ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia -- A Russian court has handed lengthy prison terms to four Crimean Tatars for being members of the Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamic group and "plotting to seize power by force."
Defense lawyers said on October 29 that the Southern District Military Court in the city of Rostov-on-Don sentenced Seytumer Seytumerov to 17 years in prison, Osman Seytumerov to 14 years, Rustem Seytmemetov to 13 years, and Amet Suleymanov to 12 years. The lawyers said they would appeal the sentences.
Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine more than seven years ago, and since then Moscow-imposed authorities have prosecuted dozens of Crimean Tatars for allegedly belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Hizb ut-Tahrir is banned in Russia as a terrorist organization but operates legally in Ukraine.
Ukraine's ombudswoman, Lyudmyla Denisova, protested against the court's "illegal" ruling and urged the international community to "force the Russian Federation to stop groundless detentions and rigged trials of illegally detained Ukrainian citizens."
"By illegally trying Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainian citizens, the occupier-country Russia violates the norms of international law, the European Convention on Human Rights, basic freedoms, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," Denisova wrote on Telegram.
Rights groups and Western governments have denounced what they describe as a campaign of repression by the authorities installed in Crimea, who are targeting members of the Turkic-speaking Crimean Tatar community and others who have spoken out against Moscow's takeover of the peninsula.
Memorial, Russia’s premier human rights group, considers the four Crimean Tatars sentenced on October 29 to be political prisoners.
“We believe they were arrested in connection with their non-violent exercise of their rights to freedom of religion and association,” Memorial said in May.
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 Ukrainian government forces that has killed more than 13,200 people in eastern Ukraine.