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What We Know About 23 Crimean Tatars Detained in March
3 May, 2019
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Searches in the homes of the Crimean Tatars in the Simferopol district, Crimea, March 27, 2019. Photo credit: Crimean Solidarity

Russia’s security officials came to Crimean Tatar Erfan Osmanov’s home at the dawn of March 27. They took all the mobile phones, read out the warrant and started searches in the kids’ room. Among children’s clothes they allegedly found “illegal” literature.

During those days, Russian security forces detained 23 Crimean Tatars, most of whom were activists of the “Crimean Solidarity” organization. This raises the number of Crimean detainees accused of terrorism and extremism by the occupying Russian authorities to 56, with 55 of them being Crimean Tatar Muslims and one – a Ukrainian Muslim from Crimea.

Up to 15 Crimeans are considered political prisoners. Those include the more well-known cases of filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and activists Oleksandr Kolchenko and Volodymyr Balukh. According to the Let My People Go campaign that focuses its efforts on protecting the Ukrainian citizens detained in Russia and Russia-occupied Crimea, there are 97 Ukrainian political prisoners in Russian custody and an additional 24 sailors who consider themselves prisoners of war.

READ MORE: From Crimea to Siberia: How Russia is Tormenting Political Prisoners Sentsov and Kolchenko​

Now, over a month has passed since March 27 – the day that will go down in history as that with the largest number of detentions by the Kremlin in Crimea since the 2014 annexation. One of the detainees gave birth to a child.

Hromadske finds out where they are now and what support they are given.

READ MORE: What’s Happening With Ukraine’s Prisoners of War?

Day of the search

Akime, wife of the detained Erfan Osmanov, recalls that March 27 began with the arrival of masked men at their home. These men started searches in the kids’ room. When they proceeded to the bedroom, they managed to find some “illegal” literature among children’s clothes. Family claims it was planted by the security forces themselves.

“I used this wardrobe the evening before, and there was nothing there. And in the morning, they found this literature. It makes no sense,  she told “Crimean Solidarity.”

“Barbarism” is what the wife of another detainee, Seitveli Seitabdiyev, Elvina, calls the search that day. The security men forced her husband on the floor and called him a member of the organization that “kills people”.

READ MORE: “Our Kids”: Crimean Resistance to Political Arrests In Numbers

“I went outside and started calling my neighbors, but they themselves had searches conducted in their homes, Elvina said.

Her husband worked at a car wash and organized parties for children. He also transported parcels to fellow jailed Crimean Tatars in Rostov-on-Don. A few days later, he was himself transferred there as a detainee.

That day, security forces detained 20 Crimean Tatars. Some are charged with organizing activities of Crimean Tatar organization called Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Russia, others - of taking part in it.

The following day, on March 28 another three “Crimean Solidarity” activists were detained in Rostov-on-Don.

READ MORE: Russia Detains 20 Crimean Tatars for Alleged Ties to Islamist Group

Within two days, the so-called Kievskiy district court in Simferopol took all 23 Tatars into custody until May 15. The lawyers of all the detainees filed appeals.

For organizing the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir, banned in Russia, Crimean Tatars face up to 20 years' imprisonment (with or without a fine of one million rubles - $14.6 thousand) with a restriction of freedom for 1-2 years or life imprisonment. For participation in these activities - up to 20 years in prison (with or without a fine).

“That is if they do not add any more charges,” notes one of the lawyers, Edem Semedliayev.

Searches in the homes of the Crimean Tatars in the Simferopol district, Crimea, March 27, 2019. Photo credit: Crimean Solidarity

What do we know about the detainees?

All the detainees were moved from Crimea to Russia’s Rostov-on-Don and sent to five different detention centers in the city and the region. Now they are being regularly visited by their lawyers. One of their defenders, Edem Semedliayev, told Hromadske, that detainees receive letters and parcels in Rostov-on-Don. The two eldest ones, Dzhemil Gafarov and Servet Gaziyev complain about their health.

On May 13-14, the preventative measures of the detainees should be re-considered in court.

During the month of their detention, one of the Tatars, Izzeta Abdulayeva, gave birth to a daughter. So, the number of children left without parents following the detention increased - now there are 56 of them. Overall, there are over 160 such children in Crimea, according to the human rights defender Liliya Budzhurova.

“We are Crimean Solidarity”

Protests and marches were held in support of the detainees in Lviv and even in the Nevsky Avenue of Saint-Petersburg. However, the largest support was shown by a photo-flash mob, organized on the wall of the court in Simferopol. People took photos with signs with the following writings: “We are Crimean Solidarity” and “Give 167 children their parents back”.

“Crimean Solidarity” call the flash mob a form of peaceful protest.

"People express their disagreement with the illegal actions against Crimean Tatars in general, and activists of "Crimean Solidarity" in particular," the organization says.

Over two thousand photos have been already sent to their Facebook page in just one month.

What is “Crimean Solidarity?

The organization “Crimean Solidarity” was established two years after the Russian annexation of the peninsula, in April 2016.

They say their existence is the natural reaction of the historically dissident Crimean Tatar people to the systematic repressions by the Russian “authorities” in Crimea.

At the moment, the organization has lawyers and public defenders, who advise them if necessary. Activists and journalists are covering court hearings. Volunteers are helping families of political prisoners.

“Crimean Solidarity” says it was not the first time searches of their activists were conducted. In May 2018, blogger Nariman Memedeminov was arrested and the coordinator of the organization Server Mustafayev was detained.

READ MORE: Russian Security Forces Arrest 14 Crimean Tatars In Morning Raid

“Everyone, who today works together with Crimean Solidarity” is aware of the risks they take. But they understand it is crucial to cover repressions, to protect human rights and to help families. Someone should be doing it, in such conditions, when people are left without protection,” the organization notes.