Writing From a Russian Prison, Server Mustafayev Calls for ‘Strength in Unity’

Ahead of the fifth anniversary of his arrest, Freedom House is honored to publish a letter authored by Server Mustafayev, a Crimean Tatar human rights defender.


From his cell in a Russian prison, Server Mustafayev’s resolve to defend the rights of his community remains unchanged in spite of the deplorable conditions of his detention and repeated mistreatment by prison authorities.

Read his letter in full below:


Warm greetings in all languages of the world from the dungeons of the Gulag of the 21st century. I am sincerely grateful to everyone who remembers us, writes to us, and stands in solidarity with us, along our path of struggle for truth and justice. Your efforts and warmth, even if not immediately felt, reach us, inspire us, and weaken the power of the servants of the tyrant.

Today, after more than 1,800 days of my being the captive of the war’s aggressor, Russia, and more than 3,300 days of Russia’s de facto control of Crimea, I would like to share some of the consequences of imperial ambitions and antihuman legislation of the Russian Federation.

Today, more than 400 days after February 24, 2022, many have already seen the bare, obvious truth—terrifying in their cynicism, immorality, and the complex phobias that they encompass—the behavior of the tyrannical Russian Federation; particularly its propagandistic, deceitful media and Foreign Affairs Ministry.

I do not consider it necessary to comment on the sweeping statements and shameless manipulations of the norms of international law by the criminals of Russia before the world. Every sane and sincere person has already understood this: “whoever calls [other people] names, he himself is such.”

Since 2014, it has been hard for us in Crimea to reach out to the international community to show what is really happening to the indigenous people, Muslims, journalists, and human rights activists in Crimea. How many SOS calls! And calls crying “Danger!” from lawyers, human rights activists, and journalists from Crimea went unheard or without sufficient and necessary reaction and response measures.

The world was deceived by the false propaganda of the media and the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the picture of allegedly “free expression of will in Crimea in the spring of 2014” and the absence of military operations for Crimea, in Crimea. The Russian Federation did not recognize the mandatory application of the norms of the 4th Geneva Convention to the inhabitants of Crimea, and the world could not influence this.

Meanwhile, the Russian Federation actively, without wasting time, destroyed all dissent, activism, journalism, and justice in Crimea. Ratified in the Russian Federation and declared by the world, the rights and freedoms of citizens to peaceful assembly, expression of free will and religious beliefs were erased; double standards for these rights are applied as convenient to the political situation. Russia’s ratification of various international conventions, memorandums, and more is all fiction. Unfortunately, just like a boa constrictor, which quietly and ruthlessly suffocates and devours its victim, the Russian Federation—all these years in the Crimea, although without military action, but no less catastrophically—has destroyed and continues to destroy the cultural and historical heritage of the Crimean Tatars and Muslims, deporting and forcing undesirables to leave.

Dozens of people disappeared, hundreds were arrested, thousands were forcedly expelled from their native home (Crimea), homes they returned to after the genocide and deportation of 1944. More than 230 children were left without fathers and are brought up by people’s solidarity. Numerous cases of documented (although there are much more undocumented) torture of civilians by the Federal Security Service (FSB), with the aim of inducing those civilians to commit slander and produce false evidence against others.

Numerous large-scale special operations of the FSB and the Center for Combating Extremism of the Russian Federation in places populated mostly by Crimean Tatar Muslims—in mosques, markets, and meetings of groups like “Crimean Solidarity,” and other open events for citizens. Blocking roads and courts for the public and relatives who wish to support politically persecuted prisoners of conscience. At least three lawyers experiencing politically motivated retaliation, deprived of their legal status, a number of lawyers and activists being subject to administrative arrests and fines (in some cases, fines of more than 3 million rubles!). These are all deliberate actions of the authorities to suppress the activity and solidarity of Crimean Tatars and others who do not accept the attempts of the Russian Federation to slander them and label them “terrorists” and “extremists,” “saboteurs” and “foreign agents.”

Protected lands and objects, cemeteries and other historical territories—the objects of Crimea are blasphemously sold, built up, and destroyed. The language, history, culture, and religion of the Crimean Tatar Muslims are deliberately rewritten, distorted, and assimilated. There is a direct political will from the Kremlin for this lawlessness, carried out with great predilection by the hands of locals (Crimean, formerly Ukrainians), as well as chauvinists, Islamophobes, and Nazis, specially sent to do this from mainland Russia.

