Crimean Tatars targeted in Military Court ruling.
A Russian court has sentenced three Crimean Tatars, including a father and son, to exceptionally long terms of imprisonment, on the basis of discussions about their Muslim faith and political subjects, including Russia’s persecution of Muslims. This was claimed to have been “anti-Russian” and “anti-constitutional”.
Riza Omerov, Enver Omerov (centre) and Aider Dzhapparov
The Russian authorities are thereby imprisoning three members of the same family for a total of 44.5 years. Meanwhile Fatma Ismailova, the daughter, wife and sister, respectively, of the three victims now faces administrative charges for having asked permission in court to touch her father, Enver Omerov’s, hand.
Any doubts that Russia was singling out Crimean Tatars for such treatment were dispelled the night before the sentencing on 12 January: only Crimean Tatars were stopped from trying to cross the Crimean Bridge in order to be present outside the courthouse in Rostov-on-Don. Many Crimean Tatars had anticipated such repressive moves. They travelled to Rostov earlier and around 50 of them gathered outside the court building wearing T-shirts bearing photos of the men and the words “No to State Terror!” and “Stop Repressive Measures against Families!” A further 150 people gathered on the peninsula outside the Russian-controlled Crimean Garrison Military Court, where police officers demanded to see their documents and openly photographed them.
The sentences are significantly higher than those a Russian court would hand down in the case of serious violence or similar offences. Yet in this case not one of the men was accused of any recognizable crime.
59-year-old Enver Omerov was sentenced to 18 years’ strict-regime imprisonment. His 32-year-old son Riza Omerov was given 13 years; and Aider Dzhapparov was sentenced to 17 years. Appeals will be brought against all the sentences. The very fact that they were passed, however, in the absence not only of any evidence but of any real charges, leaves little room for optimism. Enver Omerov’s son-in-law, Rustem Ismailov, is already serving a 13.5 year sentence on charges identical to those brought against his brother-in-law. The “trial” of Ismailov and four other Crimean Tatars was equally flawed, yet on appeal the Russian Supreme Court upheld all the sentences, merely reducing each by six months.
In all these cases, the men are accused essentially of committing thought crimes. Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, invoked a secretive and politically-motivated Russian Supreme Court ruling to claim charges of “terrorism”. The men were all charged with either ‘organizing’ a Hizb ut-Tahrir group, or being ‘involved’ in such a group: Hizb ut-Tahrir is a peaceful, international Muslim organization which is legal in Ukraine and most other countries. The 2003 ruling declaring it ‘terrorist’ is not backed by any evidence that Hizb ut-Tahrir has been involved in terrorism anywhere in the world. The ruling was originally designed, believes Vitaly Ponomarev from the Memorial Human Rights Centre in Moscow, to enable Russia to forcibly return Uzbek refugees to Uzbekistan where they faced religious persecution. Cynical then, it is now being used as a weapon in occupied Crimea directed, very often, against Crimean Tatar civic journalists and activists.
These ‘trials’, which are known to provide FSB officers with promotion or bonuses, all follow a certain pattern. One or more of the defendants are designated as ‘organizers’ (under Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s Criminal Code). In this case, Enver Omerov and Aider Dzhapparov were accused of having together ‘organized a Hizb ut-Tahrir group’, with which Riza Omerov was accused of involvement (under Article 205.5 § 2). On 27 February 2020, it was learned, all the three men were also being charged with planning a violent seizure of power. Not one of the searches found any weapons, etc.. Nor was there mention, even in the illicitly taped conversations, of any such plans: the extra charge is based solely on the same Supreme Court ruling which was kept secret until it could not be challenged.
The European Parliament and other European and international bodies have condemned all such ‘trials’ of Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians and demanded the men’s release. In June 2020, the Memorial Human Rights Centre recognized Enver Omerov, Riza Omerov and Aider Dzhapparov as political prisoners.
Such recognition was, in fact, inevitable. Memorial HRC considers all those convicted solely of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir to be political prisoners, since Russia is wrongly applying terrorist charges without any element of terrorism. Its assessment is also important, however, as Memorial stresses that Russia is in breach of international law in applying its legislation in occupied Crimea. All of these trials and sentences flagrantly violate Russia’s commitments under the Fourth Geneva Convention and other international treaties. Memorial notes that a particularly unacceptable aspect to this case is that the investigators treat the fact that the men condemned the persecution of Muslims in Russia as proof of their ‘guilt’.
In general, the charges against the three men read like something out of the old chronicles of Soviet repression. Even had there been evidence of genuine involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, the men were still only accused of “meetings to discuss Hizb ut-Tahrir ideology”; of gathering material for such meetings; and of circulating such ideas and trying to interest others in them.
Kitchen Chats and Secret Witnesses
In fact, there was no such evidence, with the charges based on three “kitchen chats” on religious and political subjects. These were sent to the FSB-loyal ‘experts’ used in such cases because they can be relied upon to find alleged evidence that the men belong to Hizb ut-Tahrir by the use of this or that word. The lawyers representing the men have repeatedly noted that such ‘experts’ often entirely misinterpret common Crimean Tatar words, with this almost certainly not a genuine mistake.
There were also two “secret witnesses” whose identity is not known and whose ‘testimony’ cannot be verified. It is on the basis of such testimony, which is often prompted either by the prosecutor or by somebody sitting with the person, that Enver Omerov has been sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment – a term which for a man of his age is as good as a death sentence. In August 2020, one of these supposed ‘witnesses’ was unable to give any good reason why his identity should be kept secret, and said he was not revealing it because he “didn’t want to”. Prosecutor Yevgeny Kolpikov swiftly corrected him, effectively prompting him to say that he feared for his safety. The judges saw this, and plenty of other occasions where the man was evidently receiving prompts and said nothing. This is despite evidence from several witnesses, who gave testimony without concealing their identity, that Riza Omerov was not present at the alleged ‘meeting’ that one of these ‘secret witnesses’ spoke of.
There can be no question that FSB investigator, Sergei Bosiyev and prosecutors Yevgeny Koptilov and Dmitry Volkov did not understand that the charges against these three men, two of whom have several small children, were fundamentally flawed and based on fabricated and falsified evidence.
All of this must have been equally evident to the three judges at the Southern District Military Court in Rostov: presiding judge Roman Saprunov; together with Rizvan Zubairov and Maxim Nikitin. The sentences were passed, with bitter poignance, on 12 January, a day marked in Ukraine since 1972 as the Day of the Ukrainian political prisoner.
Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group
PLEASE WRITE TO THE MEN
The 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.
All three men at the moment are held in the same SIZO [remand prison] in Rostov-on-Don (South Russia). The address is below and can be written in either Russian or in English transcription. The particular addressee’s name and year of birth need to be given.
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.]
344022, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1. Джаппарову, Айдеру, 1980 г.р.
[In English: 344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1. Dzhapparov, Aider, b. 1980]
344022, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1. Омерову, Энверу, 1961 г.р.
[In English: 344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1. Omerov, Enver, b. 1961]
344022, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1. Омерову, Ризе, 1988 г.р.
[In English: 344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1. Omerov, Riza, b. 1988]