Edem Bekirov had in January 2018 undergone heart surgery. Photo: screenshot from TSN video
The 57-year-old Crimean Tatar activist, who had for 18 years suffered from numerous health conditions, was apprehended at the border checkpoint between Ukraine and Russian-occupied Crimea on 12 December.
Like most Crimean Tatars out of the 70 political prisoners of the Kremlin, Russia is accusing him of terrorism. After the occupation of the Ukrainian peninsula in 2014, Russia has especially targeted Crimea’s indigenous population, the Crimean Tatars, many of whom had vocally opposed the illegal landgrab. Unauthorized searches, kidnappings, beatings, and imprisonment on unproven charges of terrorism are widespread.
According to Refat Chubarov, head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, told that Edem Bekirov was headed to Crimea from Ukraine’s adjacent Kherson Oblast to visit his 78-year old mother and relatives before the next planned heart operation that was to be held on 16 December. Bekirov is a person with a group 1 disability: he has diabetes, has recently suffered a heart attack and a heart operation. One of his legs is amputated due to complications from diabetes; Bekirov has a prosthetic leg and moves with crutches. The wound after the amputation hasn’t yet healed and has to be rebandaged daily.
Speaking after the “court” session on 13 December, when Kremlin-controlled “Kyiv district court” of Simferopol arrested Bekirov for two months on 13 December, his lawyer Aleksei Ladin told that the FSB, Russia’s secret service, suspects Bekirov of illegally storing and transporting ammunition and explosives. According to the Russian investigation, Bekirov while visiting Crimea in 2017 had given a “secret” witness whose name the FSB keeps in secret, a bag with TNT, 192 bullets, and a Makarov gun with a total weight of 14 kg. Bekirov allegedly asked the “secret” witness codenamed Memetov to store these objects.
Ladin says the accusation is ridiculous.
“We determined in court that Bekirov is not able to lift more than a 1.5-liter bottle due to his health. If he lifts anything more than 3 kg, he will suffer catastrophic consequences for his health,” the lawyer told.
Despite this, the court found Bekirov’s arrest warrant reasonable and left him under arrest for two months. However, there was no proof of Bekirov transporting the bag with the TNT from Ukraine to Crimea.
“Basically, the FSB investigator came to court and said: ‘We think that Bekirov committed a crime,’ and the court, not checking the information but just believing their word, sent the person into pretrial detention for two months,” Ladin said.
Apart from Bekirov’s inability to lift heavy weights, his cell phone data proves he couldn’t have been in the location where the FSB supposes the bullets and explosives were given back in May 2017, Ladin claims.
Crimean social media users have dubbed Bekirov’s arrest the “most absurd” show they ever had.
“More than a year, the Crimean checkpoint is equipped with magnetic frames for people and scanners for luggage. Everyone knows how strict the inspection is. For whom did they create these fairy tales about transporting weapons as a reason for an arrest?”
This decision is equal to a death sentence, his relatives and Ukrainian officials told.
His wife Gulnara explained that the risk of death for her husband is high, as there are high chances that he will have a heart attack, or, in the worst case, an acute coronary death. The unhealing wound on the stump of his right leg is constantly at risk of an acute septic condition, which can also lead to death.
“I beg you: help save Eden. Keeping my husband in prison means a de-facto death sentence for him,” Gulnara Bekirova’s ardent appeal states.
“For him, imprisonment is equal to death, as he has had a type 1 disability group for 18 years. He has to take 16 pills daily, and have daily rebandaging. He had an operation on his heart nearly a year ago, and four shunts. He should have been hospitalized for planned procedures after one month. He doesn’t feel anything below his waist. I can hardly imagine his state now,” Emine Dzhepparova, deputy Information Minister, told RFE/RL.
Despite this obviously serious condition, Bekirov was left in the pretrial detention center, which is hazardous to him given his state of health. Speaking in court on 10 January 2019, Bekirov said that the stump of his leg needs daily rebandaging, which is impossible in his prison cell, that he has had new festering wounds open while in prison, and that he has started feeling drastically worse in prison.
Lawyer Aleksei Ladin told that while his client was being examined in the Simferopol hospital, the doctor was shocked with his condition, having warned his relatives that the patient may fall into a coma.