The inhumane, repressive legislation of the Russian Federation, created over many years, was quickly integrated in Crimea. Traitors and opportunists of the Crimean peninsula adapted well to the new realities, and on the blood and fate of their compatriots built their careers and corruption schemes.

The people of the Russian Federation have long been brought up in the spirit of slavery, and the Crimean population—not accustomed to “rights without rights,” “freedom in occupation,” and more, and seeing the lazy reaction of the world to the wild (for a modern society) actions of the Russian Federation—after 2014 could not maintain the resistance to injustice, repression, and forms of genocide by the Russian Federation. For more than nine years, the civic resistance has been significantly suppressed by the colossal capabilities and resources of the repressive Russian machine. I see the reason: the limited reactions from the world to these alarming signals, which only drew “concerns” and “condemnation,” and absolutely did not restrain the aggression and repression from Russia.

Nevertheless, thanks to the resilience, faith and solidarity of the Crimean society and individual groups within it, it was possible to provide the world with pictures of real life and persecution from the Crimean occupation. I believe it will not be an exaggeration to say that the selfless and courageous sacrifice of life, health, and freedom—by lawyers and Crimean activists—made it possible for the world today to state the facts of violations of fundamental rights and freedoms in Crimea (which both the Russian Federation and the world community are desperately declaring). Thank God, in spite of all this, the spark of struggle and the faith in the imminent victory of truth and justice over lies and tyranny have not been extinguished among the people.

My arrest and the arrests of my compatriots in our criminal case is a vivid example of the ban and persecution of peaceful meetings and religious rites, which everyone calls inviolable only in words and on paper. Discussions in the mosque of the city of Bakhchisaray of canonical religious topics the Russian Federation called conspiratorial and a gathering of a “terrorist cell”! This absurdity is just a front, and Muslims and opposition to the Russian regime have long known the method of using antiterrorist legislation to hide the actual fight against any form of dissent through Islamophobia. In addition, in our cases in Crimea, we were indiscriminately accused of “an attempt to seize and overthrow the constitutional order and power of the Russian Federation.” How cynical it is to hear from those who came to our home, who actually seized territories and overthrew the political and legal field, that we are accused of this! Of course, my and my compatriots’ active social activities within the framework of the Crimean Solidarity nongovernmental organization (NGO), as well as our belonging to historically recalcitrant and unbroken groups as Crimean Tatars and those who profess the faith of Islam, were the basis of harassment and persecution against us, and in dozens of other Crimean cases.

I believe going into the details of the evidence against us is unnecessary, as they do not stand up to criticism; are essentially empty and biased; lack common sense and at least some facts in the multiple volumes of the criminal case and charges; includes numerous violations of the United Nation and European Court of Human Rights conventions in procedural and substantive law; break rules regarding the conditions of detention both in courts and in pretrial detention centers (the IK of the Federal Penitentiary Service of the Russian Federation). All this is in the monitoring reports of NGOs. I would like to once again emphasize that the basis for all this legal lawlessness, in addition to the political will of the Kremlin, was absolutely groundless and illegal (according to the norms of procedural and substantive law even of the Russian Federation itself). The decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation dated February 14, 2003, to ban several organizations as terrorist groups, has become an instrument of pressure and a feeding trough for the FSB and the Russian Federation.

Separately, I want to draw attention to the fact that even after so many violations of our rights, such disrespect for due process, and convictions with wild punishments of 15-19 years, these Gestapo continue to torment us and our families in place of our punishment: they send us 1,500-5,000 kilometers away from Crimea! They deprive (complicate) the ability for me to meet with my family; they give me illegal prophylactic registration (as extremists) and further tighten detention conditions because of this; they provide little to no medicine in the Federal Penitentiary Service, a separate large case of violations of rights leading to a slow tortured death! A tragic example of this murder is in Dzhemil Gafarov!

