“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

Psychiatry as a Tool of Political Repression in Crimea

Elena Lysenko
A picket for the release of Crimean lawyer Emil Kurbedinov on 31 January 2017 in Simferopol, Ukraine. Photo by Elena Lysenko

Psychiatry as a Tool of Political Repression in Crimea
Madeline Roache
Special to The Russian Reader
April 9, 2017

Lawyers and human rights activists claim the Russian authorities in annexed Crimea have been persecuting human rights activists, most of whom belong to the Muslim Crimean Tatar community. The Crimean Tatars, who make up about 15% of Crimea’s population, have vocally opposed Russia’s occupation of the Ukrainian peninsula since February 2014. As a result, the group has been specially targeted by Russian authorities. Many Crimean Tatars have been forced to leave the region to avoid harassment and arbitrary arrest.

According to a new report, presented on March 23 by Ukrainian advocacy group Crimea SOS, a total of 43 local activists have been abducted since Russian troops occupied Crimea in February 2014—allegedly, by the Russian authorities and their accomplices. Eighteen of those who were abducted are still missing and six have been found dead.

Robert van Voren, a Dutch human rights activist and political scientist, said that, since the annexation, many Crimean Tatar activists who oppose the occupation have been arrested and subjected to abuse and imprisonment in psychiatric institutions.

“Since the annexation of Crimea, Russian authorities have prosecuted and forced into exile virtually all those who oppose the Russian occupation, including key leaders and activists within the Crimean Tatar community”, he said.

Emil Kurbedinov, a prominent Crimean lawyer, told the Guardian that, between December 2016 and March 2017, twelve Crimean activists were forcibly admitted to psychiatric hospitals in Crimea. Four of them remain in hospital, while the rest have either been transferred to prison or discharged.

According to Kurbedinov, Crimean activists are treated in a degrading way and face appalling conditions in psychiatric hospitals.

“Some are placed in isolation and are denied their basic needs, such as access to a toilet. Others are housed with numerous people suffering from severe mental illnesses. The activists are interrogated about their alleged involvement in ‘extremism’ and their views of the government. They are also deprived of the right to speak with their families or meet their lawyers on a one-to-one basis without a guard being present. All of this violates international law,” he said.

All of the Crimean activists were arrested on suspicion of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, which Russia, unlike Ukraine and other countries, has declared a terrorist group. The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG) asserts there is no evidence to suggest the organisation has anything to do with terrorism, nor is there any proof the men were even involved in the group.

Kurbedinov says their arrest was illegal and a breach of protocol, as it was not sanctioned by a judge but ordered by a police investigator.

According to KHPG, a further 19 Crimean activists are currently in custody, accused of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir. Memorial, a Russian human rights organization, has declared all the activists in custody political prisoners. KHPG claims that one of the detainees, Emir Kuku, was most likely arrested due to his work for the Crimean Contact Group on Human Rights, which provides legal assistance and support to members of Muslim groups.

Last year, Kurbedinov defended Ilmi Umerov, a Crimean Tatar activist who openly opposed the Russian occupation. Umerov was sent against his will to a psychiatric hospital in August 2016. Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) detained Umerov in May 2016 in the Bakhchysarai District and charged him with separatism. Umerov is also a representative in the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, an elected body that was suspended by Moscow after it annexed Crimea. Human Rights Watch heavily criticized the case, calling it “a shameful attempt to use psychiatry to silence [Umerov] and tarnish his reputation.” Umerov was released twenty days after his confinement.

Kurbedinov argues that these cases have “acutely raised the issue of the vulnerability of ordinary citizens who have no civil rights whatsoever before the legal and judicial monolith.”

Soviet Psychiatry
The practice of punitive psychiatry in the present day is particularly disturbing given its historical use as a tool of rampant political repression the in the later decades of the Soviet era. Psychiatry was used to systematically confine and punish Soviet dissidents. However, under President Vladimir Putin, cases of the alleged political abuse of psychiatry have resurfaced, leading many to believe that the Soviet-era practice has returned.

The involuntary hospitalization of protestor Mikhail Kosenko in Russia in 2012, is just one of many modern-day cases that has been widely held up as an example of the political abuse of psychiatry. Kosenko was convicted on charges of rioting and assaulting a police officer during the Bolotnaya Square anti-Putin protests in Moscow on May 6, 2012. The case sparked international attention from human rights activists, who asserted the charges were fabricated and that Kosenko’s hospitalization was unnecessary.

The abuse of psychiatry in Russian criminal trials is not uncommon, according to Yuri Savenko, psychiatrist and head of the Independent Psychiatric Association (IPA) in Russia.

“Psychiatry is now frequently part of the procedure in criminal trials where there is no concrete evidence: it is more economical in terms of time and effort just to obtain a psychiatric diagnosis,” he says.

