Five mothers, two wives, a father and a sister traveled from occupied Crimea to Kyiv to share what it’s like in the family of a political prisoner. Their loved ones – Crimean Tatar men arrested by Russian authorities on the occupied peninsula – are now behind bars in Crimea’s Simferopol or Russia’s Rostov-on-Don. Some have been in prison for over two years already, as their cases drag on in court, many still awaiting a verdict.
All the men have been accused of involvement in terrorism or belonging to the organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is illegal in Russia. On December 24, the North Caucasus Military District Court in Rostov-on-Don delivered a sentence for four Crimean Tatar men: a 17 years' imprisonment for Enver Mamutov and 9 years each for Remzi Memetov, Rustem Abiltarov and Zevri Abseitov. Abiltrarov's mother Aishe features in this story where she spoke to Hromadske prior to finding out this verdict.
All these cases are fabricated, and some judges have even sent them back to the prosecutors for lack of evidence. The Crimean Tatars are “guilty” of practicing their Islamic faith, of being active in the community, and now for participating in “Crimean Solidarity,” an organization that provides aid to the families of political prisoners.
To date, over 50 people have been detained in political cases related to Crimea; 38 of them are Crimean Tatars. Their families struggle daily to support themselves and to see their loved ones, even if it’s only through glass in court. They told Hromadske about what it’s like to live without their illegally arrested sons, husbands, brothers, and showed us objects that remind them of their loved ones.
Wife of political prisoner Seyran Saliyev from Bakhchisaray
Her husband was arrested October 11, 2017
Seyran Saliyev has 4 children
Mumine Saliyeva. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova
Mumine is not afraid. In the first years after Crimea was annexed, women were not persecuted. Now the wives of political prisoners are at risk of being detained for their civic positions or activities – just like her husband Seyran Saliyev. The tour guide from Bakhchisaray became an activist and aided Crimean Tatars who were persecuted. The family decided that it was important to stay with their people, who now, according to Mumine, “are all on trial.”
Mumine brought her wedding blouse. According to Crimean Tatar tradition, the bride-to-be should select it herself. Twelve years ago, when Mumine was a student, she had to save up for months to buy the blouse, which cost three times as much as her monthly student stipend. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova
“My husband and I often discussed the possibility that one day they will come for us, that he would leave and the door would close behind him for a long time,” she says. “To some extent my husband was ready for the worst, and of course, he prepared me and the children.”
Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) has charged Saliyev with participation in a terrorist organization. Since he was arrested in October 2017, Mumine – educated as an economist – has been caring for their four children alone.
Another memento is a watch the couple brought from Mecca. They had wanted to go on pilgrimage to Mecca since they were married, but never had the chance. Last summer, when they understood that Saliyev’s arrest was inevitable, they made the trip, even taking their three-month-old daughter. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova
The couple has been married for 12 years. Not long before Saliyev’s detention, they finished building their dream house. Mumine is reluctant to move into their new house without her husband.
Mother of political prisoner Server Zekiryayev from Bakhchisaray
Her son was detained October 11, 2017
Server Zekiryayev has 13 children
Liliya Zekiryayeva. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova
Liliya Zekiryayeva, Server Zekiryayev’s mother, asked the armed people in masks, who arrested her son when they searched his home two years ago, for the chance to say good-bye to him. Her repeated requests were refused.
On October 11, 2017, Zekiryayev was celebrating his 20-year wedding anniversary and the first birthday of his youngest child. Since that day his mother has only seen him behind glass in the courtroom. Though not allowed to talk to him, she asked, “How are you?” He replied, “Mama, don’t worry, everything’s fine.”
In Bakhchisaray Zekiryayev worked as a gym teacher, and also cultivated flowers in his greenhouse. He was an active member of the Crimean Tatar community and attended services at the mosque. The occupying authorities have accused Zekiryayev of terrorism. For a year, the judges have not advanced the case or produced a verdict.
