SIMFEROPOL, Crimea -- A Crimean Tatar scholar says masked assailants dragged him from his car and took his passport in an attack meant to prevent him from attending a UN conference in New York.
The attack on Nadir Bekir late on September 18 came hours after Russian authorities moved to seize the Crimean Tatar assembly, the Mejlis, piling pressure on the Turkic-speaking Muslim minority group that largely opposed Moscow's annexation of the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine.
On September 19, the main Crimean Tatar library in the regional capital, Simferopol, announced that it is being shut down in accordance with an August government resolution to replace libraries on the peninsula with Russian state entities.
Bekir, an expert on indigenous peoples, told RFE/RL he was attacked on his way from Simferopol to the city of Dzhankoi, where he planned to board a train for Kyiv and then fly to New York.
He said a white minibus abruptly blocked his car on the highway. Four masked men emerged, pulled him from his car, forced him to the ground, and took his Ukrainian passport and mobile phone. He said one of the attackers opened his passport and told the others: "Yes, that 's him!"
Without his passport, Bekir said he cannot leave Crimea. He believes the attack was meant to prevent him from participating in the September 22-23 UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, part of the UN General Assembly.
Russian President Vladimir Putin promised that the rights of Crimean Tatars would be protected after Moscow annexed the region in March, a move opposed by most Crimean Tatars and denounced as illegitimate by Ukraine, the European Union, and the United States.
But tension quickly mounted and pressure on the Crimean Tatars intensified after most members of the Turkic-speaking minority group, which makes up about 12 percent of the peninsula's population, boycotted local elections on September 14.
Houses and apartments of leading members of the Crimean Tatar community, as well as the Mejlis offices, were searched by police and unidentified masked, armed men on September 16-17.
In the Mejlis, police confiscated records of the Crimean Tatar self-governing body's sessions as well as religious books, computers, and personal belongings of longtime Crimean Tatar leader and Ukrainian lawmaker Mustafa Dzhemilev.
Dzhemilev is a well-known Soviet-era human rights activist who served six sentences in Soviet prison camps from 1966 to 1986.
Earlier this year, Russian authorities barred Dzhemilev and the chairman of the Mejlis, Refat Chubarov, from entering Crimea, saying their activities "incite interethnic hatred."
The pressure on Crimean Tatars is a source of particular bitterness because the community was deported en masse to Central Asia in 1944 by the authorities under Josef Stalin, who accused them of collaborating with Nazi Germany.
Many of the 200,000 deportees died on their way into exile.
Many Crimean Tatars returned to Crimea in the years before and after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and there have been frequent disputes over land and property on the peninsula, which are aggravated by ethnic differences between the Crimean Tatars and the Slavic population.
After Russia annexed Crimea, Putin publicly said that the rights of Crimean Tatars will be fully protected by Russian laws and signed a decree on the rehabilitation of peoples deported from Crimea in the 1940s.
But in May, the United Nations voiced concern about what it called the "serious problems" of harassment and persecution of Crimean Tatars since the annexation.