Hardly a week that goes by without news about politically motivated criminal cases against Crimean Tatars, a nation whose motherland is the Crimea peninsula, a Ukrainian territory currently occupied by Russia.
The history of Crimean Tatars of the last centuries is one of oppression and suffering.
Memorial, a human rights organization that was declared a foreign agent and subsequently shut down by a Russian court in April 2022, considers the Crimean Tatars, persecuted after the 2014 annexation of Crimea, political prisoners. In 2021, it highlighted that the Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), declared “extremist” in Russia, does not have any terroristic or violent facts in its history. Indeed, Ukraine recognizes the organization as legal. Yet most Crimean Tatars who are currently persecuted are accused by Russian authorities of belonging to HT.
There is no evidence indicating that the HT has been involved in the activities of jihadist groups, states Memorial. It is worth noting that, apart from Russia, Uzbekistan is the only other country to have banned HT as a terrorist organization, but this decision was made in 2016, which is after the Russian Supreme Court’s decision in 2003.
Although the program provisions of HT and the content on their websites are widely incompatible with the principles of democracy and human rights as defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, HT’s activities are legal in Western European democratic countries, with the exception of Germany, which has banned the organization due to its dissemination of anti-Semitic publications.
Memorial, therefore, asserts that the Supreme Court’s decision to label HT as a terrorist organization is unjustified.
Memorial has further said that it believed that the persecution of individuals accused of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir in Crimea is unjust and politically motivated. The reasons behind this persecution, the organization said, were closely linked to nationality, religious beliefs, and the ongoing armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine. This oppressive campaign, they highlighted, was a part of a broader effort by the authorities to repress the Crimean Tatar community, whom they consider political opponents, and Muslims who do not conform to the Russian government’s preferred narrative.
Ukrainian Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets, as reported by the Kyiv Independent, said that there are currently 180 Ukrainian political prisoners, including 116 Crimean Tatars, illegally held in Russia-occupied Crimea.
On January 11, 2023, Radio Liberty reported that a Russian court has sentenced five Crimean Tatars to 13 years in prison for their alleged involvement in terrorist activities in the so-called case of Crimean Muslims.
As described by the OVD-Info human rights project, Crimean Tatars are under constant pressure of Russian authorities to this day. For example, at least 34 activists coming to support the six jailed activists during court hearings in January 2023 were detained.
As Current Time TV reported in January 2023, lawyer Nilolay Polozov, said that Russian security forces detained and searched homes of six Crimean Tatars activists on January 24, 2023. They were denied lawyers. Polozov at the time believed that the FSB [Federal Security Service, a successor of the KGB] may be preparing another big case against the Crimean Tatars
In February 2023, there also appeared news about two activists who died in Russian detention facilities in February 2023. One of them, Dzhemil Gafarov, who was detained in annexed Crimea in 2019, was among those convicted in January 2023. According to the media reports, he was 60 years old and sentenced to 13 years in prison.