A Crimean Tatar faces life in prison for his religious beliefs and non-violent civic activism: The Case of Emil Ziyadinov
Emil Ziyadinov, a Muslim Crimean Tatar, led a modest life in his small hometown of Oktyabrskoye in Crimea. For years, he worked as a sports coach and just recently completed specialized education necessary to become a certified electrician. He is married and is a doting father to four little boys.
After Russia illegally invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014, the Kremlin unleashed a massive wave of political repressions targeting Muslim Crimean Tatars, many of whom are members of the non-violent religious and political organization Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT). The Kremlin views the Crimean Tatars as a threat due to their vocal opposition and criticism of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. Resultantly, they are continuously attacked by the Kremlin for their ethnicity and religious beliefs.
Emil Ziyadinov, like many Crimean Tatars and devout Muslims, was not willing to stand idly by while others were being unlawfully arrested, interrogated, and thrown in prison. He joined the Crimean Solidarity civic initiative and started attending political trials, providing care packages with basic necessities to the imprisoned, helping their families get crucial financial and psychological support, and staging solitary pickets to express his solidarity with those in prison.
Tragically, yet unsurprisingly, last year the Russian government came for Emil as well. On July 7, 2020, several masked men brandishing machine guns stormed Emil’s home and hauled him away as his four young children were watching.
Mr. Ziyadinov is accused of organizing and leading a cell of the Hizb ut-Tahrir, which has been unlawfully designated a terrorist organization in Russia, Under Article 205.5, Part 1, of the Russian Criminal Code. Additionally, under Article 30, Part 1, in association with Article 278, Emil was charged with preparing a seizure of power. The Investigative Committee justified this charge based on the goal of Hizb ut-Tahrir to create a worldwide Islamic Caliphate, uniting all Muslims around the world. Emil Ziyadinov remains in illegal captivity hundreds of miles away from home to this day.
The Memorial Human Rights Center believes that the Kremlin’s designation of Hizb ut-Tahrir as a terrorist organization is illegal and baseless. HT’s members in Russia have never promoted violence or organized a single terrorist act. Nevertheless, because of their connection to this organization, Muslim Crimean Tatars are interrogated, their houses are bugged by the police, they face terrifying house raids and are thrown in prison with no corpus delicti.
In 2013, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation ruled that its security officers were no longer required to prove that someone has participated in the organizing or plotting of terrorist acts to accuse them of committing a crime. Such a simplified investigation process allows the Russian police to artificially increase criminal case statistics to show their seemingly-efficient performance in preventing terrorism to the higher authorities.
In the case of Emil Ziyadinov, the police used secret audio recordings and the testimony of an anonymous witness to accuse Ziyadinov of terrorism. The Memorial Center has studied the ‘evidence’ in this case and found it seriously lacking in substance. The assessment of the audio recordings by the ‘experts,’ who remain unidentified by the investigation, claims that Ziyadinov was acting as ‘a mentor’ while someone in the recording, also unidentified, supposedly acted as ‘a student.’ The only supposed wrong doing that these tapes purport to demonstrate is that the two men read the “texts from the ideological sources of Hizb ut-Tahrir” and discussed them. Additionally, the investigation cites Emil’s solitary picket in 2018 as evidence of his ‘harmful activity.’ During this peaceful picket, Emil simply came out to the streets of his hometown holding a poster saying “Muslims are not terrorists.” According to investigators, everything mentioned above constitutes ‘terrorist activities.’
Why the Memorial Center recognizes Emil Ziyadinov as a political prisoner?
1. Emil Ziyadinov is being prosecuted with no corpus delicti.
The Investigative Committee accusing Emil tries to substantiate the accusations of terrorism, separatism, extremism, and the seizure of power by citing as evidence the meetings of believers, discussions of religious topics, and reading Islamic literature. Indeed, this is their sole evidence of ‘harmful’ actions. Such justifications include the description of dissemination of knowledge, the formation of “tendentious” thinking among believers, participation in meetings, reading relevant literature, and watching religion-themed films to prove terrorist intent. Yet, none of these actions are crimes. Moreover, every activity listed above, along with the right to freedom of religion, are declared in Article 28 of the Russian Constitution as basic human rights.
Thus, Emil’s non-violent activities, that demonstrate no signs of terrorism, must be perceived as completely legal under Russian law.
2. Given the conditions of annexed Crimea, any prosecution brought by the Russian State, let alone the unjustified persecution of the Crimean Tatars, is illegal.
According to Amnesty International, post-annexation Crimea is officially an occupied territory per international humanitarian law. In this case, Russia, as an occupier, has no right, under any circumstances, to eliminate the previously existing system of government and its criminal legislation. Under Ukrainian law, Hizb ut-Tahrir is a legal organization. Thus, the Russian government violates international law by illegally prosecuting Muslim Crimean Tatars.
The Memorial Human Rights Center demands that Emil Ziyadinov is released immediately, all charges against him are dropped, and the political persecution against Muslim Crimean Tatars is terminated once and for all.