SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine -- Russian authorities have detained seven Crimean Tatar activists after searching their homes in different parts of Ukraine's Moscow-controlled Crimea region.
Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) said in a statement that it had detained "three leaders and four members of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamic group" in Crimea on July 7.
Since Russia forcibly annexed Crimea in March 2014, Russian authorities have prosecuted dozens of Crimean Tatars for allegedly belonging to the Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamic group, which is banned in Russia but not in Ukraine.
The Crimean Solidarity rights group that has members in Crimea and other parts of Ukraine said on July 7 that FSB officers had detained Seyran Hayretdinov, Emil Ziyadinov, Ismet Ibragimov, Alim Sufyanov, Vadim Bektemirov, and a legally blind activist, Aleksandr Sizikov, after their homes were searched.
Ukrainian Ombudswoman Lyudmila Densyova said that the seventh man detained by the FSB in Crimea was Zekirya Muratov.
The house belonging to another Crimean Tatar activist, Dilyaver Memetov, was searched without his presence and Russia-controlled authorities are looking for him, the Crimean Solidarity said.
The authorities of the exiled Ukrainian regional authorities of Crimea condemned the searches and detainments and launched a probe into them.
The U.S. Embassy in Ukraine also voiced concern over the searches and detainments.
"Russia has no right to harass and detain Ukrainians on Ukrainian soil. Russia must free all Ukrainian political prisoners," the embassy wrote on Facebook.
Moscow’s takeover of the peninsula was vocally opposed by many Crimean Tatars, who are a sizable minority in the region.
Exiled from their homeland to Central Asia by the Soviet authorities under dictator Josef Stalin during World War II, many Crimean Tatars are very wary of Russia and Moscow's rule.
Rights groups and Western governments have denounced what they describe as a campaign of repression by the Moscow-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 in April 2019, 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 13,200 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.