Prisoner of Conscience: Emir-Hussein Kuku, Ukraine
In February 2016 Russian security forces raided the house of Emir- Hussein Kuku, a Crimean Tatar human rights activist, searched his home for five hours, and arrested him. Later Kuku was charged with being a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir party that is banned as a terrorist organization in Russia, but legal in Ukraine. Kuku denied any involvement with the movement.
The 2016 raid was not activist’s first encounter with Russian Federal Security Service, FSB. In the spring of 2015, FSB agents attacked him on his way to work, severely beat him, and then took him for interrogation to the FSB headquarters. In fact the security agents tried to recruit him as an informant on multiple occasions.
In 2014 Russia sent troops to Crimea and later annexed the peninsula in a breach of international law. Shortly after Moscow invaded Crimea, local activists started disappearing. Many of them were Crimean Tatars, the indigenous people of Crimea that makes up to 13 percent of the population. Witnessing the injustice carried against his people, Kuku was inspired to join Contact Group on Human Rights, an organization which documents such enforced disappearances and monitors violations of human rights in general.
At the end of 2017, Kuku was transferred to Rostov-on-Don, a city in the South-West of Russia, around 700 km away from Yalta. In February 2018 a military court in Rostov-on-Don started the trial proceedings against Kuku and five other Crimean Tartars charged with membership in the local branch of Hizb ut-Tahrir. The case became known as the “Yalta Six”.
“The charges are absurd in their very essence: how can six people who neither possess vast financial resources, nor enjoy the support of the top brass of Russia’s Armed Forces possibly seize power in a powerful nuclear-armed state with a million-strong army?!”, said Kuku in an open letter from May 2018, as quoted by online publication Open Democracy. “Yet the FSB continues to paint us as terrorists, falsifying ‘evidence’ for our ‘guilt’ in a fashion consistent with most dismal traditions of the NKVD – and thereby demonstrating that little has changed in Russia since Stalin’s time.”
In the summer of 2018 Kuku went on a hunger strike for 23 days and lost 13 kilograms, calling for the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia.
Amnesty International, a human rights organization, named Kuku a prisoner of conscience, and called multiple times for his release along with his fellow co-defendants from the “Yalta Six”.
In November 2019, almost four years after his initial arrest, the Southern District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don sentenced Kuku to twelve years in a high-security prison. In the summer of 2020, a higher military court upheld the sentence.
Currently Moscow holds around 120 Ukrainians who are considered by Kiev to be political prisoners. In September 2019, in a historic prisoner swap, Ukraine and Russia exchanged dozens of prisoners, the first such move since the relations between the two countries soured following the annexation of Crimea five years earlier. Two more swaps followed and a total of 130 inmates had been freed, according to data, provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine.
Disclaimer: As of December 31, 2020, research shows that Emir-Hussein Kuku is still in jail, serving the remaining of his sentence.
Prisoners of Conscience from East and Southeast Europe
We feature select few prisoners of conscience out of the many in East and Southeast Europe. One political prisoner is one too many.
Find out who the other political prisoners are #PrisonersofConscience #FreeThemAll and in the special Focus on our website.