A Crimean Tatar journalist’s defiant last words in court
“By the grace of God Almighty, these will not be my last words.”
By RuNet Echo
This piece was co-written and translated by Maxim Edwards, editor of RuNet Echo, and Tom Rowley, lead editor of openDemocracy Russia (oDR), in a joint publication by GlobalVoices and openDemocracy.
Since Crimea was annexed by Russia five years ago, the peninsula has been gripped by a constant counter-terror operation against Crimean Tatars. And on 3 October, journalist Nariman Memedeminov received a 2.5-year prison sentence for “public justification of terrorism.”
Memedeminov, 36, was arrested in March 2018, and since then has been held in investigative detention. The Memorial Human Rights Center believes that the case against Memedeminov is connected with his rights advocacy and his journalism, as well as criticism of Russian law enforcement. The evidence consists of videos that Memedeminov posted online in 2013 and 2014, in which he makes reference to the fundamentalist Islamist movement Hizb ut-Tahrir.
While the organisation is legal in Ukraine, Hizb ut-Tahrir is banned as a terrorist group in Russia under a 2003 Supreme Court ruling. This ruling has been used to target Crimean Tatars on terrorism charges since 2014.
In March 2019, for example, Russian security services detained 20 Crimean Tatar men who were involved in the Crimean Solidarity group on terrorism charges for their alleged adherence to Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Read more: Meet the civic activists documenting abuses in Crimea
In June this year, five men from Simferopol, Crimea (Rustem Ismailov, Teimur and Uzeir Abdullayev, Aider Saleidinov, and Emil Dzhemadenov) were sentenced to lengthy prison sentences for alleged participation in a “Hizb ut-Tahrir terrorist group.”
Here we publish an abridged version of Nariman Memedeminov’s final address to the court (see globalvoices.org for the original Russian):
I, Nariman Ibraimovich Memedeminov, born on 7 May 1983, a native of Uzbekistan, repent for the crimes I have committed and admit my guilt.
This is what those who are responsible for persecuting and repressing Crimean Tatars, Crimea’s Muslims, want to hear from me.
Why? The answer is very simple. They want to be able to say: “We are arresting terrorists and extremists.”
Remember, after a round of arrests [in 2016], [Prosecutor General of Crimea] Natalya Poklonskaya said: “These people aren’t Tatars, they’re terrorists.” They want to be able to justify themselves to representatives of other countries, international organisations, and even to their own citizens.
But this is really a lot of nonsense.
Our people lived, they minded their own business for decades after returning from deportation. And now, suddenly, they became terrorists and extremists, they became people who threaten the security of the state.
They became this immediately after armed men destroyed this security [when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014].
Oh, what’s this I’m talking about? This is another topic, not one for discussion. “Over there [in Ukraine], it’s allowed. But here, well excuse me, it’s forbidden. Do you disagree with something? Do you stick out from the crowd? Well! That means we’re arresting you, prosecuting you, and then you turn up and start to show what is happening in your reports and smartphone videos. Which means that your articles and reports start to threaten the security of our state. Here you go: here’s Article 205 [of the Russian Criminal Code] on terrorism, or, in your case, Article 205.2: Public justification of terrorism!”
This why I’m not drinking coffee with my beloved wife after taking our kids to school, but am in Rostov-on-Don, in the Southern Regional Military Court, and hope that my next words, inshallah, will not be my last!
But the problem is that I should address my words to the court, which cannot listen to them — not of its own accord. Yes, the court cannot hear. The statue they call Lady Justice is blindfolded, symbolising objectivity and justice. In our case, Lady Justice wears ear plugs. Isn’t that strange? People use ear plugs to avoid background noises. Russia’s Lady Justice uses them to avoid hearing the truth. However, if our truth does not fit into their formulas, then it becomes background noise.
Formulaic law or formulaic legal proceedings — this is how the activities of Russia’s courts can be described. But again, why?
Surprisingly, the explanation really is very simple. Here is the ruling by Russia’s Supreme Court from 14 February 2003, when it recognised Hizb ut-Tahrir as a terrorist organisation. In 2019, they prosecute Memedeminov, just as they had prosecuted [Ruslan] Zeytullayev, [Enver] Mamutov [Crimean Tatars prosecuted in a Hizb ut-Tahrir case, sentenced by a Russian court — ed.] and other Crimean political prisoners for public justifications of terrorism, as well as video recordings in which Memedeminov uses the words “Hizb ut-Tahrir” or words connected to Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Public justification of terrorism… what an appalling explanation… Here we have the 2003 ruling of the Russia Supreme Court, you’ve been talking about Hizb ut-Tahrir and use [words] connected to Hizb ut-Tahrir. That’s it! You publicly justified terrorism! Absurd, isn’t it? I agree with you! I’ve been behind bars for one and a half years because of this absurdity!
