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Tatar Activist Loses Job After Publicly Challenging Coronavirus Numbers

Galimzhan Zaripov (file photo)
Galimzhan Zaripov (file photo)

NABEREZHNYE CHELNY, Russia -- An activist in Russia's Republic of Tatarstan claims he has been dismissed as head of a branch of the local government-funded World Tatar Congress in the republic's second-largest city, Naberezhnye Chelny, after publicly challenging the official municipal statistics on the coronavirus.

The Tatar Congress announced on June 23 that Galimzhan Zaripov had been relieved of his duties at his own request and that his deputy, Danis Shakirov, will take over the organization's branch.

Zaripov, however, told RFE/RL that he had never asked the congress to relieve him of his duties, adding that he and his wife were in 14-day quarantine on suspicion of having the coronavirus and therefore Shakirov was temporarily acting in his stead.

Last week, Zaripov, a former chief of the AIDS prevention center in Naberezhnye Chelny, made headlines after he appealed to Tatarstan's president, Rustam Minnikhanov, to intervene into what he called the "dramatic situation" in the city with regard to the outbreak.

After his open letter was made public by RFE/RL and picked up by other media outlets, authorities in Naberezhnye Chelny, who had previously denied there was an outbreak in the community, began implementing concrete measures to slow its spread.

Zaripov said that the decision of the Executive Committee of the World Tatar Congress' branch in Naberezhnye Chelny to dismiss him is illegal because only six of 13 members of the committee took part in an online vote on June 23, which invalidates the result.

"Three members of the committee refused to vote in my absence," Zaripov said.

Committee member Talgat Akhmadishin confirmed to RFE/RL that he and two other members refused to vote, demanding that Shakirov show them Zaripov's written request to be relieved of his duties, which did not happen.

"We said then that people will clearly see Zaripov's removal from the post as a result of his open appeal about the coronavirus," Akhmadishin said.

RFE/RL was unable to reach Shakirov by phone for comment.

The World Tatar Congress is a government-funded agency that follows directives from local authorities that are in line with federal government decisions.