By: Lane Johansen
On September 3rd and 4th, Russian authorities raided the houses of and arrested five Crimean Tatars: Eldar Odamanov, Aziz Akhtemov, Asan Akhtemov, Shevket Useinov, and Nariman Dzhelyalov. The men were detained on suspicion of involvement in a gas pipeline attack on August 23rd. The FSB issued a statement accusing Ukrainian law enforcement of training Crimean Tatars on handling explosives and paying them $2,000 to damage the pipeline.
Over the next 48 hours, activists protested in front of the FSB (Russia’s Federal Security Service) building in Simferopol, the capital of Crimea. Over 50 Crimean Tatars were detained in these demonstrations, and Ukrainian Ombudswoman Lyudmila Denisova reported that protestors were forcibly restrained, even beaten, and were questioned without lawyers present.
Nariman Dzhelyalov in particular has received international attention due to his position as deputy chairman of the Mejlis, the representative body of the Crimean Tatars. On the day of the pipeline attack, Dzhelyalov had been a delegate at Ukraine’s inaugural Crimea Platform, a new international organization uniting 45 countries and international organizations to coordinate international policy toward Crimea in order to achieve the de-occupation and re-integration of the Peninsula.
World leaders immediately called on Russia to release Dzhelyalov and all other political prisoners in Crimea, with the EU, US, and Canada promptly releasing statements. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky considered the arrests to be Russia’s reaction to the increased international attention toward Russia’s occupation of Crimea, tweeting: “This is simply how Russia reacts to the Crimea Platform.”
Dzhelyalov was initially charged with complicity in sabotaging the gas pipeline. On September 23rd, however, the accusation was increased to full participation, and Dzhelyalov was also charged with the illegal acquisition or storage of explosives. If found guilty, Dzhelyalov will face up to 20 years in prison. On October 8th, Dzhelyalov’s lawyers discovered that he had been secretly transferred to a psychiatric clinic after refusing to undergo a psychiatric examination. Prisoners in Crimea are often subjected to a month-long forced psychiatric evaluation, and sometimes groundlessly transferred to psychiatric hospitals – a practice eerily reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s “punitive psychiatry”. According to Dzhelyalov’s lawyer Nikolai Polozov, Dzhelyalov will remain in the psychiatric clinic for a maximum of 28 days. Polozov said on Facebook that Dzhelyalov’s health appears to be satisfactory, though he has lost almost 5 pounds during his month in prison.