Turn on the sound

Crimean Tatar political prisoners: who are they, how many are there now and where are they being held

What is the current situation with Crimean Tatar political prisoners? Eskender Bariev, head of the Crimean Tatar Resource Centre and a member of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, discusses this with Hromadske Radio.

Crimean Tatar political prisoners: who are they, how many are there now and where are they being held
Listen on Podcast Platforms
How to Listen

Do we know the number of detainees in Crimea?

Eskender Bariev: The number of detainees in Crimea is constantly changing. You can find updated information on the Crimean Tatar Resource Centre’s website. As of today, there are 331 detainees. This number includes those who have already been released, those arrested in absentia (such as myself, Refat Chubarov, and Mustafa Dzhemilev), and those currently in detention.

We categorize detainees to enhance our advocacy efforts for political prisoners. Currently, 205 Crimean political prisoners are in detention, and 134 of them are Crimean Tatars.

We further classify detainees based on their location: those in colonies (who have been sentenced) and those in pre-trial detention centers (awaiting trial). Almost all sentenced prisoners are in colonies within the Russian Federation, meaning they have been transferred from Crimea. Most pre-trial detainees are in Simferopol, Crimea, while some are in the Novocherkassk or Rostov SIZO (pre-trial detention centers).

Our definition of Crimean political prisoners includes individuals against whom criminal cases have been opened directly related to Crimea or those brought to Crimea. Since the onset of full-scale aggression, many individuals have been transferred from the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. Many are accused of involvement with the Noman Chelebidzhikhan battalion.

The Russians have started making legal decisions in the Genichesk district court, establishing such institutions to legally justify detentions.

When Russia seizes Ukrainian territory, it tries to assert its presence by creating legal mechanisms and law enforcement agencies.

Read also: What is happening to the political prisoners held by Russia — the story of Nariman Dzhelyal

Is the persecution of the Crimean Tatar people active today?

Eskender Bariev: Firstly, regarding the charges against the Noman Chelebidzhikhan battalion, on June 1, 2022, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation recognized this battalion as a terrorist organization. Prior to this, six people had been detained in occupied Crimea on charges of involvement with it. We see this designation as an additional tool for the persecution of the indigenous Crimean Tatar people.

According to our data, more than 41 people are now in detention related to this charge. Initially, there were six detainees, and now there are 35 more. The occupiers have not ceased their persecution and continue to target individuals. Among the detainees, there are also women.

Historically, Crimean Tatars lived in the Genichesk district before the deportation. Our data indicates that up to 10,000 Crimean Tatars resided there. With the beginning of the occupation, the Russians began to search a school where 70% of the students and the teachers are Crimean Tatars. This school also taught the Crimean Tatar language and housed a regional Mejlis in the Kherson region.

The occupiers started persecuting activists, members of the Mejlis, and school teachers, forcing them to leave. Now, these individuals are either in free territories of Ukraine or in third countries.

It is important to note that the occupiers are primarily targeting individuals who participated in or supported the food blockade of Crimea at the beginning of its occupation. They are searching for people on lists provided by collaborators or special services. The case against the Noman Chelebidzhikhan battalion is part of their strategy to further persecute the Crimean Tatar people.

Is there any pressure on the members of the Mejlis today?

Eskender Bariev: The pressure on members of the Mejlis continues, and unfortunately, it intensified after the International Court of Justice’s decision on January 31, 2024. Ukraine had filed a lawsuit with the court under two conventions: the Convention on the Suppression of Financing of Terrorism and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Following this decision, the occupiers began conducting searches and detentions in Crimea targeting Crimean Tatars associated with local or regional Mejlises. The Russians either raided their homes at night or abducted them on their way home.

Furthermore, they warned the relatives of the detainees not to talk about the arrests, claiming that silence would lead to the detainees’ release. However, there have been instances where no information was provided about a detained person. When inquiries were made, the response was often: “We don’t know, we don’t have such a case.” In some instances, timely information about the release or whereabouts of detainees was obtained.

We urge our citizens to always provide information and speak out about detentions.

For example, on May 18—a significant date for Crimean Tatars—the occupiers searched the home of a Mejlis member and the editor-in-chief of the Krym newspaper. Searches were conducted both at his home and at the newspaper’s editorial office. They demonstrated that up to five administrative cases had been opened against him, hinting that criminal cases would follow. This clearly shows that the persecution is ongoing.

Read also: Mykola Medyk’s health has not improved — the story of a 69-year-old man illegally detained by the Russians

More on the case of the Noman Chelebidzhikhan battalion

Eskender Bariev: The Russians recognized the Noman Chelebidzhikhan battalion as a terrorist organization. A few weeks later, they also designated the Azov battalion as a terrorist organization. We can see that the occupiers are trying to present combatants as terrorists.

On the other hand, the accusations claim that these battalions are illegal military formations operating on the territory of another state and performing military tasks for that state.

We are working to develop legal qualifications to have detainees accused of involvement with the Noman Chelebidzhikhan battalion recognized as prisoners of war. This is important because, under the Third Geneva Convention, prisoners of war cannot be tried. Additionally, these individuals would then be eligible to participate in prisoner-of-war exchanges.

What is the current situation with Hizb ut-Tahrir’s cases

Eskender Bariev: The Hizb ut-Tahrir case is one of the main instruments of persecution against the Crimean Tatar people. While there are individuals currently in detention who may not be connected to Hizb ut-Tahrir, the occupiers use these charges to exert additional pressure on the Crimean Tatars. This tactic has been used more actively since 2014, when Crimean Tatars began to express their pro-Ukrainian stance.

According to our data, more than 90 people are currently being prosecuted under this case. Entire families have been imprisoned as a result.

Thus, the occupiers continue to systematically destroy and intimidate the Crimean Tatar people.

Read also: Occupiers confirmed his innocence, but used him as a slave — stories of missing Balakliya residents

In times of war, the program «Free our relatives» tells the stories of people, cities, villages, and entire regions that have been captured by Russian invaders. We discuss the war crimes committed by the Kremlin and its troops against the Ukrainian people.

The program is hosted by Ihor Kotelyanets and Anastasia Bagalika.

This publication is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in the framework of the Human Rights in Action Program implemented by Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union. Opinions, conclusions and recommendations presented in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID, the United States Government. The contents are the responsibility of the authors.

USAID is the world’s premier international development agency and a catalytic actor driving development results. USAID’s work demonstrates American generosity, and promotes a path to recipient self-reliance and resilience, and advances U.S. national security and economic prosperity. USAID has partnered with Ukraine since 1992, providing more than $9 billion in assistance. USAID’s current strategic priorities include strengthening democracy and good governance, promoting economic development and energy security, improving health care systems, and mitigating the effects of the conflict in the east.

For additional information about USAID in Ukraine, please call USAID’s Development Outreach and Communications Office at: +38 (044) 521-5753. You may also visit our website: http://www.usaid.gov/ukraine or our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/USAIDUkraine.


May Be Interesting

Chairman of the DEJURE Foundation: Rule of law, anti-corruption reforms and democracy building under missiles flying in Ukraine

Chairman of the DEJURE Foundation: Rule of law, anti-corruption reforms and democracy building under missiles flying in Ukraine