Southern District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don pronounced an illegal sentence against four Crimean Tatars who are charged with the alleged membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir movement. The total length of their prison term makes 61 years by four men. Lyudmyla Denisova, the Ukrainian ombudsman reported that on Telegram.
"Russian prosecutors saw to it that Crimean Tatars are illegally detained for the crime they did not commit. Our citizens received the maximum prison time in the high-security penal colony; 18 years for Lenur Khalilov, 18 for Ruslan Mesutov, 13 for Ruslan Nagayev and 12 for Eldar Kantemirov", Denisova wrote.
According to the NGO Crimean Solidarity, only several people were allowed to visit the court session where the sentence was announced. That included five relatives and three reporters.
Hizb-ut Tahrir is a political party, an Islamist movement that has been banned in Russia since 2003. In most of the other countries, including Ukraine, it acts freely, with no restrictions on the level national legal frameworks.
Since the second wave of arrests of Crimean Muslims in February 2016, Russia has targeted civic and human rights activists and civic journalists, with the repression clearly aimed at silencing those who report on repression in occupied Crimea, especially activists from the important Crimean Solidarity civic initiative. This became totally brazen in March 2019 and soon afterwards when 25 Crimean Tatar civic journalists and activists were seized. That mass ‘operation’ was very widely condemned, with Human Rights Watch stating that “the sweeping arrests in Crimea aim to portray politically active Crimean Tatars as terrorists as a way to silence them” and the men’s release demanded by, among others, the European Parliament and US State Department. The Russian FSB are also quite openly using the threat of such armed arrests and near guaranteed massive sentences to drive Crimean Tatars out of their homeland.
Over 80 Ukrainian Muslims are illegally charged under Russian ‘terrorism’ legislation, either with ‘organizing’ a Hizb ut-Tahrir group, or with involvement in one. Since the arrest of human rights activist Emir-Usein Kuku and five other recognized Amnesty International prisoners of conscience in February 2016, it has become standard for the FSB to add the charge of ‘planning an armed uprising’, with this also based purely on some theoretical idea about the future aims of Hizb ut-Tahrir.
The ‘trials’ themselves are a travesty of justice. The Russian FSB uses illicitly taped conversations about religion; politics, including Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its mounting persecution of Muslims; about bringing up children, etc. as alleged ‘evidence’. These are sent to so-called ‘experts’ who invariably claim that the use of a certain word, for example, is ‘proof’ of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir.
The ‘trials’ are also based, almost exclusively, on the ‘testimony’ of anonymous witnesses. There is no attempt to provide reasons for keeping these individuals’ identity secret and no way of verifying their words. ‘Judges’ at the Southern District Military Court in Rostov (Russia) always reject applications for the men’s identity to be revealed and ignore glaring discrepancies and, for example, the fact that their testimony changes in line with changes in the indictment.