For the second year already, three citizens of Ukraine, Crimean Tatars – First Deputy Chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People Nariman Dzhelyal, as well as brothers Aziz Akhtemov and Asan Akhtemov – have been behind bars in the occupied Crimea.
They are among hundreds of Ukrainian citizens unlawfully detained and convicted by the occupation administration of the Russian Federation for political reasons during the years of occupation on the peninsula.
Dzhelyal and the Akhtemov brothers were arrested in September 2021, and in September 2022, the occupation court sentenced Dzhelyal to 17 years in a high-security prison, Asan Akhtemov – to 15 years, and Aziz Akhtemov – to 13 years. This was their price for their own ethnic identity, the indomitable spirit of freedom, and consistent civic stance of not accepting occupation.
The formal reason for the conviction was the so-called case of “sabotage on a gas pipeline”, but the prosecution did not provide any real evidence of the involvement of Dzhelyal and the Akhtemov brothers in such “sabotage”. On September 21, 2022, the “Supreme Court” of Crimea found them guilty of involvement in the “blow-up of a gas pipeline in the village of Perevalne” and passed a sentence under three articles of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation: Paragraphs A, B, Part 2 of Art. 281 (sabotage committed by an organized group), Part 4 of Art. 222.1 (illegal acquisition, storage, and transportation of explosive devices committed by an organized group), Part 3 of Art. 226.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (illegal transportation of an explosive device across the customs border committed by an organized group). The basis of the prosecution’s evidence was the statements by the defendants made under torture or the real threat of their use (which the defendants claimed at a court hearing).
Such criminal prosecution and imprisonment have all the signs of politically motivated persecution, in particular for their civic stance.
These arrests and convictions are nothing more than a continuation of the Russian Federation’s long-standing criminal policy of persecuting and expelling Crimean Tatars from the peninsula. The systematic persecution of the Crimean Tatar people since the beginning of the occupation was also mentioned in the recent report of Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović regarding the Crimean Tatars’ struggle for human rights.
Also, the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office, together with human rights organizations, collected and sent to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court the evidence of the persecution of Crimean Tatars on political, ethnic and religious grounds, which has been pursued on the peninsula since the beginning of the occupation of the Crimean Peninsula.
In recent years, journalist, political scientist, professor, public figure, and First Deputy Chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People Nariman Dzhelyal was the only representative of the leadership of the national body of the Crimean Tatars who lived and worked in the occupied Crimea. He talked about the persecution and oppression of the indigenous people of Crimea, as well as Ukrainians, which began after the occupation in 2014. He has enjoyed the great trust of his people and felt his great responsibility for the fate of the Crimean Tatars. He has repeatedly spoken publicly in support of the territorial integrity of Ukraine and urged the end of the war unleashed by the aggression of the Russian Federation. Moreover, Dzhelyal was arrested a few days after his public participation in the Inaugural Summit of the International Crimea Platform in 2021.
Arrested and convicted Asan Akhtemov is a journalist of the Avdet Crimean Tatar newspaper, a member of NGO “Nefes”, an activist of the Crimean Tatar national movement. His cousin Aziz Akhtemov is also an activist of the Crimean Tatar national movement.
Currently, Nariman Dzhelyal and the Akhtemov brothers are still held in the Simferopol pre-trial detention center. At the same time, the Russian Federation regularly deports Ukrainian prisoners from Crimea to the Russian Federation to ultimately level and complicate any connection with their relatives, the Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar communities. Among other things, in this way, the Russian Federation tries to suppress the detainees morally in the “best traditions” of the USSR totalitarian regime.
At the same time, the 2020 Report on Preliminary Examination Activities of the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court on the situation in Ukraine concluded that the transfer by Russia of detainees in criminal proceedings and prisoners has the characteristics of a war crime under Article 8 (2) (a) (vi) and a crime against humanity under Article 7 (1) (d).
According to available information, the occupation administrations of the Russian Federation have real intentions to transfer (actually deport) Nariman Dzhelyal and the Akhtemov brothers to the Russian Federation.
In this regard, condemning the numerous crimes committed by representatives of the Russian authorities, we demand to:
Refrain from unlawful deportation to the Russian Federation and to immediately release Ukrainian citizens Nariman Dzhelyal, Asan Akhtemov, and Aziz Akhtemov, as well as to release other unlawfully imprisoned Ukrainian citizens detained for political reasons by the occupation administrations in Crimea.
We call on international and intergovernmental organizations, as well as governments and heads of foreign states, partners of Ukraine, to:
- Contribute to establishing/strengthening mechanisms and platforms for conducting negotiations to prevent unlawful deportation to the Russian Federation and to achieve the release of all those unlawfully imprisoned in occupied Crimea, including Ukrainian citizens Nariman Dzhelyal, Asan Akhtemov, and Aziz Akhtemov.
- Impose personal sanctions on persons involved in the politically motivated persecution and imprisonment of Ukrainian citizens Nariman Dzhelyal, Asan Akhtemov, and Aziz Akhtemov and other unlawfully imprisoned Ukrainian citizens.
- Keep and intensify political, diplomatic, and economic pressure on the Russian Federation to stop the criminal policy of unlawful imprisonment, the practice of torture, deprivation of the right to a fair trial, and the deportation of Ukrainian citizens from the territory of Crimea to the Russian Federation.
In particular, we also call on President of the Republic of Türkiye Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to:
Prevent possible deportation to the territory of the Russian Federation and to facilitate the release of unlawfully imprisoned Ukrainian citizens, Crimean Tatars Nariman Dzhelyal, Asan Akhtemov, and Aziz Akhtemov. For many years, the Republic of Türkiye has been steadfastly supporting the territorial integrity of Ukraine and showing care for the fate of political prisoners, in particular the unlawfully imprisoned Crimean Tatars.
Human Rights Centre ZMINA
Ukrainian Legal Advisory Group
Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Poland)
Kharkiv Institute for Social Research
NGO “Postypovyi Hurt Frankivtsiv”
Crimean Human Rights Group
Support for Fundamental Research Fund
Educational Human Rights House Chernihiv
Association of Relatives of the Kremlin Political Prisoners
“Almenda” Civic Education Center
Regional Center for Human Rights
Human Rights House Crimea
Human Rights Center Action