It is a year since the multiple armed searches of at least 11 homes in Russian-occupied Crimea and arrests of four men, including a human rights activist monitoring rights abuses under occupation. The four men remain imprisoned, facing absurd charges, and in at least one case, their children have been terrorized by the FSB.
These were not the first arrests. Four Crimean Tatars from Sevastopol had been arrested over a year earlier and charged with involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a totally peaceful pan-Islamist organization which is legal in Ukraine, but which Russia has labelled ‘terrorist’ without ever providing valid grounds. There was little information and absolutely no outcry from the Ukrainian government or the West, and the FSB clearly decided they had a free hand to make new arrests, including of people with a strong civic position and the courage to uphold it. The armed searches and arrests on 11 Feb 2016 have since been repeated on several occasions. 19 men, most of them with small children, are in effectively indefinite custody, and with new charges recently added, are facing sentences of up to 20 years.
11 February 2016
The armed men in balaclavas appeared early in the morning when the families were still asleep. In at least one home in Yalta, they broke down the door and windows although nobody had tried to show any resistance. The windows were smashed with the glass shattering over three children asleep in the room.
Muslim Aliev was at home with his wife, Najle, and their four children. Najle has since told Amnesty International that the armed men had turned up at 6.30 and told both adults and children to lie on the grounds, with guns pointed at them. The FSB officer who identified himself refused to allow Aliev to call a lawyer.
The search was purportedly for guns, drugs or weapons. Nothing of the kind was found and it was religious books, a tablet and computer that the armed men seized.
Aliev was also taken away. He is widely respected in his community and although he needed to work at several jobs to pay for expensive medical treatment for his daughter always found time to help others. He has played a major role for his community during conflict with the Muftiat which has increasingly chosen to collaborate with the occupation regime, and his family believes that this may be the reason that he was targeted.
The treatment of Kuku, his wife Meryem and their two young children was similar, however there had been a long run-up to the arrest. Kuku had become an active member of the Crimean Contact Group for Human Rights, formed in response to the mounting repression and forced disappearances after Russia’s annexation of Crimea. He was responsible for monitoring human rights violations in the greater Yalta region.
There are compelling grounds for concluding that in April 2015, an attempt was made to abduct him with this only turning into an FSB ‘search’ (and beating) after people heard Kuku’s cries for help and came to his assistance (details here: When Abduction Turns to FSB ’Search’ in Russian-occupied Crimea).
There was then another threat of charges for supposed ‘extremism’ towards the end of 2015.
There had been no mention ever of Hizb ut-Tahrir, and it seems extremely likely that the charges were deemed a convenient way of silencing and revenging a person whose human rights activities annoyed the FSB.
There is less clarity about the other two people arrested that day. Vadim Siruk was the only one of the four who is not Crimean Tatar and it seems probable that he has been targeted in order to warn other Ukrainians of what they could expect if they convert to Islam.
Siruk’s wife Anna Bogacheva is caring for their two small daughters by herself, with the younger born after Vadim’s arrest. She is also active in Crimean Solidarity, the informal organization uniting the families of the ever-increasing number of political prisoners in occupied Crimea.
54-year-old Enver Bekirov has three children, two of whom are still underage. His wife sees no explanation for his arrest except that he is an active member of the local Muslim community.
The armed searches and arrests have since become more frequent and the FSB are now applying repressive measures also against Crimean Tatars who demand to know why their neighbours are being arrested, and against one of the main lawyers defending victims of persecution – Emil Kurbedinov.
All 19 men so far in custody have been placed on Russia’s notoriously long list of so-called ‘extremists and terrorists’, despite the fact that only the first four men have been convicted after an overtly flawed trial. The other 15 men are being held in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in the Simferopol SIZO [remand prison] and denied medical treatment.
Their families come to the court for the formal detention hearings in the hope of seeing the men, although this is now only by video link. Children are not allowed into the courtroom, and therefore have no possibility of seeing their fathers at all.
This by no means exhausts the punitive measures effectively taken against children. In June 2016, an FSB officer turned up at the school of Kuku’s 9-year-old son Bekir and took him aside. The man told him that his father had “got involved with bad men” and would spend 10-12 years in prison.
It is known that the children of other men detained have also been terrorized in this way, but only the Kuku family dared to officially complain. The de facto authorities claimed to be unable to identify the man, although he had given his full name, and then stepped up the harassment. Their version was that a ‘check’ was needed of why Kuku, who is unwarrantedly held in detention, “was not properly fulfilling his parental duties”.
Hizb ut-Tahrir charges
There is no proof that any of the men are current members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, and any ‘evidence’ is at the level of kitchen conversations.
This, however, is not the main issue since Russia, as occupying state, should not be applying its legislation in Crimea at all. In this case, without ever having explained its own ban on Hizb ut-Tahrir, it is prosecuting for alleged involvement in an organization which is legal in Ukraine.
If this were not enough, it has now begun now begun adding the charge of ‘attempting violent seizure of power in Russia’ with this carrying a near-guaranteed increase in sentence of from 12 to 20 years.
There is nothing at all incriminating against any of the men, nor is there anything to indicate that Hizb ut-Tahrir has ever committed an act of violence anywhere in the world. For all the above reasons, the Russian Memorial Human Rights Centre considers all Russian nationals sentenced to long terms of imprisonment merely for alleged involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir to be political prisoners.
In the case of Ukrainian victims seized for this ‘conveyor belt of repression’, Russia is accusing them of planning a violent seizure of power on territory which Russian soldiers seized by force almost exactly three years ago.
See Russia invades Crimea then jails Crimean Tatars, other Ukrainians for ‘terrorism’ and more information about particular prisoners imprisoned on so-called Hizb ut-Tahrir charges
April 2016 Arsen Dzhepparov and Refat Alimov
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