20 February 2023
Rustem Osmanov was sentenced to six years in a strict regime penal colony after conviction on charges of participating in the Crimean Tatar battalion
Source: Political Prisoners. Memorial
‘Political Prisoners. Memorial,’ an independent human rights project, in accordance with international standards, considers Rustem Osmanov a political prisoner. Osmanov’s criminal prosecution on charges of participation in an illegal armed group was unlawful and based on his political views, citizenship and ethnicity. During the criminal proceedings, Osmanov’s right to a fair trial was violated, and the criminal case itself was based on fabricated evidence.
We demand the immediate release of Rustem Osmanov and that all criminal charges against him be dropped.
What are the charges against Rustem Osmanov ?
Rustem Osmanov, a 26-year-old Crimean Tatar, lived with his family in the village of Tavriiskaya in the Kherson region of Ukraine.
Russian security forces claim that on 14 April 2022, Osmanov was detained in Armyansk while crossing the border into Crimea. Allegedly, the previous month the security forces had received information that, in 2016, Rustem Osmanov had joined the Crimean Tatar battalion named after Noman Chelebidzhikhan. Osmanov was remanded in custody on charges of participating in an illegal armed group (Article 208, Part 2, of the Russian Criminal Code).
On 4 August 2022, the Russian-controlled Belogorsk district court in Crimea sentenced Rustem Osmanov to six years in a strict regime colony.
In December 2022, Osmanov managed to pass a letter from the penal colony to human rights defenders in which he said that Russian security forces had abducted him from his home in Kherson region, beat him up, handcuffed him, put a bag over his head and driven him in the back of a truck to the border with Crimea. There, threatening to kill him and his family, Osmanov was forced to sign a confession, which formed the basis of the verdict.
Why do we consider Rustem Osmanov a political prisoner?
The case against Rustem Osmanov is based almost entirely on his confession and the words of two witnesses. Both witnesses say they are former members of the Chelebidzhikhan Battalion. One of the two allegedly voluntarily surrendered to the Russian authorities and therefore avoided prosecution, while the other is in a Russian prison. Both have already testified several times in similar cases against Crimean Tatars. In practice, a whole series of similar prosecutions have been made on the basis of such ‘testimonies,’ in which investigators merely change the names of the accused.
We consider that Rustem Osmanov’s participation in the battalion is not proven. Moreover, we consider participation in this battalion does not constitute a crime.
The creation of the battalion was announced by the businessman Lenur Islyamov in September 2015. At that time, the leaders of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People declared a civil blockade of Crimea. Members of the battalion checked goods crossing the ‘border’ with Crimea. Over the following two months, the Ukrainian government banned the delivery of goods and services to and from Crimea, with the exception of humanitarian goods. Since January 2016, members of the battalion or, to be more precise, the public association Asker that was created on its basis, carried out joint patrols with the Ukrainian Border Guard Service. The battalion has never taken part in military action.
In our view, despite the fact that the creation of this battalion by civil society actors was not enshrined in law, its activities cannot be considered illegal. Proof of this is the joint patrolling of the border with Ukrainian security forces. At the same time, it is not the battalion’s activities that are evidently contrary to Russia’s interests, but the illegal seizure of Ukrainian territories.
Further information about this case and the position of the human rights project, ‘Political Prisoners. Memorial,’ is available on our website.
An up-to-date list of political pr isoners in Russia is also available on our website.
Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner does not imply the project, ‘Political Prisoners. Memorial,’ agrees with, or approves of, their views, statements, or actions.
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Translated by Rights in Russia