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Crimean Tatar Community Mourns Death Of Tortured Local Activist

Crimean Tatars have mourned the death of one of their own amid growing fears and uncertainty about the Muslim community's future under Russian rule on the Black Sea peninsula.

Simferopol resident Reshat Ametov, 39, was found dead on March 16 -- nearly two weeks after he went missing after participating in a March 3 protest against the Russian troop presence in Crimea.

The body of the local activist, bearing marks of violence and torture, was discovered by police in a forest near a village about 60 kilometers east of the Crimean capital.

The Crimean television channel ATR has aired what is believed to be the last known images of Ametov alive.

The video reportedly shows Ametov passing through a line of pro-Russia "self-defense" forces in front of the Crimean Council of Ministers building on Simferopol's Lenin Square, where the protest was held. Ametov then approaches a group of armed men wearing green military fatigues, after which two men in unmarked uniforms lead him away.

Local media have reported that when discovered near the Bilohirsk district village of Zemlyanychne, Ametov's body showed signs of a violent death, with his head bound with tape and his legs shackled.
Slain Crimean Tatar Laid To Rest
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Ametov's funeral in Simferopol on March 18 came amid growing anxiety among Crimean Tatars, a sizable ethnic and religious minority with Turkic roots that is native to the Crimean Peninsula. Most members the nearly 250,000-strong community are believed to have boycotted the controversial March 16 referendum in which voters chose to secede from Ukraine and join Russia.

Crimean Tatars were deported in large numbers to Central Asia in 1944, and amid the ongoing crisis in Ukraine many expressed fears of reprisals by the Crimean Peninsula's majority ethnic Russian population.

RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Andrei Sharogradsky, reporting from Crimea, said it was unsafe there to publicly express opposition to Russia's pending annexation of the breakaway region.

He said the conspicuous presence of "self-defense" groups -- loosely organized but clearly aggressive in intent -- made it dangerous to criticize Crimea's annexation into Russia, especially for minority Crimean Tatars.

"The Crimean Tatars I have spoken to have openly talked about their fear," Sharogradsky said. "A man told me he was afraid for his son, who goes every day to Simferopol medical university, where he studies. His mother told me she is very fearful -- she is afraid of war, she is afraid of Russia, she is afraid of [President] Putin, and she is afraid of another deportation."

Speaking from Simferopol, Yulia Gorbunova of Human Rights Watch (HRW) expressed concerns about what she described as "complete lawlessness" in Crimea.

Gorbunova said the authorities in Crimea have no control over local self-defense forces or the armed men in unmarked uniforms who have appeared there in recent weeks. The thousands of unidentified soldiers who have occupied the peninsula and backed local forces are widely believed to be Russian military personnel.

HRW has documented several attacks and disappearances of pro-Maidan activists and journalists in Crimea in the past week.

"We documented at least six cases of the disappearance of activists, and their whereabouts are still unknown," Gorgunova said. "But in some cases police told the relatives of those activists that -- when they were making inquiries, filing police reports about the disappearances -- police in one case openly said that 'this man is being held at a conscription office in Simferopol, and that there is nothing we can do because that building has been taken over by armed men.'"

Gorbunova said Ametov's disappearance and subsequent killing is the only case involving a member of Crimean Tatar community documented by HRW.

Written and reported by Farangis Najibullah, with contributions by RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Andrey Sharogradski from Simferopol
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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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