“Deo gratias, praise the God who liberated me,” he starts.
Murad Aliyev is a prisoner who fled from the house arrest, crossed the border and stays in Kyiv, palnning to return to the Crimea already after it is deoccupied. His story starts in August 2015, when Murad was arrested under the suspicion in beating and robbery. In May, someone offered him an undocumented smartphone right in the street, and Murad bought it. He sold it later on, but in August he was stopped in the street by an operative investigator of the Simferopol central police department. “Hello, Murad,” he said and stretched out his hand. When Murad shook it, the policeman put an armlock on him, and threw him to the ground. Plain-clothed agents came running to him from the car, which was parked around the corner, and pushed him into that car. When Murad asked whether they were going they only promised he would understand it when they reach the destination point. They delivered him to the central police department, office #42.
He was expected there by Captain Kokoryshkyn with the smartphone which Murad had bought and re-sold three months before. After swearing and humiliations, Murad was photographed, while his demand to see the lawyer was ingnored.
The investigator who photographed Murad left the office, and returned with the victim after some time. The victim pointed at Murad with sheer confidence. This is how Murad Aliyev became guilty.
He was provided a state lawyer. The police beat and strangulated him, in a way so as not to leave any traces on his body. At night, they delivered him to the hospital for tests, and in the morning he was already in the courtroom. From there, he was taken to the remand prison in Simferopol. The attitude to him there was more humane, unlike the confinement conditions: anti-sanitary, excess humidity, fungus, no heating – there were even windowless cells. At the spot, Murad had to wait for a long time in the “gut” - a long, gloomy, not illuminated corridor, crowded with inmates. About 12 hours of waiting standing up, and Murad was sent to the transit cell #10. He spent two weeks there – 6 beds for 18 people, stiff air, anti-sanitary. The food was rare and nasty, moreover, there was pork – as a dedicated Muslim, Murad had no way out but to wait for the parcels from his parents.
After these two weeks he was transferred to the common cell, and he was also allowed to take the Quaran with him. The common cell #101, on the third floor, was also overcrowded. About 30 people on several square meters. There were queues to the toilet, but the inmates had one phone. Murad called his family and asked them to bring a prayer carpet and the Quaran. He was taken to the investigators periodically. They were fabricating his case with the fanatism of some Kafka characters: invented victim, invented co-partner, but the sentence was real – 2 years and 6 months of imprisonment. The prosecutor requested a year more. It was then that they started seizing Quarans from the inmates, and marking them with the stamp of Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service. It was a check on the fact of possessing extremist literature.
In half a year, Murad was taken to the penal colony #2 in Kerch. It was December 2015. Back then, it was possible to speak of that colony as equal to any other penal institution. However, starting from this summer, when the videos and complaints of the prisoners linked to the outside, the very name “Kerch Penal Colony #2” became a synonym of horror. At that moment, for Murad it was just another circle of that fabricated hell which he had to go through.
At the start, he described his life in the colony as “normal”. Whatever evil that “normality” was, it fit into the farmework of something understandable. It was “normal” until the staff of the Omsk administration arrived on business trip to the colony in winter 2016. 5 people, who started “supervising” the “quarantine” department. The “quarantine” is a department to which new prisoners arrive. There, the staff admit them to the territory of the colony, examine, change clothing, and record. Ever since the moment of the arrival of Omsk staff, Murad heard rumours someone was beaten and humiliated in the quarantine. He realized he needed to do something about it. He became a supervisor of the quarantine, and started an open confrontation with the administration.
Many times he heard about the screams of the young guys, the newcomers, who often were newbies in the world of this penitentiary matrix. They had no idea where to go and what to ask for, in the first place. For them, it was an introduction into the life in this colony, which programmed them for silent obedience. When Murad tried to talk with them, they hid and asked him to leave, so that no one would notice that they talked to him. The Omsk staff seemed to enjoy what they were doing, which made the newbies shrink into themselves even more.
The head of the Omsk staff was a limp Colonel, followed by four captains and one private. They came to Kerch to establish the Russian order here. Since the very first days they needed to keep absolutely everyone in fear and obedience – only by doing this they could root the Russian principle of “watch and punish”.
They practiced own cruelty with an enviable diligence. Beating by hand and batons, most often in the heels and trunk - so that no one could track the beating. Targeted blows in the kidneys – they placed the baton vertically on the kidney area and hit the handle. This way there are no traces, but the kidney dysfunctions, and the general condition of a person is close to unconsciousness. They splashed urine in the prisoners’ faces. Raped them with batons. And they did all this, as prisoners testified, with extremely vile swearing and laughter. They switched on Rammstein's music in order to mute the screaming. Desecrate, crush, destroy from the inside. Inmates are usually up to 20-22 years old. Young guys who got to the colony because of own stupidity, or over some slander. They could not stand tortures. Some listened to Murad and tried to complain; some - also on his advice - obediently executed orders. Some tried to put an end to tortures in a more radical way, by having committed suicide. Two inmates died for these almost two years - their hearts failed.
Hardly had several months passed when they noticed that Murad took care of the “quarantine”. The prisoners’ letters tried to leak to the outside and reach the supervisory prosecutor’s office, written complaints appeared again and again. They decided to deal with Murad by themselves. They summoned him for interrogation several times – what for? For whose sake? What will you get from this? They closed him in the room, wrapped with adhesive tape, and started beating him with a baton, using stunning device repeatedly. During the beating, Murad agreed to stop lobbying the “quarantine”. However, they ordered him to clean the toilet as the last straw, and Murad did not agreee to do this, so the beating continued.