This disturbing phenomenon is of particular concern to the Federation Global Initiative on Psychiatry (FGIP), a human rights organization that protects human rights in mental healthcare. FGIP closely monitors the practice and is currently compiling a report about cases of psychiatric abuse in the post-Soviet states, to be published later this month.

Madeline Roache is a London-based freelance journalist focusing on human rights conditions in the former Soviet Union. Her work has been published in The Guardian, The Times of Central Asia, and Euromaidan Press.

Alexander Kolchenko and Oleg Sentsov Are Hostages

On Kolchenko and Sentsov’s Sentences
August 26, 2015
www.shiitman.ninja

179003Alexander Kolchenko and Oleg Sentsov

It is important to realize that the sentences that Kolchenko and Sentsov received are a fiction.

No one actually takes the charges against them seriously.

Even the most loyal Putinists do not take the charges seriously. What terrorism? What does the Right Sector have to do with any of this?

Kolchenko and Sentsov are hostages. Their being held in a Russian prison is an act of intimidation directed at the Crimeans who stayed home but could have fought back. Their being held in prison is an act of intimidation directed against all the people of Ukraine and those Russian citizens who could have supported them.

The trial was a fiction. The verdict is a fiction. That is why I reacted without emotion to the sentences, although I understand the shock felt by many comrades, among whom there are close friends of both Kolchenko and Sentsov. Twenty years and ten years in prison? The Russian judges could have give them sentences of forty years and twenty-five years. Or given both of them life sentences. Or given them each six months in prison, then retried the case. Or they could have not announced the verdict at all, but just laughed and made faces. Or mannequins dressed in judicial robes could have replaced the judges. Nobody would have noticed the difference.

Kolchenko and Sentsov are in prison as long as the Russian Federation is ruled by Putin’s repressive, aggressive authoritarian regime. They cannot be freed using lawyer’s tricks. They cannot be freed via “diplomatic channels.” They can be freed only by defeating Putinist Russia. Or if it “defeats” itself by choking on its own rage and madness.

And when that happens, it will not matter a whit what numbers have been written in Kolchenko and Sentsov’s sentences. It doesn’t matter what the judges whip up in Savchenko’s sentence. The release of the hostages does not depend on the actions of lawyers. It depends on politicans and military men. And, in part, on the price of petroleum.

As soon as the “Russian bear,” who has turned out to be a rabid rat, finally kicks the bucket, all the regime’s hostages will be freed.

Translated by The Russian Reader. As is nearly always the case, my opinions might not coincide entirely with those expressed by the authors whose texts I translate and post here. But it has been strange to read the angry reactions of leftist progressive Russian comrades to this particular text given the almost total lack of any visible, public solidarity with Sentsov and Kolchenko on their part.

I won’t even go into the haziness they and many other “ordinary” “apolitical” Russian citizens experience when figuring out who to blame for the whole mess in Ukraine. But this is the privilege all imperialist, metropolitan peoples enjoy: pretending not to know or understand what is being done in their name somewhere else in the world.

_________

Russia’s Sentsov–Kolchenko case “an absolutely Stalinist trial”
Halya Coynash
August 21, 2015
khpg.org

The prosecutor has demanded 23 years for Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov, and 12 years for civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko in a case with no crime and where all evidence was obtained through torture. Russian human rights activist Zoya Svetova likens this to Stalinist repression, not a court trial.

Svetova has seen a huge number of trials over the last 15 years, but nothing like the “absolutely insane hearing” on Aug 19. She can’t remember a case where, with no elements of a crime, or criminal (terrorist) acts, the prosecutor should be seriously demanding 23-year and 12-year sentences. This, the fact that everybody expects the court on August 25 to convict two innocent men, and much more, she says, is reminiscent of Stalinist repressions where people were arrested for nothing.

Sentsov is charged with leading a ‘terrorist organization,’ Kolchenko of taking part in it and involvement in one specific firebomb attack on a pro-Russian organization active in helping Russia seize control of Crimea in 2014.  There is no evidence that an organization even existed, and the only specific charge against Kolchenko is one that has not previously been classified by any Russian court as ‘terrorism.’

“The prosecutor is demanding 23 and 12 years for people accused of crimes they didn’t commit. Today Sentsov and Kolchenko’s lawyers clearly demonstrated that there are no elements of a crime in this case, nor any criminal act. On August 19, 2015, I saw a totally Stalinist trial. Three judges were sitting there, a real ‘troika,’ with cold, virtually dead eyes who were listening to the prosecutor and the lawyers,” Svetova writes here.