Mother of political prisoner Refat Alimov from Yalta area
Her son was arrested April 18, 2016
Emine Liumanova. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova
Refat Alimov is one of the youngest political prisoners. He is one of the “Yalta four.” Russian special forces detained him on April 18, 2016. The FSB has accused Alimov of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, which in Russia is classified as a terrorist organization.
Since childhood, Refat Alimov has loved football. He was a goalie. Emine brought this soccer-ball-shaped sugar bowl and his gloves. She keeps them on display in her living room. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova
“At first I didn’t even know how to pronounce this name. I had no idea what it was. But I want to say that he absolutely did not belong to anything [of the kind]. My son works – rather, worked – as a sales representative. He had only one day off, which he devoted to football,” says his mother Emine.
Emine has renovated her son’s room in anticipation of his return. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova
The only “material evidence” that was found and later returned was a notebook where Alimov recorded prayers and two DVDs – about praying namaz and the life of the prophet Muhammad.
The 27-year-old has serious kidney problems. He has not received adequate medical care in the detention center, nor has he been released under house arrest. In December 2017, Alimov was transferred from Crimea to Rostov-on-Don; the court returned his case to Simferopol for lack of sufficient evidence.
Mother of political prisoners Uzeir and Teymur Abdullaev from Simferopol area
Her sons were arrested October 12, 2016
Uzeir has 4 children, Teymur has 5
Dilyara Abdullaeva. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova
Dilyara Abdullaeva raised her sons alone in Baku, Azerbaijan. Her husband died when Uzeir and Teymer were babies. Dilyara worked a lot – she was a doctor – and was concerned that her sons stay on the right path, so she enrolled them in the Suvorov Military High School. Afterward, they both studied law.
When they moved to Crimea in the 1990s, they did not get Ukrainian citizenship right away, so it was hard for them to find jobs in the legal field. The young men, who had practiced martial arts since childhood, became professional athletic trainers – among the best in Crimea.
Dilyara Abdullaeva. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova
Both were arrested on October 12, 2016. The FSB has accused Uzeir of involvement in a terrorist organization, while his brother Teymur is charged with organizing terrorist activities, a crime that is punishable by life in prison.
“Which homeland should [my grandchildren] love? And who are these people who came to us with automatic weapons? How do I explain this to the kids?” asks Dilyara, recounting the violent search of the family’s home. “How do I explain that the Americans are our enemies, while Russia is “ours,” if Russians took their father [away]?”
Mother of political prisoner Timur Ibrahimov from Bakhchisaray
Her son was detained October 11, 2017
Timur Ibrahimov has 4 children
Niyara Ibrahimova. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova
Niyara Ibrahimova is full of praise and longing for her son Timur. He is not guilty of the crimes imputed to him, she says; rather, he is a hero. Ibrahimov worked with computers and was a community activist. He aided the families of political prisoners and live-streamed the home searches and detentions of Crimean Tatars.
Holding a photo of her son Timur, Niyara Ibrahimova says, “My son is not a terrorist – and never was. He is a hero. For me and for everyone.” Photo: Anastasia Vlasova
On October 11, 2017, he himself was arrested. Ibrahimov is one of the accused from Bakhchisaray in the “Hizb ut-Tahrir case.” Now his four young children are without a father. Niyara tells them their father is away on a long journey.
Mother of political prisoner Rustem Abiltarov from Bakhchisaray
Her son was detained May 13, 2016. On December 24, he was sentenced to 9 years' imprisonment.
Rustem Abiltarov has 4 children
Aishe Abiltarova. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova
Aishe Abiltarova’s husband died while her son Rustem was in prison. The son was not granted permission to attend his father’s funeral. Abiltarov was a professional sportsman and worked in construction. On May 12, 2016, after his home in Bakhchisaray was searched, he was arrested and charged with participation in the organization Hizb ut-Tahrir. His mother says her son was deeply religious; he prayed namaz and went to the mosque.