“It was for every one of us,” Murad says. “They wanted to break down the camp. Break down everyone, to make them go for the morning exercises every day, to make them sing Russia’s national anthem, or squat by the order, and do whatever they are told to do.”
Time passed. Murad continued helping the suffering newcomers. He told those who were most severely beaten to give it up and follow the orders, if they cannot stand the tortures. For those who found strength and courage to endure, he offered to file claims – to nowhere, but it gave certain consolation. Once the Chief of the colony Oleksiy Bobrikov sent for him. He knew what Murad was doing – he repeatedly tried to achieve a meeting with the Chief. “Don’t forget that you are not in some pioneer camp,” he said. He explained that the colony’s internal rules are open for breaking over the instructions from the outside. “Why are you writing all this?” he continued. “The prosecutor’s people come to my office, I offer them coffee with sweets, and we agree on every single issue. Calm down, Aliyev, the camp is ours.”
Murad’s only victory was the abolishment of the order obliging prisoners to sing the national anthem of the Russian Federation at the morning exercises. Murad grounded it so the prosecutor liked it: Aliyev stated that many prisoners didn’t know the lyrics, so they break the law under the leadership of the colony’s admioistration, as they deviate the anthem, the national symbol. Forcible singing ended. The Omsk staff also left as time passed – only one man remained. However, Murad didn’t stop: he started blackmailing the Chief of the colony, that in case the beating continues they will cut wrists en masse. The prospect of an emergency situation in the colony temporarily stopped the administration – they suspended the beating practice. However, then Dvortsevoy came. Nobody knew who he was and where he came from. He wore no insignia, just black uniform, a hood, and a stunning device. He continued beating and “breaking down” the prisoners. Dvortsevoy still works in the Kerch colony – he is an operative investigator and head of the “pit”, the punitive confinement. Murad spent most of the time in that “pit”. However, he wasn’t going to stop.
The colony had a church and a mosque. The church functioned, but the mosque didn’t – they made a library out of it. Murad began to persuade the head of the colony that, according to the law, they have no right to restrict prisoners in the right to religious beliefs. After a long stir, they were given a cabinet. The prisoners, at their own expense, made repairs there, organized water supply and electricity, and began to gather there for prayer. “After that, they put a tick on me,” says Murad.
As soon as the self-made mosque started functioning, operatives began to come to Aliyev with questions about what the ISIS was and what his attitude to it was. Prisoner Chalyi, who has already served 10 years of his prison term for murder, but was close to the administration, would come to Murad during prayers. Chalyi asked Murad about Wahhabism, ISIS, Syria, Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Therefore, when on August 25, 2017, they pulled a sack on his head and led him to an FSB officer, where the FSB operatives turned on the recorder and played the record of his conversation with Chalyi, Murad was almost not surprised. Then everything happened quickly. They connected wires and asked Murad about his extremist activity. A linguistic expert assessed the conversations with Chaly, in which Murad expressed his rejection of any Islam sects, and especially militarized ones; as containing calls for extremism and incitement to hostility.
A criminal case was initiated under articles 280 and 282 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. The linguistic expert testified against Murad. In the transcript of the conversation, some places were marked as “illegible” , although the record was quite clear. The commas were placed in a weird way also, as if to emphasize the very “calls to extremism”. The second case against him was already open.
“But with the help of the Almighty, they got confused,” says Murad. On February 2, 2018, the term of his imprisonment for the phone theft and beating should have ended. According to the Russian law, he had the right to return home. His lawyer filed an appeal. After some time they went to him, pulled a sack on his head, put him in a car and drove Murad to his house.
They took a written obligation on cooperation from him. They released him under a non-leave obligation, and he was also obliged to appear at 5 court trials, during which they intended to finish consideration of his criminal case. When saying goodbye, they reminded he would go behind bars again. The first trial took place on April 10. Before the second trial, Murad already knew he had nothing to lose. If they stop him on the border, it will mean two more years in prison, which is not a big deal compared to the possible sentence. In the end, it was an opportunity to gain freedom. Murad is convinced that the phone with which it all started, had been planted on him. He and his parents are practically sure he had been followed. The Crimea has become a dangerous territory for the Crimean Tatars. Right after the annexation, many of Murad’s friends fled, having realized the danger of practicing own religion and keeping own identity in the space, captured by Russia. They took their step. After years under watch, after several years in prison and struggle with the prison system, Murad realized it should be his step, too. No matter how risky it would seem, this step has become the beginning of the new life.
The whole story could have become a plot for a rather good movie. The story about fabricated cases, defending others inside the prison hell, and risky attempts to struggle for the right to free life. About how it is possible not to break down. However, sad but true, this is not a movie. In July 2018, human rights center GULAG-Info published the information that the prisoners of the Kerch penal colony #2 had sent over 70 complaints to the Public Observatory Commission. The complaints related to systematic tortures and extortions. The beatings take place in the premises, not equipped with the surveillance cameras (in the reception unit, in the room for searching at the pulitive confinement facility, in the offices etc.).
The man in the check shirt is finishing his story. Some journalists are lazily scrolling the displays of their phones. Some are talking in a whisper on where to get the next news piece. Some are listening to him attentively, but with no particular interest. We have got used to the horror of these stroies to such an extent that a movie with a similar plot would have impressed us more than the evidence of a real witness. Murad thanks God for the liberation. “What are you going to do in Kyiv?” a journalist asks. “Live. Live and praise Allah,” Murad replies.