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Russia: Government Must Release Crimean Political Prisoners and Peaceful Civic Activists
In response to the detention of seven peaceful protesters on Red Square ahead of a legal appeal tomorrow of draconian sentences for Crimean Tatar political prisoners, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“The Russian government’s systematic practice of imprisoning Crimean residents simply because of their religious beliefs, ethnicity, or civic activity must end immediately,” said Marc Behrendt, director for Europe and Eurasia programs at Freedom House. “Those already sitting in Russian prisons and jails should be released. Gross injustices were on full display on Red Square today as at least seven people were detained during a peaceful protest. They were standing against the Russian government’s prosecution of Crimean Tatars on bogus extremism charges. These and other politically motivated prosecutions are evidence of a full-scale assault on human rights on the peninsula and violate international law. The fabrication of terrorism and extremism cases against peaceful civic activists based on secret testimony and the opinions of dubious ‘experts’ is but one part of this campaign against people who have lived on the Crimean Peninsula for decades.”
Seven people were detained on Red Square while holding signs reading “The fight against terrorism in Crimea is a fight against dissent” and “Our children are not terrorists,” among others. The protest in the center of Moscow took place one day before the Russian Supreme Court is to review convictions handed down by the North Caucasus District Military Court in Rostov against four men accused of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist group that is banned in Russia but not in Ukraine. In December 2018, the military court found the four men—Enver Mamutov, Zevri Abseitov, Rustem Abiltarov, Remzi Memetov—guilty of organizing the activity of a terrorist organization (Article 205.5 of the Russian penal code) and planning to violently seize power (Article 278). All four men are considered political prisoners by the human rights group Memorial. Since the Russian occupation of Crimea in 2014, similar allegations of membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir have become a common pretext for criminal prosecutions there. According to human rights groups, 63 people have been arrested in Crimea under these charges. As an occupying power, Russia is prohibited under international human rights and humanitarian law from applying its own laws in Crimea or detaining Crimean residents outside of the peninsula.
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.