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Wednesday 2 October 2019

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Crimean Tatar activist and blogger Nariman Memedeminov

ROSTOV -ON-DON -- A military court in Russia’s southern city of Rostov-on-Don has handed a 2 ½-year prison sentence to Crimean Tatar activist and blogger Nariman Memedeminov for allegedly "making public calls for terrorism."

Calling the charge "bogus," Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement on October 2 that Memedeminov's prosecution was "just the latest in the government’s relentless persecution of Crimean Tatar activists."

Rights groups and Western governments have denounced what they call a campaign of oppression targeting members of the Turkic-speaking Crimean Tatar minority and others who opposed Moscow's seizure of the Ukrainian peninsula in March 2014.

The majority of Crimean Tatars were against the Russian takeover of their historical homeland.

Memedeminov was arrested and charged in March 2018, and has remained in custody ever since.

His YouTube channel covered topics including politically-motivated court hearings of Crimean Tatar activists and unlawful searches of their homes, according to HRW.

The activist has rejected the charge against him.

The accusation stemmed from a video he posted in 2013 of an Hizb ut-Tahrir meeting and two other videos he reposted about the Islamic group's activities.

Hizb ut-Tahrir is banned in Russia as a terrorist organization, but operates legally in Ukraine.

However, Moscow imposed its own laws on the Crimean Peninsula after it annexed the territory.

Since 2015, Russian authorities have prosecuted at least 63 Crimean Tatars on "fabricated" terrorism charges, HRW researcher Yulia Gorbunova said.

"Russian authorities have been harassing journalists, intimidating human rights lawyers, and seeking to portray politically active Crimean Tatars as 'terrorists' and 'extremists'," Gorbunova added.

Russia's communications regulator, Roskomnadzor, added the Fergana.agency to its registry of blocked websites on the evening of October 1. (file photo)

Amnesty International has called on Russia to immediately overturn its "cowardly" decision to block the Fergana news agency's website, calling the move "another arbitrary and cynical attack" on freedom of expression.

"Independent media outlets such as Fergana are rare in Russia but, to the authorities’ annoyance, they have a dedicated audience in Russia and beyond," the London-based human rights watchdog's Russia Director Natalia Zviagina said on October 2.

Russia's communications regulator, Roskomnadzor, added Fergana.agency to its registry of blocked sites on the evening of October 1, and the website became inaccessible within the country by the morning of October 2, Amnesty International said.

The Fergana news agency is one of the leading independent media outlets covering events in Central Asia.

Its website has repeatedly been blocked in all five Central Asian countries in the past, but it is currently accessible throughout the region -- except Turkmenistan.

Fergana says it received no warning from Roskomnadzor and no information about what content was considered to be breaching Russian regulations.

Under the law on information, Roskomnadzor has the power to block access to an Internet site, but the procedure should be preceded by a warning to the provider, according to Amnesty International.

The owner of the website should also be given enough time to address the reported infringement, and the site can be blocked only if the provider or site owner refuses or fails to delete or restrict access to the content identified as unlawful.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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