Over the past two and a half years Aishe has only seen her son once. “Like at the post office – through glass. That’s how I talked to him,” she recalls. “A piece of the glass [divider] was broken off, so we held each other’s hands through the glass.”
Rustem Abiltarov has four children. Aishe brought a shirt that she originally bought for one of her grandchildren. But it was far too big, and her son wore it instead, so as not to hurt his mother’s feelings. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova
Abiltarov spent two and a half years in a detention center in horrific conditions. There were 18 people in one cell and only 12 beds, so they had to sleep in shifts. In early summer he was transferred to Rostov in Russia.
Wife of political prisoner Edem Smayilov from Bakhchisaray
Her husband was arrested May 21, 2018
Edem Smayilov has 3 children
Lilia Smayilova. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova
Edem Smayilov is an activist and human rights defender. From the moment repressions began in occupied Crimea, he attended searches, detentions and trials, and helped the families of political prisoners. In his native village Dolynne, near Bakhchisaray, he was the head of the religious community.
Lilia has kept the yellow vest her husband wore during the celebration of Muslim holidays Kurban Bayrami and Uraza Bayram specially organized for children of political prisoners. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova
Russian special forces arrested Edem on May 21, 2018. The FSB has charged him with participation in Hizb ut-Tahrir, which in Russia is considered a terrorist organization. Edem was detained a month before the wedding of his eldest daughter. The family decided to hold a modest ceremony anyway, to cheer up the proud father.
Lilia and Edem have been married for 20 years. They have three daughters.
Edem worked in building construction, and these keys are among the many items people he worked with often left in his trust. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova
“We think of him often, when we sit down at the table and he’s not there,” says Lilia. “When there is food left over I immediately think of my husband. I know that there, within the walls of the detention center, he doesn’t have home-cooked meals.”
Father of human rights activist and political prisoner Server Mustafayev from Bakhchisaray
His son was arrested May 21, 2018
Server Mustafayev has 4 children
Rustem Mustafayev. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova
Server Mustafayev is one of the founders and coordinators of the “Crimean Solidarity” movement. He not only helped the families of political prisoners, but called attention to their cause in the international arena. Now he’s continuing to do this from behind bars.
Server’s watch is precious to his father. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova
Russian special forces detained Mustafayev in Bakhchisaray on May 21, 2018. The FSB has charged him with “involvement in a terrorist organization.” According to the Russian Criminal Code, he could be sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Rustem says his son managed to do more in a day than the average person. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova
“I’m proud of my son – both as his father and as a Crimean Tatar. Since the day that Server was taken, there’s never been a day without visitors,” says his father Rustem. “They ask, ‘Do you need help with anything? How is Server?’ They miss him, too.”
Server always carried this bag with his laptop. He got the mug when he was studying in Kyiv and worked for a wireless service provider. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova
Sister of political prisoner Arsen Dzhepparov from Krasnokamianka, Yalta area
Her brother was detained April 18, 2016
Arsen Dzhepparov has one daughter
Susanna Dzhepparova. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova
The FSB tried three times to recruit Arsen Dzhepparov to work with them, says his sister Susanna, and each time he refused. On April 18, 2016, Dzhepparov was arrested after his home in Krasnokamianka was searched. The young man is accused of participation in a terrorist organization.
Dzhepparov has serious health problems. In the detention center in Rostov-on-Don, where he was transferred, his right hand and half his face went numb. However, he has not received proper treatment or medical tests.
“We wanted to open our own business together. He’s a food specialist, and so is his wife,” says Susanna. “We hope this will still happen.”
At home, Dzhepparov’s mother, sister, wife, and young daughter anxiously await his release.
This project was made by Nataliya Gumenyuk, Olga Volynets, Anastasia Vlasova, Alik Sardaryan, Dmytro Rusanov, Vika Sloboda, Danil Komar, Anna Tsygyma, Viktoria Kurchynska, Iuliia Bankova and Vlad Azarov.
Translated by Larissa Babij.
Hromadske thanks “Crimean House” for filming assistance.