Russia: former political prisoner takes Russia to court over torture conditions in Crimean prison

Hearings have begun in occupied Crimea into the lawsuit brought by Kazim Ametov against Russia’s penitentiary service and police over the inhuman conditions he was held prisoner in for over two years. The chances of a Russian-controlled “court” finding in favour of the former political prisoner are remote, but this shocking case caused the death of 83-year-old Crimean Tatar veteran activist Vedzhie Kashka, and came close to killing two other political prisoners, and Ametov’s suit is certainly well-founded.

Ametov was imprisoned from 23 November 2017 until 24 January 2019, first in the temporary holding unit in Bakhchysarai and then in the Simferopol SIZO (pre-trial detention unit). He calls the conditions there inhuman and degrading, and akin to torture. Now 63, Ametov says that his health deteriorated as a result, with chronic illnesses being exacerbated, and points also to the psychological suffering he endured.

Ametov’s lawyer, Rustem Kyamilev reports that during the hearing on 16 November, the parties presented their documents, setting out their position. They presented the application lodged with the European Court of Human Rights back in 2019, describing the conditions in which Ametov was held. At the next hearing, they are supposed to specify their demands in greater detail, while the police and prison service must provide logbooks indicating, for example, how many people were held in the same cell as Ametov.

In the Bakhchysarai unit, Ametov was held in an 8 m² cell, without a toilet or ventilation. Instead of some kind of toilet, there was merely a hole in the floor, which was not in any way cordoned off. There was no drinking water nor any hot water in the tap. Russian regulations say that a person can only be held in this unit for 48 hours, yet Ametov was imprisoned there for seven days. He was held there all the time, without any access to fresh air, without hot food or a shower.

He was moved to three different cells in the Simferopol SIZO. The overcrowded conditions there have long been notorious, and Ametov and the others were forced to sleep in turns because there weren’t enough places for everyone. One of the cells had no glass in the windows, and the prisoners were forced to cover the gap with mattresses. All of the cells were damp, with mould everywhere and without any fresh air. Although Kyamilev does not mention them here, political prisoners held at the same SIZO generally also mention cockroaches, bedbugs and other vermin. He explains that the SIZO is very old and has long needed major renovation. The cells are too cell and lack ventilation, and there are no closed off toilets. Such conditions are tantamount to torture and inhuman, with even those who arrive in good health getting ill.

Ametov is demanding that the inaction by the staff of the two institutions be declared unlawful, and that Russia pay compensation (of just over half a million roubles for the time in SIZO, and 32 thousand roubles over the Bakhchysarai holding unit) for violating conditions establishing both in Russian legislation and in international agreements that Russia is a party to.

The FSB “operation” on 23 November 2017 was supposed to arrest 83-year-old Vedzhie Kashka and four other veterans of the Crimean Tatar national movement: Kazim Ametov; Asan Chapukh; Bekir Degermendzhy and Ruslan Trubach Even after the officers used excessive force, causing the death of the elderly lady, there was no let up in lies. Although none of the men was a member of the Mejlis, Russian and Russian-controlled media systematically presented them as members of the Mejlis, alleging that weapons and drugs had been found during searches.

The four men had been trying to help Vedzhie Kashka retrieve the family’s savings ($7 thousand) that an unscrupulous man who had ingratiated himself with Kashka’s granddaughter was refusing to return. This individual, Yusuf Aitan (a Turkish citizen) began collaborating with Russia’s FSB, and it was claimed that the 83-year-old and the four men had been trying to “extort” money from Aitan.

The claim was absolutely preposterous, especially since Aitan had actually given a note confirming that he was borrowing the money, yet the four men, all in their 50s and 60s, were remanded in custody.

65-year-old Asan Chapukh was finally released under house arrest in October 2018 with symptoms indicative of a stroke. It took his hunger strike in protest at the failure to provide him with any medical care before the SIZO authorities even hospitalized him. Chapukh had suffered a partial stroke soon after his arrest, which left one side of his body incapacitated and his speech impaired. “Court” after “court” in occupied Crimea ignored his condition and kept him in detention until his blood pressure reached a level where death was very likely.

In the case of 58-year-old Bekir Degermendzhy, the Russian-controlled prosecutors and “judges” were even in breach of Russian legislation. Degermendzhy has invalid status because of severe bronchial asthma, with this being a condition that should preclude any imprisonment. During one “court hearing”, he needed an oxygen mask, yet the “judge” still extended his detention for a further two months.

In January 2018, he was in such a poor state and unable to breath that he was admitted to an emergency ward. He was still held under guard and they would not even allow his wife to see him. He was moved, as soon as his condition stabilized, supposedly to a normal ward, though in fact to the corridor outside the ward, and then back to the SIZO.

Ametov was then 60 and, although his condition was less critical, it was deteriorating and his lawyer, Emil Kurbedinov called his continued imprisonment “slow murder”.

Ametov; Degermendzhy and Trubach were finally released under house arrest in January 2019. In April that year, they received 3 or 3.5-year suspended sentences even though a different court had confirmed that the entire prosecution was based on a lie and obliged Aitan to return the seven thousand dollars that he had borrowed and refused to repay. The latter court ruling was presumably seen as too incriminating and was, later, revoked, however that cannot change the fact that there was ample evidence confirming that it was Aitan who had stolen Vedzhie Kashka’s money.