With the support of lawyers, we managed, using my example, to prove and win a trial for violations in the provision or nonprovision of medical care in places where liberty is deprived. I really hoped that by winning the trial in the Kirovsky District Court of Rostov-on-Don, the situation regarding the provision of medicine would change. But alas, it seems that this rotten, corrupt system of Gulags cannot be changed, and needs a global comprehensive replacement and reboot! Similarly, it is sad in regard to religious rights when in detention: the Russian Federation prohibits the world-recognized canonical Islamic works and even the Koran in the original in Arabic (at least in my office in the Federal Penitentiary Service of the Russian Federation in the Tambov region). Another example in the Federal Penitentiary Service of Crimea, they took away the Koran from me (claiming it is an extremist book), which was presented to me during the Hajj (pilgrimage) by the king of Saudi Arabia (the Russian Federation also considers them extremists). All these instances are demonstrative of double standards. In Crimea, with great publicity, the Russian Federation is building a mosque, and at the same time hundreds of Muslims are languishing in prisons and imams are subject to persecution. To whom and for what then are these mosques being built?

My more than 1,800 days in custody have passed in one breath—during numerous trials (there were more than 120 in my criminal case) and painful transfers (more than 180 days from Crimea to a penal colony) through the entire Russian Federation (Krasnodar, Armavir, Rostov, Novocherkassk, Ryazan, Ufa, Voronezh, Tambov). These transfers to the outback of the Russian Federation—as I and my people, confidently call it—amount to hybrid deportation! But on the other hand, the long-awaited meeting (almost 5 years were in a pretrial detention center without long meetings), after more than 1,700 days with my family—wife, parents, and children—showed me that a lot of time had passed, many days had been experienced and nights, in worries, anxieties and struggles: my mother and father have noticeably aged, the children are already quite grown up and there are breaks in relations between us that require communication and rapprochement. And my relatives noticed wrinkles on my face, and strong gray hair on my head. Five years of imprisonment did not pass so quickly or without a trace.

I am absolutely not broken from everything experienced over the years. I am full of confidence that we are all on the verge of a victorious finale of the next pages in the history of the people. All these endless and often fruitless processes to defend the rights, freedoms, and legitimate interests guaranteed to us absolutely do not make us despair and lose heart. We have a strong, strong faith that gives us decisiveness and energy in any situation; we have a courageous and united people who have not abandoned us, our families, and, most importantly, our struggle and the path of development for which we were imprisoned; we have incredible support outside of Crimea and even Ukraine. These truths also inspire us greatly, although it brings about the anger and hatred of the aggressor and his punitive system: his hatred means we are on the right track and we must continue with the same and even greater effort and intensity. For the time being, we can state that the fundamental rights of the people in Crimea, loudly declared by the UN and the world, have not been realized for every persecuted and oppressed.

I wrote several diaries with details of many of the circumstances mentioned in this letter, and I hope the world will be able to see this path through my eyes—my philosophical recording of experience, feelings, and sensations, like other diaries of prisoners of conscience of the past and present. For me, these diaries and events have become a university of life. In any case, we all perceive what is happening to us, in Crimea and to the people, as tests of the Almighty, in which there are many lessons, mistakes of the past, and rules for successful development and restoration for the future. It is with this philosophy that we go through all the lawsuits of imprisonment in Catherine [the Great]’s prisons. This is how our relatives and friends look at everything that happens and at liberty.

We are all witnesses of incredible historical events in the establishment of new rules for the world order. What has been ordained by the Almighty will be accomplished in any case, with or without us, but we will all be responsible before the Lord for what we did or did not do, when undisguised crimes against humanity and entire peoples took place before our eyes.

The one who justifies his inaction or detachment is mistaken, explaining that nothing depends on him, that this does not concern him, etc. It will be too late when trouble has already touched you, your children, family, your home or people—do what you can and do it today.

A downpour starts with a drop.

“Strength in unity” is the motto with which we have been following this path all these years and calling on other people who are not indifferent to unity, faith, and hope.

Our prayers are unceasingly directed against every secret and open enemy; against the tyrant and those who help them in their lawlessness. We pray to the Almighty to give courage, strengthen the feet and backs of all prisoners of conscience of the Kremlin and all activists and lawyers at large. We believe that we have already passed most of the way and the smell of victory and freedom is already sensed like never before. With strong faith, and only in unity, we will achieve the desired goals. Amen.

See you soon, in the free, sunny Crimea, during the national holiday of victory and freedom.

P.S. I urge everyone to remember how important and effective it is for consulates of Ukraine, or for representatives of countries in solidarity with Ukraine, to visit courts and places where sentences are given. (Countries of the “Crimean platform.”) This preventatively facilitates our position in the pretrial detention center or correctional colony and in the courts.