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Released In Russia, Tatar Activist Says Trading 'Small Prison' For Big One

Rafis Kashapov was released from prison after serving a three-year term.

A Tatar activist who was convicted of separatism and inciting ethnic hatred in a case he said was politically motivated has been released from prison in northern Russia after serving a three-year term.

Rafis Kashapov sharply criticized Russia in comments to RFE/RL shortly after his release on December 27, saying that he was trading a "small prison" for a big one.

Kashapov, the first person in Russia to be imprisoned over public criticism of Russia's seizure of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine, served his sentence in a prison in the Komi region city of Ukhta.

The chairman of the Tatar Public Center in the Tatarstan region, Kashapov was arrested in December 2014 and sentenced to three years in prison in September 2015.

His arrest came after he posted articles in which he criticized Moscow of violating the rights of Crimean Tatars. He also criticized Russia's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Kashapov, 59, told RFE/RL that the case against him was "false" and politically motivated. He added that he planned to sue the penitentiaries he was kept in for three years, contending that they violated his rights.

"They kept me alone in a cell for the last 18 months. I had no source of information, nobody to talk to," Kashapov said. "They also did not give me a chance to pray five times a day, trying to intimidate me and insulting my feelings as a Muslim."

He said that he planned to take care of his health for several weeks and after that to continue his public activities.

"Everybody is congratulating me on being released but there is nothing to be happy about, because I left a small prison and entered a big one," Kashapov said.

Kashapov's Tatar Public Center is an NGO that campaigns to preserve Tatars' national identity, language, and culture.

The prominent Russian human rights group Memorial recognized Kashapov as a political prisoner when he was behind bars.