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How Crimean Tatar leader Dzhelyal swelled the ranks of Ukrainian “saboteurs”

How Crimean Tatar leader Dzhelyal swelled the ranks of Ukrainian “saboteurs”
Article by: Yuliia Rudenko
Edited by: Alya Shandra
Russia occupied and illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, the native land of Crimean Tatars, in 2014. In 2016, it outlawed the Mejlis, the highest executive-representative body of Crimean Tatars, a nation that put up peaceful resistance against occupation. This was the Kremlin’s declaration of war against Crimea’s main indigenous people.

And the aggression continues until today: on 4 September, Pervomayskoye village of Simferopol region of Crimea saw the detention of Nariman Dzhelyal, Deputy Head of the Mejlis. On 6 September, a Russia-controlled court in Simferopol heard his mock case.

На зображенні може бути: 1 особа, борода та у приміщенні
Nariman Dzhelyal on the defendants’ bench in his mock trial, 6 September 2021. Photo: Crimean Solidarity

The night of 3 to 4 September destroyed the peace of five Crimean Tatar families. Russian security service officers raided their homes and abducted innocent people.

That morning, blue minivan Volkswagen took away also Nariman Dzhelyal. Later, he was found in Russia’s FSB building. The arrest of Dzhelyal and criminalizing the Mejlis is a part of Moscow’s attack on the Crimean Tatar people.

Putin’s listing of the Mejlis as an extremist organization and prohibiting its activities was condemned on the international level. In April 2017, the International Court of Justice ordered Russia to lift the ban on the Mejlis. But the Kremlin has failed to abide by the obligation under international law.

Apart from Nariman Dzhelyal, Russian security service officers detained Aziz Akhtemov, Asan Akhtemov, Eldar Odamanov, and Shevket Useinov. The detentions were preceded by searches in their homes. In this way, Russian police searched for perpetrators of an alleged explosion in a gas pipeline in Perevalne village near Simferopol on 23 August. In relation to the incident, the state initiated a criminal case on “wilful destruction or damage of things.”

Following the raids, the five Crimean Tatars were taken in an unknown direction. Only on the evening of 5 September, their whereabouts came out of the shadows: the detainees were found in the FSB Department for Crimea. No independent lawyers were allowed.

The de facto abductions of the five caused a wave of dismay within the Crimean Tatar community. They went out to the FSB building in Simferopol to find out the destiny of their relatives and compatriots. Russian police handled the protesters without mittens: 58 people were arrested. Among them are activists, media workers and two citizen journalists of the Crimean Solidarity movement and reporters at online outlet Ayder Kadyrov and Nuri Abdurashytov. Both men had distinct media cards.

На зображенні може бути: одна або кілька осіб
Police arresting protesters in Simferopol. Photo: Crimean Solidarity

The police met the protests with a shower of violence. One of the protesters, Vladlen Seidaliyev, said that while he was streaming from the scene, the security service officers came up to him, knocked out his phone, and punched him in the ribs.

The arrestees were charged with disobedience and non-compliance with rules of conduct in emergency situations. The US State Department called for the release of Nariman Dzhelyal and all other detained Crimean Tatars.

Police arresting protesters in Simferopol. Photo: Crimean Solidarity

Eventually, all of the detained were released. Except for two relatives of the Akhmetov cousins: brother of Asan Akhmetov and father of Aziz Akhmetov, Eskender. Eskender Akhtemov faces ten days of arrest for alleged disobedience.

As for the punitive measures that fall on the five Crimean Tatars, Eldar Odamanov was given an administrative protocol for “an act of insubordination.” Now he faces 14 days of administrative arrest. In reality, he just could not present documents taken away by the police two days before. Another detainee Shevket Useinov will have to undergo 15 days of arrest.

According to Odamanov and Useinov’s lawyer Liliya Gemedzhy, the court hearing was highly flawed.

“The process was in the fast mode. From the fact that Shevket Useinov’s punishment differs in one day — the decision was made outside of the judicial sitting by interested people,” said Gemedzhy.

