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Russia slaps new 15-year prison sentence on Crimean Tatar political prisoner Zeytullaev

Ruslan Zeytullaev, political hostage of the Kremlin, with the posters “Lies won’t last forever” and “Truth will prevail,” 27 July 2017. Photo: Anton Naumlyuk
Article by: Ihor Vynokurov
Edited by: Alya Shandra
In a new mock trial, the Supreme Court of Russia has extended the 12-year jail sentence on the Ukrainian prisoner of conscience, Crimean Tatar Ruslan Zeytullaev, to 15 years. Given that Ruslan was detained in 2015, he is formally to remain behind bars until 2030 unless the Kremlin is forced to release him earlier. This is the second “upgrade” of his punishment, which initially amounted to 8 years.

The Russian prosecution saw both previous sentences as insufficient and appealed against them in the Rostov Military Court and then in Moscow. The aim was to jail the builder from Sevastopol, a Muslim believer and a father of three, who had defended the rights of other Crimeans before his own arrest, to as much as seventeen years.

Read more: Who is Zeytullaev, the Crimean Tatar Russia just sentenced to 12 years without a crime? (published in April 2017)

During the hearing on 27 July, Ruslan Zeytullaev was wearing a T-shirt with the slogan “The order is executed,” which implied the dependence of Russian judiciary on the executive power. He was also holding posters: “Lies won’t last forever,” “Repressions of the 21st century,” and “Truth will prevail.”

In his speech, the prisoner wished his Crimean Tatar compatriots to withstand the ordeal of Russian occupation and preserve their unity:

“Don’t pay attention to today’s reality: searches, detentions, prison sentences, and bans. Even if they imprison the whole nation, all the world will see this injustice, and our people will turn into an example to follow and eventually become stronger.”

Read also: Deportation, genocide, and Russia’s war against Crimean Tatars

Zeytullaev said that the violators of international law will once carry responsibility for their crimes, even if now such a possibility seems to them like a joke. He recalled the words of one aged Crimean Tatar, whose grandson’s house had been searched by Russian security forces:

“For us [Crimean Tatars], there is nothing more to be afraid of. When I was in my grandson’s age, the NKVD came to us. The KGB came to my son, and now the FSB is doing the same. You [perpetrators of repressions] come and go but my people remains.”

Read also: Human rights violations in Crimea to be investigated as war crimes

After the Supreme Court passed its judgment, Ruslan declared his third hunger strike in protest against the Russian government’s lawless persecution of him and other fellow Crimean Tatars. He demands to allow Ukrainian consul and ombudsman, as well as journalists and human rights defenders, to visit him in remand jail and then return him to Ukraine.

Ruslan stresses that the hunger strike is termless and he is ready to die.

Watch the video about his first hunger strike:

Zeytullaev and three other Crimean Muslims, Nuri Primov, Ferat Sayfullaev, and Rustem Vaitov, were first convicted in September 2016. All of them were recognized guilty of involvement in the local cell of the international Islamic party Hizb ut-Tahrir. This party, which exists for more than six decades, is committed to peaceful ways of uniting Muslims globally in a single political entity. Never have its members been convicted for organizing violent activities in order to achieve their aims. In Ukraine and most countries around the world, the party operates legally, while in Russia, it was recognized “terrorist” without proper substantiation. On this basis, the Russian human rights organization Memorial recognized the four Crimean Tatars as political prisoners in July 2016.

Thanks to more recent amendments to the Russian Criminal Court, the prosecutors did not need to prove the defendants’ guilt of harmful acts to convict them under the “terrorist” article. What the prosecution did try to persuade the court of was their engagement in a Hizb ut-Tahrir cell, which was allegedly corroborated by private conversations recorded by a provocateur. The transcripts of those conversations made public so far neither show any clear relationship between the prisoners and the banned organization nor prove the very existence of its local cell.

Since the annexation of Crimea, 19 Muslim believers, mostly Crimean Tatars but also of Slavic origin, have been detained on the charges of belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir. FSB general Viktor Palagin, who had run the persecution of the party’s supposed members in Russia’s Muslim region of Bashkortostan, was put in charge of the state security in the occupied peninsula in 2014 and brought his usual work templates with him.

Read more: Imaginary “terrorists” with no terror acts: Russia’s collective punishment of Crimean Muslims

Edited by: Alya Shandra
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