On 18 February at 10 am, the Russia-controlled Supreme Court of Crimea heard a criminal case against Nariman Dzhelyal, the Deputy Head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis (an elected organ of self-government of the Crimean Tatar people), and cousins Asan Akhtemov and Aziz Akhtemov, wrote their lawyer Nikolai Polozov.
According to the prosecutors, the three men were engaged in an act of sabotage on a gas pipeline in Russian-occupied Crimea upon the order of Ukraine’s Security Service. Moreover, they allegedly were engaged in trafficking and smuggling of explosives.
Evidence in their case is manifestly ill-founded. “In this case, the security officers applied all the spectrum of ‘achievements‘ of the recent years. Torture with electric shocks, secret witnesses, closed court hearings,” says Polozov.
Dzhelyal and cousins may face up to 20 years imprisonment.
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 it continues with the arrests of its leaders, like Nariman Dzhelyal.
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.
Briefly about the case
The night of 3 to 4 September, Russian security service officers raided the homes of five Crimean Tatar families and detained Nariman Dzhelyal, Aziz Akhtemov, Asan Akhtemov, Eldar Odamanov, and Shevket Useinov.
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,” later qualified as “sabotage.”
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 de-occupation of the peninsula that gathered over 40 foreign participants.
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.
Mykhailo Gonchar, President at Centre for Global Studies “Strategy XXI,” explains that Russia persecutes Crimean Tatar leader Dzhelyal for political reasons. He claims the case is fabricated.
According to Gonchar, 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.”
Now, Nariman Dzhelyal remains in custody. As court practice shows, an arrest is a suitable measure when the crime committed is grave and there is an ungrounded claim of the possibility of the defendant’s escape. According to Dzhelyal’s lawyers, his arrest is unnecessary. This is because he has minor children and sick parents dependents. However, Moscow’s kangaroo court traditionally rules 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.
Three signs this case is fabricated
- FSB extracted self-incriminating evidence by means of electric shocks;
- Testimonies of secret witnesses are the only incriminating evidence;
- Closed court hearings allow for a flawed procedure and violation of defendants’ rights.
Russia, to persecute Crimean Tatar leader Dzhelyal, ordered security officers to exert physical pressure to obtain false self-incriminating testimonies.
Nariman Ametov, a Crimean Tatar activist in occupied Crimea, told about how the Russian FSB has reportedly used electricity to extract “confessions” from him. These “confessions” were related to the same case in which Crimean Tatar leader Nariman Dzhelyal is accused of fabricating an explosion of a gas pipe.
“They put some cloths under my ears. I felt they started sticking wires there, felt them on my face… And then came the first discharge. It hurt,” said Mr. Ametov.
The events took place on 17 December in Staryi Krym town, after the FSB had searched Mr. Ametov’s home. On that day, they kidnapped and took the man in an unknown direction. As Mr. Ametov reports, security officers accused the man of sabotage.
“I insisted on a lawyer. He [the security officer] said, ‘Oh, a lawyer?’ And here came the first shock. It was painful. Something was happening to my brain, but I endured. The shock lasted for two-three seconds. I bore it and did not speak a word, telling myself, ‘I will brace myself.’ But I realized I would not last long, depending on the intensity of the shocks,” said Nariman.
He went on to share:
“When I received the third shock, my brain just exploded. I did not control anything. I screamed, ‘Alright, I will sit down to the device!’ He replied to that, ‘I’ll be making the decisions,’ and continued striking [me]. I thought I’d never get out.”
The Crimean Tatar activist recalls that later an FSB officer came in and notified the man was not engaged in sabotage. The security services warned Ametov that he should stay quiet about the torture. Otherwise, they would make public the agreement on cooperation with the FSB he signed.
Apart from Nariman, another defendant in the case, Asan Akhtemov, was tortured to the same end.
There was a suspicious mismatch in Asan’s detention. He was arrested on 3 September at 11:30 pm, but investigation of his case is recorded to have started on 4 September 5:49 pm. No guesses are needed, Asan told his lawyer what happened throughout that short yet terrifying time slot.
“I was put in the car and taken in an unknown direction…The car stopped and I was pulled out, taken by hands and led to some building. We went several floors down the staircase, for more than five minutes. I think it was a basement. One man dragged me and also five people followed us.
