant Oleg Sentsov. I remember watching Russian television in early 2014, before the annexation. It was footage of Grushevsky Street in Kyiv: Molotov cocktails, burning tires, snowdrifts. The announcer explained to viewers they were seeing Crimean Tatars rioting in Simferopol.

“There is the pre-New Year’s hustle and bustle on the streets of our cities: lanterns, New Year’s trees, shopping, traffic jams. Like many other Crimean political prisoners, Edem Bekirov will ring in his new year behind bars. We must do everything we can to publicize his plight. We have to shout about it on every street corner. We have to get him out of jail before it’s too late.”

That is the Happy New Year we are having.

Translated by the Russian Reader