Statement of human rights organizations regarding sentences of political prisoners Zekiria Muratov and Vadym Bektemirov

A+ A-

On 11 February, the South Military District Court (Rostov-on-Don) announced its verdict to the Crimean Tatar political prisoners Zekiria Muratov and Vadym Bektemirov. They were sentenced to 11.5 and 11 years of imprisonment for alleged membership in a terrorist organization (sentenced by judges Tymur Mashukov and Aleksey Magomadov).

Zekiria Muratov and Vadym Bektemirov were arrested during one of the waves of searches conducted by the Russian law enforcement agencies in the occupied Crimea on 7 July 2020. During these searches, the law enforcement forces planted proscribed literature which was then seized as so-called evidence of membership in ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’ (an Islamic political organization with is legal in Ukraine and in the majority of the countries of the world, but is proscribed as a terrorist organization in Russian Federation by a decision by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation).

Three months before the arrest, Alexandr Companeytsev, officer of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) attempted to recruit Zekiria Muratov. Muratov refused and the FSB officer threatened him with criminal prosecution. Notably, criminal proceedings against Zekiiya Muratov were initiated by Vitalii Vlasov, a FSB investigator leading a number of politically motivated prosecutions against Nariman Dzelial and Akhtemov brothers, Radio Liberty’s freelancer Vladyslav Yesypenko, Jehowa’s witnesses Oleksandr Dubovenko and Oleksandr Lytvyniuk as well as the Alushta group of the ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir case’.

Zekiria Muratov is 64 years old and he is the oldest among the Crimean Tatar political prisoners. He has the 3rd group of disability and he suffered a stroke while in custody. Further imprisonment endangers his life.  

During the announcement of the verdict, three citizen journalists Ali Suleimanov, Amar Abdulhaziiev, Rusten Useinov were detained by the Russian authorities while they were standing near the so-called ‘Crimean Garrizon Military Court’, where the verdict announcement was streamed. They were denied access to legal defense for 1.5 hours. The lawyer was admitted only when the mother of the underage Amar Adbulhaziiev arrived. The detained citizen journalists were released after 2 hours of detention without drawing up an administrative protocol. 

Illegal detention of Zekiria Muratov and Vadym Bektemirov is a grave violation of international humanitarian law which prohibits the occupying state from enacting its criminal legislation over an occupied territory (Art. 64 of the IV Geneva Convention), while political prosecution of an identified group or community is a crime against humanity according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (Art. 7 (1)(h)). 

At the moment, 93 Crimean Tatars are imprisoned on the politically motivated charges and 83 of them are accused of membership in a terrorist organisations in the fabricated chages. Emir-Usein Kuku, Crimean human rights defender, and three other Muslims were arrested on the exact same charge exactly 6 years ago. Also, another four citizens of Ukraine became political prisoners two days ago.

We, representatives of human rights organizations, strongly condemn the persecution and conviction of Zekiria Muratov and Vadym Bektemirov. We demand the Russian Federation, as the occupying power in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol:

  • to immediately and unconditionally release Zekiria Muratov and Vadym Bektemirov  and all other political prisoners;
  • to effectively investigate all cases of interference with the work of Ali Suleimanov, Amar Abdulhaziiev, Rusten Useinov and other citizen journalists in the occupied Crimea;
  • to stop the practice of implementation of anti-terrorist and anti-extremist legislation to persecute people in the occupied Crimea and the City of Sevastopol;
  • to stop arbitrary searches, detentions and abductions, as well as other forms of political pressure on persons exercising their right to freedom of expression, freedom of thought, conscience, religion and peaceful assembly;
  • to adhere strictly to its obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

We are calling on governments of foreign states, international organizations, and in particular – members of the Crimea Platform to: 

  • to condemn actions of the Russian Federation regarding political prosecution of Ukrainian citizens in the occupied Crimea;
  • to enforce the pressure against Russia to force it to release all Ukrainian political prisoners and to stop persecution of Ukrainian citizens in the occupied Crimea;
  • to implement personal sanctions against judges, investigators, representatives of penitentiary institutions, and persons who are responsible for gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in the Crimea;
  • to demand that Russia allows access of the international monitoring missions of UN, OSCE, and the Council of Europe to the occupied Crimea; 
  • to provide all-round support to families of the illegally detained and their families, in particular to the psychological rehabilitation for children who witnessed arbitrary searches and detention of their parents;
  • to comprehensively use the instruments of the Crimea Platform and other mechanisms of international cooperation to stop political repressions in Crimea. 

We are calling on the President of Ukraine, the Parliament of Ukraine, the Prosecutor’s Office of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol:

  • to sign the draft Law on Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of Ukraine Concerning the Implementation of International Criminal Law and International Humanitarian Law Norms, no 2689, introducing due responsibility for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in the occupied territories, and the draft Law On social and legal security of persons who have been recognized as having been deprived of personal freedom due to the armed aggression against Ukraine, and their families, no 6104;
  • to initiate decisive actions within the framework of the Crimea Platform, aimed at combating political repressions in the Crimea and release of all Ukrainian citizens imprisoned for political reasons in the occupied Crime and the Russian Federation;
  • ensure an effective investigation of the illegal imprisonment and persecution of  Zekiria Muratov and Vadym Bektemirov, interference in the journalist work of Ali Suleimanov, Amar Abdulhaziiev, Rusten Useinov, and all other violations of fundamental human rights in the occupied Crimea.

NGO “CrimeaSOS” 

ZMINA Human Rights Center 

National Union of Journalists of Ukraine

Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union 

Center of Civil Liberties 

Center of Civic Education “Almenda”

Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

Crimean Human Rights Group