A Russian court has sentenced Rafis Kashapov of the Tatar Social Center to three years imprisonment for his support of the Crimean Tatars and of Ukraine against Russia’s invasion, a clear indication Moscow wants to send a signal to all its citizens: “support Ukraine and you will end up behind bars.”
Kashapov was sentenced under Article 282 of Russia’s criminal code which prohibits calling Russia’s territorial integrity into question because of articles like“Crimea and Ukraine will be free from Occupiers!” “Yesterday Hitler was in Danzig, Today Putin is in Donetsk,” and “We Defend Ukraine and the Entire Turkic World.”
Prosecutors sought a four-year term some undoubtedly will see this sentence as an example of merciful quality of Russian justice just as such people did when Stalin’s victims were sent to the GULAG rather than executed. But this was a show trial just like its predecessors designed less to punish one individual than to send a message to all.
In the Naberezhny Chelny courtroom in Tatarstan, Kashapov did not apologize for what he had done but said that he wanted to do everything he could to call attention to what has been happening in Ukraine and how events there inevitably are bleeding back to affect the peoples of the Russian Federation as well.
Indeed, his friend and supporter Fauziya Bayramova says, “Kashapov to the end condemned the occupation of Crimea; for this they punished him. To the end he defended the Crimean Tatars [and] accused Russia and Putin personally of aggression in the Donbas; for this they punished him.”
Russian lawyer Irina Biryukova suggests that Moscow had decided to impose a real and not a conditional sentence on Kashapov because the latter kind are not dissuading Russian citizens from speaking out; and consequently, she expects that now “real sentences will begin to be handed out ever more often” with pressure and punishments increased over time.
Bayramova agrees but says that even imprisonments like the one now imposed on Kashapov will not stop the Tatar national movement from speaking out on behalf of Crimean Tatars and Ukraine. “We, the Tatars of the Middle Volga and the Urals, have been walking along this path about 500 years. There were worse times” than now.”
Russian human rights organizations like Memorial even before the sentence had declared that Kashapov was a political prisoner. And Ilmi Umerov of the Crimean Tatar Milli Mejlis is calling on the Ukrainian government to speak out in his defense and seek his liberation from a Russian prison.
“The Ukrainian authorities must make analogous declarations including at the international level,” Umerov says. “They must always mention and demand the liberation of Kashapov whenever they speak of Sentsov, Savchenko, Chiygoz and others” being held by the Russians.
Unfortunately, as other events this week suggest, even declarations by Ukraine and other countries may not be enough to stop the Russian powers that be from continuing to deploy their legal system to destroy the constitutionally mandated rights and freedoms of the peoples of the Russian Federation.
In the last few days alone — and this is certainly not a complete list — Russian officials have persecuted a Urals woman for “liking” pro-Ukrainian posts on Facebook. They have imposed on a fine on a man who suggested Putin was a dictator.
Additionally, Russian officials are dragging Russians into court for cancelling plans to visit Crimea. And they charged a Russian artist for supposedly trying to create “the atmosphere of the Maidan” in Moscow.