The Memorial Human Rights Center says it has recognized four Crimean Tatars being tried for their alleged association with a banned Islamic group as political prisoners.
The Moscow-based group said the four are being illegally persecuted for political reasons after being arrested “in connection with their non-violent exercising of their rights to freedom of religion and association”
“The Memorial Human Rights Center, according to international criteria , considers Seytumer Shukrievich Seytumerov, Osman Seytumerov, Amet Suleimanov and Rustem Seytmemetov political prisoners, and Seytumer Veliyevich Seytumerov — illegally persecuted for political reasons,” the group said in a statement released on May 20.
“Memorial calls for an immediate end to the prosecution of all those involved in this case and the release of those who are unreasonably detained,” it added.
The four were arrested on March 11, 2020, at their homes in Crimea. They were charged with creating a cell of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamic group that is banned in Russia, but is legal in Ukraine.
“The persecuted Muslims were only guilty of the fact that, according to the investigation, they were members of a public religious association,” Memorial said.
“They are not charged with preparing terrorist attacks or voicing terrorist threats,” it added.
Russia took control of Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014 after sending in troops, seizing key facilities, and staging a referendum dismissed as illegal by at least 100 countries. Moscow also backs separatists in a war against government forces that has killed some 13,200 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.
Moscow’s takeover of the peninsula was vocally opposed by many Crimean Tatars, who are a sizable minority in the region.
Exiled from their homeland to Central Asia by the Soviet authorities under dictator Josef Stalin during World War II, many Crimean Tatars are very wary of Russia and Moscow’s rule.
Rights groups and Western governments have denounced what they describe as a campaign of repression by the Moscow-imposed authorities in Crimea who are targeting members of the Turkic-speaking Crimean Tatar community and others who have spoken out against Russia’s takeover of the peninsula.