The defendants were not allowed to speak after the materials of the case had been examined. Moreover, all applications from the defendants were turned down. The police statements disclosed inconsistencies. What is more, there is a time difference between the two documents – the protocol of detention and the protocol of offence. That is, the defendants were groundlessly held for more than five hours.

According to the lawyer, after the defendants had been abducted by the security services, they spent more than 24 hours with bags over their heads in an unknown place.

On 6 September, the court heard the case of cousins Aziz and Asan Akhtemov and Nariman Dzhelyal. It decided to put them in custody for two months. The defendants pleaded not guilty.

As luck would have it, the alleged gas line rupture occurred on 23 August — on the day when Kyiv hosted an inaugural summit of the Crimea Platform, a first-of-the-kind international platform for the ultimate peninsula’s de-occupation, that gathered over 40 foreign participants.

Crimea Platform – mere formality or workable mechanism to recover Ukraine’s peninsula?

According to Refat Chubarov, Head of the Mejlis, the abductions and arrests of 3-4 September are the Kremlin’s revenge to the Crimea Platform.

“Certainly, the real reason for the last searches and detentions appears to be revenge of the Russian occupants for actions on the international level to exert pressure on Russia with regard to its crimes committed against Ukraine, including for Crimea’s occupation,” he said.

Refat Chubarov also predicted that arrests in Crimea may escalate.

What are the details of the case?

Deputy Head of the Mejlis Nariman Dzhelyal is suspected of sabotage complicity under two articles of the Criminal Code of Russia (par. 5 article 33 and par. 1 article 281), namely damaging the pipeline in Perevalne. The other two suspects of the case are Aziz Akhtemov and Asan Akhtemov.

Within 24 hours, Dzhelyal was kept in an unknown place, handcuffed and with a bag over his head. He was deprived of food and water. On the evening of 4 September, the Mejlis leader was brought to the FSB department.

Dzhelyal’s lawyer Emine Avamilyeva commented on psychological pressure put on her client:

“He endured many hours of pretty rough mental pressure, since all the time he was handcuffed with a bag over his head kept, as he felt, in a basement and, of course, as I have already said, was subjected to rough mental pressure.”

On 6 September, the Russia-controlled Kyiv District Court of Simferopol ruled to take Dzelyal into custody for two months, until 4 November. The decision was motivated by the “gravity of the crime charged” and an ungrounded claim of the possibility of the defendant’s escape, as the prosecution in the face of investigator Vitaliy Vlasov requested.

The claims of the defendant’s party were turned down. Dzhelyal’s lawyers insisted that he has minor children and sick parents dependents. However, Moscow’s kangaroo court traditionally ruled in favour of the interests of the law enforcers and contrary to the interests of a Crimean Tatar family, this way isolating the Crimean Tatar leader from the society.

Dzhelyal does not agree with the decision of 6 September:

“I believe arrest as a preventive measure to be absolutely unnecessary. I think home confinement is a pretty satisfactory measure. It is well-suited for me to appear for investigative action on short notice and also be able to fulfil the duties of head of the family and son, provide for the comfortable living of my wife and elderly parents. Home arrest will allow me to do all of that.”

What’s next?

What will be the fate of Nariman Dzhelyal? Eskender Bariyev, Head of the Crimean Tatar Resource Center, has an opinion on this matter. And it is far from optimistic.

“Most likely, Nariman Dzhelyal will be taken outside Crimea to Lefortovo [a prison in Moscow], and testimonies against Nariman Dzhelyal will be beaten out of the other detainees. The prosecutor will request up to 14-15 years’ imprisonment.

I don’t exclude that searches and arrests will be conducted also in relation to other Crimean Tatar Mejlis colleagues.”