Another of the disturbingly Stalinist features of this case has been the fixation on some demonized organization, in this case the far-right and nationalist Right Sector. Russia has constantly exaggerated this organization’s role in both Euromaidan and subsequent events in Ukraine.  There was even a Russian media attempt on the night of the Ukrainian presidential elections on May 25, 2014, to claim distortion of the election result after the Right Sector candidate gained a pitiful 0.9% of the votes. It was therefore no surprise that five days after those elections, the FSB should have claimed that it had uncovered a supposed Right Sector ‘terrorist plot.’  It has never produced any evidence at all, nor did any of the witnesses for the prosecution even demonstrate a clear understanding of what the Right Sector is, although they were all convinced it was dangerous, etc.  There is nothing to link Sentsov, the left-wing and anarchist Kolchenko or Gennady Afanasyev with the far-right organization. In court on Wednesday, the prosecutor Oleg Tkachenko changed their story, saying that Sentsov and Kolchenko are not accused of membership in Right Sector, but of having “taken on the ideology of this organization as a guide for action.” What this means remains a mystery since the court has not demonstrated any interest in seeking clarification on this subject or with respect to the numerous other discrepancies in the prosecution’s case.

At the final hearing on Wednesday, the defence demolished all of the charges against the two men, then Dmitry Dinze, Sentsov’s lawyer, read out the account given by Gennady Afanasyev of how he had been tortured to get him to testify against Sentsov.

As reported, Afanasyev and Oleksy Chirniy were arrested at the same time as Sentsov and Kolchenko.  Their ‘confessions’ and testimony are literally all that the charges against Sentsov are based on. It is therefore of critical importance that Afanasyev retracted his testimony on July 31, stating that it had been given under duress.  He then spoke for the first time to a lawyer not provided by the investigators and gave a detailed account of the torture applied immediately after his arrest, and also the pressure placed on him to repeat this testimony in court. As well as threats against him, a FSB officer who appeared at the prison warned him that his mother “could have an accident” if he didn’t cooperate.

All of this information was read to the court. The judges simply looked down and did not react in any way, and the prosecutor continued to demand 23 and 12 years.  It should be stressed that the details in Afanasyev’s account fully coincide with those given by Sentsov, and Chirniy is also known to have told the Ukrainian consul that he had been forced to ‘confess.’

Unlike the players in this modern-day show trial, the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre has taken Afanasyev’s account seriously.  On August 19, it issued a statement recognizing Afanasyev as a political prisoner and warning of the danger he is now in. This follows a similar statement and damning assessment of the ‘trial’ of Sentsov and Kolchenko.

Sentsov’s final statement was, as all previous statements, courageous and moving. So too was Kolchenko’s, who spoke of the fact that the court had heard about the use of threats and torture by the FSB against Sentsov and Afanasyev.

“It’s interesting that people using such methods to obtain testimony have no qualms about accusing us of terrorism.”

He called the charges against them fabricated and politically motivated, and said that this trial, like those against Nadiya Savchenko, the Bolotnaya Square protester, and others are aimed at extending the life of the current regime.

“Yet throwing us in prison, this regime speeds up its end, and those people who still yesterday believed in law and order, today, watching such trials, have lost that faith. And tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, those people who are part of the 86 percent [supposedly supporting President Vladimir Putin – HC] will overturn this authoritarian regime.”

Kolchenko noted that, in the letter read out to the court, Afanasyev said that the FSB officer had told him that the day he gave testimony in court would be the most important day in his life.

“Seemingly, Afanasyev took those words to heart and interpreted them in his own way. I was very taken with this great and powerful act of his.”

Gennady Afanasyev is in danger; Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko are facing long sentences on preposterous charges.  And Russia is descending into a frightening Soviet tradition in which people are tortured for ‘confessions’ with neither the prosecutor nor the judges even batting an eyelid when this is demonstrated to the world.

Please write to all three men!

The website of the Solidarity Committee with the Crimean Hostages will try to get messages to them.

solidarityua.info

In the first box, write one of the following names one at a time:

Олег Сенцов (Oleg Sentsov)

Олександр Кольченко (Oleksandr Kolchenko)

Геннадий Афанасьев  (Gennady Afanasyev)

Then in the next box, write your name.

The next box asks for a telephone number if you wish to give it. An email address is, however, needed (the fourth box).

Finally, in the fifth box, write your message.

The key aim is to ensure that all three men know that they are not forgotten. The following would be quite sufficient (if you do write in Russian, please avoid anything controversial or overly political).

Мы восхищаемся Вашим мужеством и надеемся на Ваше скорое освобождение.

Спасибо, что нашли в себе силы остаться честным с самим собой.

Держитесь!

(We admire your courage and hope for your speedy release. Thank you for finding the strength to remain true to yourself. The last word is a word of support, like “take care!”)

The question under the last box asks whether you are on social networks: yes, no, in that order (or leave it blank)

Then hit SEND.

Thanks to Comrade SP for the heads-up. I have lightly edited the text to make it more readable.