KAZAN, Russia -- The chairman of the All-Tatar Public Center (TIU), Farit Zakiyev, has started a hunger strike to protest a move by prosecutors to label his organization in Russia's Tatarstan region extremist and shut it down.
Zakiyev started his hunger strike on February 3, calling the official motion, first presented in mid-January, "absurd."
"To declare TIU an extremist organization would mean to declare all Tatar people extremists. It would mean to declare the idea of Tatarstan's statehood and articles of the Russian Constitution on federalism extremist," Zakiyev said in a statement, calling on other members of the TIU to join the hunger strike.
TIU, which has been functioning since 1989, is known for activities promoting the Tatar culture, language, and traditions, as well as equal rights for ethnic Tatars.
A court in Tatarstan's capital, Kazan, is scheduled to look into the prosecutor's motion and render a decision on February 24.
The situation mirrors similar developments in the neighboring Bashkortostan region, where last year a court banned the prominent Bashqort group that had long promoted the Bashkir language and culture.
The court on May 22 labeled the group extremist and banned its operations, based on what it called the "presence in the organization of individuals who had been convicted on extremism charges."
The group's leader, Fail Alsynov, said at the time that extremism charges against members of his organizations were politically motivated.
Both TIU and Bashqort activists have faced pressure in recent years after staging several rallies and other events challenging the policies of both local and federal authorities, including Moscow's move to abolish mandatory indigenous-language classes in regions with large indigenous populations.