Took to the room, sat down facing the back of a chair, taped my legs to a chair and arms to the back. When I was being taken here, these people threatened me that they would plant weapons and drugs, said my wife was beautiful and hinted they could harm her.
After I had been put on the chair and tied, they attached frayed wires to my ears, after which I felt a strong electric shock. Timewise, this lasted for around ten seconds. They did it about six or seven times. After this, they discharged smaller doses of current and simultaneously talked to me. When the current ran, I constantly jerked. After this, I agreed to everything these people told me. They told me I had detonated a gas pipeline in Perevalne, that my cousin Aziz Akhtemov had told everything they knew, how we had done it, on which car and other details. They threatened that I would never leave this place.
After these threats and torture with electricity, I told them I would agree with everything they say…
Then they took me in the car and drove somewhere. I was brought to the FSB building at 13 Franko avenue in Simferopol where I was interrogated by detectives and signed many documents. In doing so I felt awful as my whole body hurt, I suffocated. In the FSB building, they turned the camera on and I told them everything they needed. Even now I have [panic] attacks when falling asleep. It seems I am forgetting how to breathe. I haven’t gone number two for a week already.”
The FSB demonstrated the video containing Akhtemov’s coerced confessions as if from the scene of “sabotage” at the pipeline. Zvezda, a Russian state-run TV network run by the Ministry of Defence, was the first to publish the video on its Telegram channel.
Later, Akhtemov pleaded not guilty and gave testimony that those confessions were extracted by torture. For that, he paid a price. The currency in relations with the Russian FSB is years of prison.
Russia persistently uses in the denial of the right of Crimeans to a fair trial is marionette witnesses. Oftentimes they are people who depend on Russian Federal Security Service, stay in Crimea illegally, or serve in Russian security agencies, claims Emil Kurbedinov, based on his experience as a lawyer in previous cases brought against Crimean activists. Put it another way, it is out of the question that secret witnesses speak the truth. The case of Nariman Dzhelyl is no exception in this regard.
According to Nikolai Polozov, the prosecutors presented no proof of guilt of the three men:
“All evidence the prosecutors managed to find and attach to the case are non-material and non-objective. They are simply the words of unknown persons – secret witnesses (a classic of its genre)…”
No monitoring over the investigation activities of detectives and prosecutors exists.
One of the secret witnesses with the pseudonym “Sergey Danilov” appeared in the case on 4 September 4 to testify against Nariman Dzhelyal. For an unknown reason, he put under the protocol a fictitious signature of “Sergey Danilov.”
In fact, there is no evidence that the secret evidence exists and is a real person.
“Sergey Danilov” told that he knew Dzhelylal from 2010 and they got close after the annexation of Crimea because, allegedly, the witness used to have pro-Ukrainian views. Together with Nariman, they attended court hearings in cases against activists who protested against the occupation on 26 February 2014.
Presumably, Dzhelyal trusted “Danilov” and had phone conversations with a guy named Riza in front of the “witness.” After 23 August, when alleged “sabotage” took place, Dzhelyal called Riza and asked questions, such as “did a good job about the pipe” etc.
From that, “Danilov” decided the two men discussed the attack on the pipeline. So when the witness found out the security officers had detained Dzhelyal, he came to the FSB to tell about these conversations. Detained initially as a witness, Nariman became a suspect after “Danilov” visited the FSB.
Closed trials have made it easy for Russia to persecute the Crimean Tatar leader and cousins Akhtemov.
Russian authorities know perfectly well that closed trials are the handiest setting to commit violations of criminal law procedures in hearings of cases against Crimean Tatars. According to Article 241(1) Russian Code of Criminal Procedure, a closed hearing may be held when “criminal proceedings before a court may result in the disclosure of State or other information.”
That is why to justify closed trials, Russia brings up against activists cases that by nature may involve state secrets, such as “sabotage,” “espionage,” “state treason,” “terrorism.”
Russian authorities limit public access to hearings to disable public monitoring of violations of defendants’ procedural rights. Moreover, such trials result in large prison sentences of up to 20 years and demonize the reputation of dissidents.
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- “Hell. Despair. The feeling of absurdity.” Ukrainian journalist jailed in occupied Crimea describes FSB torture in harrowing letters
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- “I do not want my children to live in a country of terror.” Four inspiring letters from Crimean Tatar political prisoners not broken by Russia
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