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Russian Supreme Court Extends Crimean Tatar's Prison Term

Ruslan Zeytullayev (file photo)

Russia's Supreme Court has prolonged to 15 years the prison term for a jailed Crimean Tatar man, who was earlier sentenced to 12 years in April after a court found him guilty of creating a cell on behalf of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamic group.

Ruslan Zeytullayev was convicted of establishing the cell in Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, which was seized by Russia in 2014. Hizb ut-Tahrir is banned in Russia.

Zeytullayev pleaded not guilty on July 27 and announced that he would start a hunger strike to protest his prolonged sentence.

Russia-backed authorities in Crimea have prosecuted many opponents of the takeover, including members of the Muslim Crimean Tatar community on what rights groups say are false charges.

Zeytullayev and three other Crimean Tatars were convicted of being members of Hizb ut-Tahrir and sentenced to prison terms ranging from five to seven years.

Prosecutors appealed Zeytullayev sentence, saying it was too lenient.

In April, Zeytullayev’s sentence was extended to 12 years in jail, but prosecutors again appealed the ruling, saying that Zeytullayev deserved harsher punishment because they claimed he was "a founder" of a Hizb ut-Tahrir cell.

Russia has been heavily criticized by international rights groups and Western governments for its treatment of the members of the indigenous Turkic-speaking Crimean Tatar minority since it took over the Black Sea peninsula in March 2014.