The court has permitted Bekirov to depart for a medical exam at the hospital only on 14 January. He has not received any adequate medical assistance to date.
The UK and EU have spoken out, demanding Russia free Edem Bekirov and provide him the necessary medical help.
Life of disabled #Crimean #EdemBekirov is a matter of concern 4 UK Parliam.&Govrnmnt. @foreignoffice has committed to raise awareness of Edem's case, alongside other political prisoners held in #Russia & #Crimea.
RU must be forced 2 provide info on his health state #LetMyPeopleGo pic.twitter.com/W61cHyh9xe
— Ukraine's Emb. to UK (@UkrEmbLondon) January 9, 2019
EU absolutely right to raise concerns re. deteriorating health of Ukrainian political prisoners Edem Bekirov & Pavlo Hryb. #Russia must provide medical care immediately. Medical assistance in detention is a fundamental human right #FreeBekirov #FreeHryb https://t.co/zl7wMzk1PI
— Sir Alan Duncan MP (@AlanDuncanMP) January 11, 2019
To show Crimean Tatars as extremists
Why did the FSB arrest Bekirov, despite the obvious indications that he wouldn’t be able to lift the weight of the bag he is accused of transporting the alleged explosives in? His lawyer Aleksei Ladin supposes that it’s because Bekirov never hid his position about Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and continues to consider it Ukrainian territory.
“Obviously, this decision is yet another provocation of the FSB, in the result of which a person acutely in need of medical help, and in fact he came to Crimea to see his relatives, because he had yet another operation on his heart scheduled, during which he would have stents inserted, and before that he had a cardiac shunt, so he came before this operation, basically, to say goodbye to his relatives, because the operation is a difficult one, and considering the state of health of Bekirov, the outcome could be sad,” his lawyer Ladin supposes.
Meanwhile, Mejlis member Haiyana Yuksel believes that the Russian law enforcement aims to intimidate the Crimeans.
“Now they will look for pretexts to create any possible visible threat and say that Ukrainian attacks and provocations are possible, and engage Crimean Tatars in this, who they attempt to portray as extremists and Islamic terrorists over the last five years. Edem Bekirov was charged with an absurd accusation which defies any explanations and logic. […]The Russian occupiers don’t act according to laws of logics: a man without a leg, who moves with difficulty, transported TNT and ammunition. It’s absurd.”
The right to a fair trial in Crimea
Recently, six Ukrainian human rights organizations released a report analyzing eight politically motivated trials in occupied Crimea. The research was done by local Crimean activists and lawyers.
The report confirms that Russia’s occupation courts in Crimea are actively involved in fabricating accusations, in which they violate not only international law, but Russian law as well. However, proving this is problematic, as Ukrainian bodies and NGOs can’t operate in the occupied peninsula, and the work of international missions is nearly impossible. The first mission of human rights organizations visited Crimea only in September 2018.
The report investigated the details of eight politically motivated cases and found the following problems:
- Russia violates Art. 64 of the Geneva Convention, which forbids the occupying state to extend its legislation to the territories it is occupying;
- Russia has created a judicial corps loyal to the occupation government;
- The court processes themselves are conducted with numerous violations of procedure – part of the hearings are closed to the public, administrations of the courts do not publish the information of the dates of the hearings in time, impose artificial restrictions for visitors during the hearings.
- The principle of the equality of the sides is violated, meaning that the judges assume the defendants are guilty, deny the lawyers defending the accused of procedures allowed for the prosecution, like holding independent examinations and questioning the witnesses accusing the defendants.
- It is usual practice for the witnesses of the accusation to give nearly identical testimonies.
Thanks to these violations of principles of a fair trial, courts in occupied Crimea have essentially turned into a conveyor belt of politically motivated sentences against Ukrainian citizens and Crimean Tatars.
On 12 January 2019, several Ukrainian human rights organizations published a statement urging democratic countries to monitor the health condition of Edem Bekirov, as well as other politically motivated criminal cases in Crimea, to demand Russia allow an international group of independent doctors to visit Edem Bekirov and other political prisoners requiring medical assistance and to provide medical treatment to the political prisoners needing it, and to enact personal sanctions against those involved in the illegal imprisonment of Edem Bekirov, namely – the judge of the “Kyiv district court” Valentina Kaminina and judge of the “Supreme Court of Crimea” Timur Sliezko.