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Eight Crimean Tatars Jailed On Extremism Charges

Lenur Khalilov (file photo)
Lenur Khalilov (file photo)

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine -- A court in Russia-controlled Crimea has sent eight Crimean Tatars to pretrial detention for two months on extremism charges.

A court in Crimea's capital, Simferopol, ruled on June 11 that Lenur Khalilov and Eldar Kantemirov must be jailed until August 5.

A day earlier, the court sent six other Crimean Tatar activists -- Riza Omerov, his father Enver Omerov, Eskender Suleymanov, Ayder Dzhepparov, Ruslan Mesutov, and Ruslan Nagayev -- to pretrial detention for the same period.

The eight men were detained on June 10 after Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officers and police searched their homes in the districts of Alushta, Bilohirsk, and Simferopol.

The FSB said then that the eight Crimean Tatars were suspected of being members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamic group that is banned in Russia but not in Ukraine.

The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv condemned the arrests in its Twitter statement on June 11.

"Eight more Crimean Tatars have been unlawfully detained this week. Russian authorities’ increasing persecution of Crimean Tatars is unacceptable and needs to stop,' the statement said.

Earlier, in March and April, the FSB detained 24 Crimean Tatars also on suspicion of being members of Hizb ut-Tahrir following house-to-house searches in Crimea.

Since Russia seized the peninsula in 2014, Russian authorities have prosecuted dozens of Crimean Tatars for allegedly belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Rights groups and Western governments have denounced what they describe as a campaign of repression by the Russian-imposed authorities 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.

In its annual report on religious freedom worldwide, released on April 29, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said that "[in] Russian-occupied Crimea, the Russian authorities continued to kidnap, torture, and imprison Crimean Tatar Muslims at will."

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 government forces that has killed some 13,000 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.

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