Turkish broadcaster Haberturk reports that Turkey has extradited two Russians accused of espionage in exchange for the release of two Crimean Tatar leaders jailed in Russia-occupied Crimea.
Haberturk said on November 29 that the alleged spies, identified as Aleksandr Smirnov and Yury Anisimov, were extradited to Russia last month as the two Crimean Tatars, Akhtem Chiygoz and Ilmi Umerov, were released from custody and flown to Turkey.
Smirnov and Anisimov were detained in Istanbul in April 2016 and accused of being part of a “lead unit” responsible for killing seven Chechens between 2000 and 2015, Haberturk reported.
It said the suspects rejected the charges against them, which included “attempting to obtain secret state information for political or military espionage purposes” and “helping in voluntary manslaughter.”
Haberturk said that during a hearing of the case at an Istanbul court on October 24, a state prosecutor demanded the two alleged spies to be released, citing a decree issued in August that allows for the exchange of foreigners jailed in Turkey for certain people being held abroad.
Haberturk added that the two Russians were freed from detention hours before authorities in Russian-controlled Crimea unexpectedly released Chiygoz and Umerov on October 25.
Turkish and Russian officials have not commented on the report.
At the time of the releases, Nikolai Polozov, a lawyer for Chiygoz, told RFE/RL that they were the result of "huge judicial, diplomatic, and political work" by Mustafa Dzhemilev, a veteran Crimean Tatar leader who is now a Ukrainian lawmaker, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and others.
Chiygoz and Umerov, both deputy chairmen of the Mejlis, the Crimean Tatar self-governing body that has been outlawed by Russian authorities, were sentenced to prison in September on charges of organizing an illegal demonstration and separatism, respectively.
Rights groups and Western governments have condemned the convictions, calling their trials part of a campaign of pressure and abuse conducted by Russia since it occupied and seized control of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
The Crimean Tatars are a Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim minority whose members were largely opposed to the Russian takeover.
With reporting by Haberturk, dpa, and hurriyetdailynews.com