Here’s another example of “formulaic justice”: the “recognition of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People as an extremist organisation” [in 2016, a Crimean court banned the Mejlis, Crimean Tatars’ ruling body, as extremist]. There you have it! Are you a member of the Mejlis or do you sympathise with the Mejlis? You’ll face Article 282, on extremism. How is this the case? The Crimean Tatar national movement has a decades long history and has involved tens of thousands of people from the community… Oh, keep quiet. Those who are counting us are not at all interested, got it? Here’s the ruling: “the Mejlis are extremists,” so you’re an extremist, too!
Of course, it’s worth pointing out my people have already had a bitter and catastrophic experience of being labelled, branded. Back then, they called our old people, women and children (there was no one else left) “traitors” and immediately deported them [Soviet security forces deported Crimean Tatars from Crimea in 1944].
But wait! The people who dared to attack my people are long gone, those “executioners” have long fallen into the River Lethe, and only history remains: a shameful, low, pointless and condemned history. Meanwhile, my people continued their peaceful and non-violent struggle and work everywhere. And what? And they achieved their aims, with the grace and permission of the Almighty!
In 2019 we face a situation in which Crimean Tatars are “terrorists and extremists”, and therefore when a Kremlin official repeated them (“They aren’t Tatars, they’re terrorists”), I was not at all surprised. I also wasn’t surprised by the behaviour of the siloviki [law enforcement, security services, military], who came to arrest people who held single pickets in support of their countrymen: “Our children are not terrorists or extremists”. I also wasn’t surprised by the prosecutor’s speech: “Perhaps, the defendant sympathised with the detainees?”
I’ll tell you why none of this surprises me. Although I should tell the court, and I will, but if Russia’s Lady Justice, Themis, is wearing earplugs, then at least everyone else present will hear me. I’m sure that the court will hear and understand me, but…
I’m not surprised because it won’t fit into the enlightened heads of our public officials, the state prosecutor and everyone else like them. “Why don’t you stay at home, why do you attend trials and stand outside the courthouse? Why do you protest with these placards, why do you even need these pickets? Why do you give money to those families? Why do you collect money to pay off fines?” They don’t understand that this is our character, our culture. When one of us is in bad shape, everyone is uncomfortable, and this is why we feel solidarity towards one another. This is our unity.
What I’ve said is clear, objective, grounded and reflected in resolutions passed by the UN, PACE and OSCE. But why, you ask, is that Memedeminov constantly shouting about journalism? Excuse me, but it’s clear why.
This is Crimea: green forests, beautiful nature reserves, the sea and… Extremists and terrorists who came out of nowhere. They are arrested, their homes are searched, they are interrogated and surveilled. Yet no one knows about this.
My journalist colleagues, don’t let this trial be the “Case of Civic Journalist Nariman Memedeminov”. This trial is an assault on journalism as a profession, it’s an example of how independent journalists are being wiped out, at the very beginning of their career.
Keep your work on the right track: refuting accusations that will become decisions like that of the Russian Supreme Court in 2003, or become unjust verdicts, like those against Crimean political prisoners.
As to the prosecution and court, I want to remind you of two very simple things: when people point at you tomorrow and say “Look, there goes a murderer!”, don’t be surprised. This is what my religion teaches me: “Between the prayer of the downtrodden and the Almighty there can be no barrier!”
As to me, glory to the Almighty — I have not felt shame for a single moment for my father, grandfather and whole people when they were unjustly accused, because I knew it was a lie!
No one today has the right to call my people “terrorists and extremists”. This is also a lie. And our children, the children of all Crimean political prisoners, will know that their fathers did not betray their culture, their ideals, their religion!
So, I will end my speech like this:
I am Nariman Ibraimovich Memedeminov, a political prisoner born on 7 May 1983. I am a citizen of Ukraine, a son of the Crimean Tatar people, which has since time immemorial professed Islam. I am a journalist, the father of three wonderful children, a loving husband, a beloved husband and son. And by the grace of God Almighty, these will not be my last words.
Originally published at https://globalvoices.org on October 14, 2019.