Name: Emil Kurbedinov
Position: Private lawyer
Key Point: Helping Crimean Tatars fight persecution
Crimean Tatar Emil Kurbedinov, a 35-year-old lawyer, has defended several prominent Crimean Tatar activists against harassment by the Russian occupying authorities in Crimea.
But on Jan. 26 he was the target of harassment. His car was stopped as he was traveling with a colleague to be present at the search of a client’s home. He was arrested.
At the same time, officers from Russia’s FSB security service were searching his office – in violation of the law. Soon after that, other officers turned up at his apartment in Simferopol, in the heart of the Russian-occupied Crimea, where Kurbedinov lives with his wife, two children, mother and grandmother.
FSB officers forced their way into the apartment, and according to family members, made offensive remarks about their religion and nationality. At one point, an ambulance was called for Kurbedinov’s mother, who was taken ill from stress.
Kurbedinov spent the next 10 days in prison on charges of promoting extremism.
“They let me call my mom while I was in jail, and she told me she was proud of me and that I was doing everything right,” Kurbedinov told the Kyiv Post on March 2. “My family worries about me. But I want my kids to live in a state where their rights and the rule of law are respected.”
Muslim, lawyer, Crimean Tatar
Kurbedinov’s promotion of “extremism” was to re-post a video of a 2013 protest led by Hizb ut-Tahrir, an international pan-Islamic political organization, which aims to reestablish an Islamic caliphate. The organization is banned in Russia, but not in Ukraine.
Kurbedinov is the defense lawyer of Ilmi Umerov, the deputy head of Crimean Tatars’ Mejlis, Akhmet Chiygoz, Crimean Tatar politician, Mykola Semena, a Krym.Realii (Radio Liberty branch) journalist and others.
“While I was in jail, the FSB initiated several court hearings in cases of my defendants without my presence,” said the lawyer. “This an act of horrification, and pressure on me, my colleagues and my team. This is also a message to other lawyers – to be more loyal and friendly to the government and law enforcement agencies.”
Kurbedinov describes himself as a Muslim, Crimean Tatar, human rights lawyer and a citizen of two states but supporter of one – Ukraine.
Kurbedinov studied law in southern Russia, at Kuban State University of Krasnodar. Soon after graduation, he moved to Simferopol. He started working as a legal assistant in 2003.
Now Kurbedinov works for the Crimean Advocates Association of Simferopol.
“Every day we face the injustice of courts and law enforcement agencies. We see children, left without fathers just for the fact that their fathers are Muslims and Crimean Tatars who dared to tell the truth,” Kurbedinov said.
On Jan. 26, the day of Kurbedinov’s arrest, the so-called Counter Extremism Center of Crimea, in fact an FSB-affiliated organization also searched the Advocates Association offices.
“They confiscated our computers and other information devices containing secret legal information,” Kurbedinov said.
Changes made to the Russian Criminal Code in 2014 allow for prison terms of up to five years for online extremism, plus other penalties.
And Umerov, one of Kurbedinov’s clients, is worried that his advocate’s outspokenness will land him in prison and prevent him from working as a lawyer.
Kurbedinov said all his clients are being prosecuted in Russian-occupied Crimea on politically motivated charges.
Investigators of the Crimean branch of Russia’s FSB in May launched a criminal inquiry against Umerov on suspicion of inciting a violation of Russia’s territorial integrity.
That happened soon after Natalia Poklonskaya, a Crimean prosecutor who became a lawmaker in the Russian State Duma, alleged on Facebook that Umerov had publicly called for the violation of Russia’s territorial integrity on ATR Crimean Tatar Channel.
On March 1, the FSB finished the investigation and submitted the case against Umerov to the courts.
Kurbedinov and his colleague Semedlyaev are also working together on the case against Seyran Saliyev, a Crimean Tatar activist, and the son of Zodiya Salieva, a member of the Crimean Tatars National Movement.
Saliyev and Kurbedinov were arrested on the same day. A few minutes before Saliev’s arrest, Kurbedinov published a video on Facebook in which he and Semedlyaev are stopped by traffic police in Simferopol while heading to Salieva’s apartment to be present during a search of it by the FSB.
All of the charges against Kurbedinov’s other clients are connected to their pro-Ukrainian positions.
Crimean Tatar politician Chiygoz was detained in 2015 for participating in a demonstration to support Ukrainian territorial integrity near the Crimean Parliament in 2014. In March, a Crimean court extended his arrest until July.
Journalist Semena is also accused of extremism. Prosecutor says that in his story on the Crimean blockade in 2015, Semena supported the blockade, and therefore supported extremism and terrorism.
Lawyers under fire
Speaking at the time of Kurbedinov’s arrest, Refat Chubarov, the leader of the Crimean Tatar representative body the Mejlis, and a Bloc of Petro Poroshenko lawmaker, said that Kuberdinov’s conviction marked the start of a more intensive wave of repression of the Crimean Tatars.
The latest crackdown started on Jan. 25 when the FSB arrested Russian lawyer Nikolay Polozov, who on Jan. 23 took part in a briefing by the Ukrainian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France.
Kurbedinov, however, has not lost hope. People on the peninsula are awakening to Russian repression, he said.
“Enemies have become friends, and vice versa,” Kurbedinov said. “Our people have become more united, and have started putting more value on every human being.”
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