Crimean Tatar leader Ilmi Umerov is facing a possible 5-year sentence for saying that Russia should be forced to leave Crimea and Donbas. He is now being forced to have a psychiatric assessment for expressing the same position taken by the leaders of most democratic countries. The court hearing on ordering such a mandatory assessment is due on August 11, with no grounds for expecting that objections from the defence will be heeded.
Umerov, who recently turned 59, has a number of serious medical complaints, and any unnecessary hospitalization and medical procedures are potentially dangerous.
Umerov is a Deputy Head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis or representative assembly which Russia has also criminalized, effectively for its consistent opposition to Russian occupation of Crimea. He was initially detained on May 12 and has been charged under the articles of Russia’s criminal code on ‘extremism’ because of comments made in an interview to ATR TV on March 19, 2016 about Russia’s occupation of Crimea.
Umerov’s interview in Kyiv came three days before Russian MP Vladimir Zhirinovsky stated on Russian State TV that “terrorist attacks will take place throughout Europe. And that is in our interests. Let them all perish and die. What are you waiting for? Let’s do it ourselves.” Zhirinovsky faced no legal or other consequences.
Nor is this because of any parliamentary immunity. Igor Girkin has also not been charged despite openly admitting to war crimes while leading the Kremlin-backed militants who seized Sloviansk and other cities in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Russian fascist ideologue Aleksandr Dugin can be easily heard or read in the Russian media and on social networks saying that all Ukrainians should be killed, or calling for the dismantling of the border between Ukraine and Russia, with Ukrainian border guards eliminated as ‘illegal armed groups’.
Ilmi Umerov, a Ukrainian national, is not the first person to be facing imprisonment for expressing the same position on Russia’s occupation of Crimea as that of all western countries and the UN General Assembly. Those Russia can prosecute, it does, with this tragically including Ukrainians in Russian-occupied Crimea. The new Article 280.1 of the criminal code, punishing for so-called “public calls to action aimed at violating Russia’s territorial integrity’ has, as feared, been used against critics of annexation. Russian Tatar Rafis Kashapov is serving a three-year sentence for four social network posts criticizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and Russia has lodged a number of such criminal prosecutions against Crimeans, including Umerov, the forcibly exiled head of the Mejlis Refat Chubarov and journalist Mykola Semena. The latter two have already been placed on Russia’s huge and highly specific ‘list of terrorists and extremists’.
After initially detaining Umerov on May 12, he was released on a signed undertaking to remain in Crimea, however a search was carried out of his home. While this was underway, several hundred Crimean Tatars ignored possible reprisals from the FSB and gathered outside. They called out that it was not they who were the traitors but those now coming to arrest people. Umerov himself later pointed out that this is indeed the case. Those who betrayed Ukraine and now serve Russia are actively persecuting those who remained faithful. The vast majority of Crimean Tatars do not accept Russian occupation and continue to insist that Crimea is a part of Ukraine.
The charges against Umerov were formally laid on May 19 in a decision issued by FSB senior lieutenant I.A. Skripka. The alleged public calls, according to this document, were made during an interview given in Crimean Tatar to TV ATR while visiting Kyiv on March 19, 2016. A senior FSB official is in all seriousness accusing Umerov of having “with intent to carry out activities aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, … deliberately and publicly called on an unlimited number of people to carry out actions aimed at returning the Republic of Crimea under Ukraine’s jurisdiction”.
This seditious deed was then posted on YouTube, with the said video containing the following words spoken by Umerov:
“Russia must be forced to leave Crimea, Donbas and Luhansk, if the borders of Ukraine are restored to their former position….” “I repeat, Russia must be forced to leave Crimea and Donbas”.
“… Ukraine must not change its point of view, and it should soon pass several laws, about indigenous peoples, about the status of the Crimean Tatar people, and then make amendments to the Constitution changing a territorial autonomy to a national Autonomy”. “In order to help the Crimean Tatar Mejlis all should be extended and intensified, I would strengthen these sanctions and force Russia to leave Crimea”.
On August 3, the Memorial Human Rights Centre condemned the charges against Umerov as politically motivated and called for their immediate withdrawal.
The human rights group joined others in noting that Umerov had expressed an opinion shared by most of the international community and many Russians. You would have to look to the extreme right for views similar to those expressed by Zhirinovsky, Girkin or Dugin.
It is Umerov who faces a forced psychiatric assessment and, conceivably, a long prison term.