No proper grounds were provided to warrant depriving the men of their liberty, with the claim that the “men could try to influence the investigation” in no way substantiated. The court hearings coincided with a second day of armed searches specifically of Crimean Tatar homes.
The four men – Muslim Aliev; Enver Bekirov; Emir-Huseyn Kuku and Vadim Siruk – are all reported to play an active civic role in their respective communities. Kuku is a member of the Crimean Contact Group on Human Rights and as such has been involved in recording the serious escalation in human rights violations since Russia annexed the peninsula.
Lawyer Emil Kurbedinov is convinced that it is the men’s activism that has prompted their arrest.
“All the men played an active role in taking part in public events and in public life. I think it was specifically for this reason that they were chosen. Their point of view did not comply with the state position, and so forth. They’ve “removed” Emir-Huseyn Kuku because he is an observer for the Crimean Contact Group on Human Rights in this [Yalta] region. Infringements are underway specifically of human rights activists, Muslims, people who are active. I can’t find any other word for this than repression. This is deliberate mass repression against Crimean Muslims.”
The men appear to be accused of involvement in the pan-Islamic Hizb ut-Takhrir organization which Russia has declared ‘terrorist’, without ever providing any evidence to substantiate this. The organization is legal in Ukraine, and all four men in custody are Ukrainian nationals.
It is also difficult to take such accusations seriously given that Kuku has twice before faced searches and interrogation under Russian occupation, the second time over supposedly ‘extremist’ posts on his Facebook page. That time was only weeks after four other Crimean Tatars had been arrested on charges linked with Hizb ut-Takhrir, yet there seems to have been no mention of Kuku’s involvement in the organization then.
The description of the four ‘court hearings’ on Friday by a person present at all of them makes it clear that all detention orders had been decided in advance. Most tellingly, a lawyer appointed by the investigators for Kuku (since Kurbedinov had had no notice and couldn’t get there in time) was asked by a court official whom he was there for. His answer: “the extremist”.
Russia has continued to use legislation against what it very loosely terms ‘extremism’ against all those who oppose its occupation of Crimea and who in any way hold dissident views. It recently threatened to ban the Crimean Tatar Mejlis [representative assembly] as ‘extremist, and has targeted Muslims and Crimean Tatars generally in armed searches, interrogations and other repressive measures.
Although attempts to paint Crimean Tatars (the vast majority of whom oppose Russian occupation) as ‘radical Muslims’ began back in October 2014, they have been especially used since the Crimean Blockade, initiated by exiled Crimean Tatar leaders, began in September 2015. Russia even claimed that the world-renowned Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemiliev and head of the Mejlis Refat Chubarov were “recruiting for ISIS’.
With Russia having silenced most independent media and made it dangerous to express dissident views, information about what is taking place in different parts of Crimea is coming in late. It now seems that 14 men were taken into custody on Thursday after armed FSB officers in balaclavas burst into their homes, breaking down doors, smashing windows and terrifying children who had been fast asleep. Ten were later released.
At least one man was seized after one of the numerous searches on Friday. Why Eldar Selamiyev was taken into custody is unclear as are his present whereabouts.
It is unfortunately clear that the men now in custody will, like the four arrested in January 2015 be charged with ‘terrorism’ over alleged involvement in Hizb ut-Takhrir.
Abdureshit Dzhepparov, Coordinator of the Crimean Contact Group on Human Rights and others following events are dismissive of any such pretexts. The real aim, they are certain, is to intimidate active Crimean Tatars and Muslims with initiative who represent local communities, and to crush dissent.