Crimea: Imprisoned Activist Urgently Needs Hospital Care

(Kyiv) – A Crimean Tatar activist who has been in pretrial detention for almost eight months is very ill and needs urgent expert medical attention, Human Rights Watch said today. Russian officials in Crimea should immediately transfer the activist, Edem Bekirov, 58, to a hospital for examination and treatment.

Edem Bekirov 

© 2017 Bekirov Family Archive

“Edem Bekirov is gravely ill and his lawyers and relatives are seriously concerned for his life,” said Yulia Gorbunova, senior Europe and Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “He should be in a hospital, where he can get adequate medical care, not in a detention cell.”

Russian law enforcement has defied an order from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) to immediately hospitalize Bekirov for proper medical examination and treatment. 

Prior to his imprisonment, Bekirov had participated in demonstrations in Crimea protesting Russia’s occupation of the peninsula. Russian authorities arrested Bekirov in December 2018, while he was traveling from mainland Ukraine to Crimea to visit his mother. He was arrested at the de facto border, on charges of passing a 14-kilogram backpack with explosives and ammunition to a taxi driver in Crimea. He is being held in SIZO-1 pretrial facility in Simferopol.

Bekirov’s right leg was amputated below the knee in 2005, and he has a difficult-to-heal wound on his stump. He has several chronic illnesses, including type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, pelvic floor dysfunction, and chronic neurological conditions affecting his spine and blood circulation, which resulted in partial paralysis of both legs. In January 2018, Bekirov had quadruple coronary artery bypass surgery. He was to have open-heart surgery again in December but was arrested several days before the scheduled surgery.

One of Bekirov’s lawyers, Islyam Velilyaev, told Human Rights Watch that he last saw Bekirov in prison on July 30 and that his condition was “consistently critical.” For the last 10 days, Bekirov has been in severe pain and practically immobile due to a spinal nerve compression. His ability to move has somewhat improved after his relatives brought him pain medication, Velilyaev said, but his blood sugar remains dangerously high. The lawyer also said that Bekirov’s blood sugar has been at a critically high level for some time because “insulin dosages administered to him in detention are incorrect.”

Bekirov requires constant medical attention to address and monitor his spinal and heart conditions and diabetes. According to recommendations of a doctor who previously treated Bekirov, the stump wound requires regular cutting away of dead tissue (debridement) and at least twice-daily dressing change to prevent infection. Bekirov’s lawyers told Human Rights Watch that he is changing the dressing himself and the wound has gotten worse in detention.

He also has had to rely on his relatives to bring him most of his essential medication, because the detention facility provides him only with insulin.

Russian law precludes incarceration of suspects or accused who have certain illnesses or conditions. Several conditions that Bekirov has, including an amputated limb that requires constant medical attention and a severe neurological disease affecting his spine and legs, are included in a 2011 government regulation on this issue.

In January, March, and May 2019, Bekirov’s lawyers unsuccessfully petitioned investigative authorities to send Bekirov for examination by relevant medical professionals to determine whether his pretrial custody could be replaced with an alternative measure, such as house arrest.

On June 11, at the request of Bekirov’s lawyers, the ECtHR issued an interim measure under Rule No. 39 of the court, ordering the authorities to immediately hospitalize Bekirov for “proper medical examination and treatment.” Bekirov’s lawyers petitioned the investigators to comply with the European Court’s request and immediately transfer Bekirov to a hospital. On June 12, the lead investigator rejected the request, saying that the authorities had no way of verifying the facts contained in the court’s request and that the court’s letter was not certified, which led the investigators to question its authenticity.

On July 10, the court also asked the authorities to ensure that Bekirov is examined by “independent and specialist doctors with the view to preparing separate and detailed medical opinions” on each of Bekirov’s health problems. The court also stipulated that the interim measures issued on June 11 remain in place.

Bekirov’s other lawyer, Alexey Ladin, told Human Rights Watch that the detention facility authorities took Bekirov to several “medical consultations” that were not effective and cannot replace a medical examination that determines a person’s fitness for custody. Velilyaev said: “They are tormenting him, this is torture. We’ve been talking about his health for six months now, but nothing is being done. It’s like we are tilting at windmills.”

Russian authorities have steadily intensified their persecution of Crimean Tatars for their vocal opposition to Russia’s occupation under various pretexts and with the apparent goal of completely silencing dissent on the peninsula. They have portrayed politically active Crimean Tatars as extremists and terrorists, arrested and jailed dozens on trumped up charges, and forced many into exile.

“Bekirov urgently needs proper medical care, the European Court has ordered it, and the Russian authorities should do the right thing and transfer him to a hospital,” Gorbunova said. “To deliberately refuse to transfer Bekirov, and to choose instead to keep him suffering in detention, is inhuman and degrading, and a blatant violation of their most fundamental obligations.”