Mykhailo Gonchar, President at Centre for Global Studies “Strategy XXI,” is pessimistic about the international support of human rights in occupied Crimea. He sees the link between the freedom of action Putin feels in the peninsula and Merkel’s recent visit to Moscow and Germany’s “authorization” to complete the Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

Why sabotage or the absurdity of charges

The arrest of the Mejlis leader Dzhelyal is a planned FSB operation, according to Eskender Bariyev. He also believes that there is a reason behind Russia accusing Dzhelyal on these particular charges:

“What happened on 3 and 4 September is an FSB operation arranged in advance to punish people taking part in the work of the Crimea Platform.

It would appear they came and presented a document on article 280.2 [public calls for extremism through media], detained and took away. But in this case, the FSB keeping in mind that this article is manifestly politically motivated and expecting active reactions from states and international organizations participants of the Crimea Platform, in my opinion, imitated alleged damage and explosion in the gas pipeline in the area of Perevalne village Simferopol region at the end of August this year.”

According to Bariyev, while Kyiv prepared for the Crimea Platform Summit, Russia prepared to tighten up its repressive machine:

“Without a doubt, the latest detentions are directly connected to the Crimea Platform Summit held. While Ukraine prepared for the Summit, the Russian Federation actively amended its legislation during 2020-2021, including the Russian Criminal Code.

To step up repressions on the one hand, and forbid people to even doubt that Crimea is not Russian.

I want to remind that the Crimea Platform is an international consultative forum of Ukraine’s allies directed at the de-occupation of Crimea and restoration of Ukraine’s integrity.

And this platform can in no way be compared to the platforms of the UN, Council of Europe where the Russian Federation is a subject.

And of course, the Russian Federation has made serious preparations for this by adding paragraph 2 to article 280 of the Criminal Code of Russia, namely participation in violation of the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. And all who took part in events alike fall under this article and are subject to the wheels of the repressive system.”

The case is manifestly ill-founded and Gonchar explains that this is because the gas line in Perevalne is not a main but a typical low-pressure gas pipeline of the local gas distribution network. That is, the effects of this “subversive act” would have been almost equal to zero, such as short-term interruption of gas supply without any other damage. He adds that “this ‘diversion’ looks ridiculous and obviously, was speedily made upon the request from the top when the ‘creatives’ had no time to work out the ‘fact’ for the ‘diversion of a strategic nature.”

Accusing Ukrainians of trumped-up sabotage is not new to the Russian special services. On 9 November 2016, Russian officers arrested Dmytro Shtyblikov and Oleksiy Bessarabov, two employees of Crimean think tank “Nomos,” and their friend Volodymyr Dudka. The men were charged with preparing diversions in Crimea at the request of the Ukrainian intelligence. They allegedly planned to disrupt the work of Crimean military infrastructure objects and welfare facilities.

By likening Ukrainians to saboteurs, Putin aims at intimidating the population of Russia and Crimea, Olha Skrypnyk, Head of the Crimean Human Rights Group, said. She called this case propagandist and added that since it was likely to be a political order from Moscow, there was a really low chance of acquittal.

And she was right. As a result, Shtyblikov was convicted to five years’ imprisonment (as he pleaded guilty under torture), and Dudka and Bessarabov were sentenced to 14 years behind bars each. Coerced video confessions echoing the Soviet tradition and planted weapons served as so-called “evidence” in this case.

The fact that these men’s names are in the list of the Freedom House and resolution of the European Parliament dated 18 July 2019 speaks for itself: innocent people were thrown behind the bars purely for Putin’s mercantile political ends.

These three men were not the first “Ukrainian saboteurs.” In August 2016, the pioneer group of the “subversives” was “caught.” They are Redvan Suleymanov, Volodymyr Prysych, Yevhen Panov, and Andriy Zakhtei.

The more innocent Ukrainians get behind the bars for “sabotage” they never committed, the more bonuses Russian FSB officers get. Krym.Realii listener, a Crimean resident, believes that Russian FSB’s narratives about the “Ukrainian saboteurs” are nothing but fiction:

“They need to eat, drink, receive titles and awards. To justify the bread they eat, so-called “saboteurs” are appointed. Randomly, just to fit in on some objective or subjective parameters.”

Edited by: Alya Shandra
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