The leading human rights and civic organizations of Ukraine appeal to you regarding the case of Ruslan Zeytullaev, a citizen of Ukraine, a Crimean Tatar and an activist whom the Russian Federation is illegally depriving of freedom on political motives. As Ruslan is since two weeks on a hunger strike, we have reasons to believe that his health and life is in danger.
Ruslan Zeytullaev is a defendant within the so-called case of Crimean Muslims of ‘Hizb-ut Tahrir’. He was detained in the occupied Crimea in January 2015 together with three other Crimean Tatars – Ferat Sayfullaev, Nuri Primov, and Rustem Vaitov. Ruslan was accused of organizing a terrorist organization (p.1, Art.205.5 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). In violation of international humanitarian law, Russia forcibly transferred the four from the Crimea to Rostov-on-Don, where they were convicted by the North Caucasus district military court last year to 5 and 7 years in prison.
To date, at least 19 Crimean Muslims are persecuted by the Russian Federation for political reasons within so-called ‘Hizb-ut Tahrir’ case. After the Russian occupation of Crimea in 2014, the criminal prosecution of persons who neither engaged in nor plan to carry out any acts of violence on terrorism charges is used as an additional instrument of pressure on the indigenous population of Crimea, who are deprived of the right to freedom of religion. Russia’s Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Ruslan Zeytullaev along with the other defendants of the case as political prisoners, as did Ukraine’s MFA. Ruslan was also mentioned among other illegally detained persons in the European Parliament resolution “Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia and situation in Crimea” 2017/2596 (RSP), adopted on 16 March 2017.
According to the decision of the Appellate court, Ruslan’s case is now being reviewed by the North Caucasus district military court of Rostov-on-Don. Ruslan faces 15 years in prison.
On 4 April 2017, at one of the court hearings Ruslan declared a hunger strike. He put forward three demands: 1) Crimea’s occupation authorities stop the persecution of Crimean Tatars, 2) Ukrainian consuls be allowed access to him, 3) he and other Crimean Muslims illegally held by Russia be transferred to Ukraine.
The hunger strike continues for two weeks already. None of his requirements were met. Despite systematic requests of representatives of the Consulate General of Ukraine in Rostov-on-Don to visit Zeytullaev, Russia denies him the right to meet the Ukrainian consul.
According to his lawyer Emil Kurbedinov, as of April 14, Ruslan has lost more than 6 kg of weight. During the trial lawyer even had to call an ambulance for his client. In addition, after Ruslan declared the hunger strike, the Russian Penitentiary Service’s attitude towards him significantly worsened. The next court setting, during which the debate between the parties will be held, is scheduled for Friday, April 21, 2017. The case of Ruslan Zeytullaev is virtually unknown outside Ukraine. But even in the country, it has not had sufficient publicity.
We are extremely concerned both by Ruslan’s state of health and the lack of a significant resonance and adequate response to his hunger strike, as well as by the rapidly growing number of Crimean Tatars imprisoned for political reasons in the Crimea and denied the right to freedom of religion. Therefore, we appeal to the international community and the Ukrainian authorities with a number of requests and hope for your support.
To the European Union and its delegation, and the representations of Western states in the Russian Federation:
Ensure trial monitoring of the case of Zeytullaev, as well as visit Ruslan when possible – according to the recommendations of the resolution 2017/2596 (RSP) of the European Parliament. The next hearing will be held on Friday, April 21, 2017 at 10.00 am in Rostov-on-Don;
Ensure the involvement of independent doctors to diagnose the state of health of Zeytullaev, and to possibly place him in an independent health facility;
Issue a statement requesting an independent medical examination and hospitalization of Ruslan Zeytullaev, as well as the satisfaction of the prisoner’s demands, especially concerning free access to the Ukrainian consuls and transfer of the political prisoners to Ukraine, and condemn the Russian Federation’s practice of illegal persecution of Crimean Tatars on religious grounds.
To international non-governmental organizations with offices in the Russian Federation:
Ensure trial monitoring of the case of Zeytullaev;
Issue a statement in support of Ruslan and our requirements to ensure him an independent medical examination and hospitalization, as well as to fulfill Ruslan’s demands, including access to the Ukrainian consuls and transfer of the political prisoners to Ukraine, and condemn the Russian Federation’s practice of illegal persecution of Crimean Tatars on religious grounds.
To the Ukrainian authorities:
For the National Security and Defense Council to create a Coordination Center for the effective consolidation of the activities of various state and civic actors to support and liberate Ukrainian citizens illegally imprisoned by Russia.
Arkadiy Buschenko, Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union
Oleksandra Matviychuk, Center for Civil Liberties
Tetyana Pechonchyk, Human Rights Information Center