July 12, 2019
Russian authorities have brought unfounded terrorism charges against 24 Crimean Tatars, 20 of whom were arrested during heavily armed raids on their homes in the spring of this year, Human Rights Watch said today. Security officers tortured four of the men, denied lawyers access to search sites, planted evidence, and later briefly detained two activists who spoke out on behalf of the arrested men.
Crimean Tatars are a Muslim ethnic minority indigenous to the Crimean Peninsula. Many openly oppose Russia’s occupation, which began in 2014.The crackdown in the spring of 2019 is the latest in a pattern of repression to smear peaceful activists as terrorists and to stifle dissent in occupied Crimea. Russian authorities should release the activists and stop misusing the country’s overly broad counterterrorism legislation to stifle freedom of opinion, expression, and religion.
“Russian authorities seek to portray Crimean Tatars who oppose Russia’s occupation as ‘terrorists’ and ‘extremists,’” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Russian authorities in Crimea are using terrorism charges as a convenient tool of repression.”
Most of the 24 men arrested were active in Crimean Solidarity, a loose association of human rights lawyers, relatives, and supporters of victims of political repression. All have been charged with association with Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation), the controversial pan-Islamist movement that is banned in Russia as a “terrorist” organization but is legal in Ukraine. Hizb ut-Tahrir seeks the establishment of a caliphate but does not espouse violence to achieve its goals.