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Tatar Critic Of Kremlin Flees Russia After Release From Prison

Rafis Kashapov

An activist in Russia's Tatarstan region who spent three years in prison for criticizing the Russian occupation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula says he has fled from Russia.

Rafis Kashapov told RFE/RL on February 5 that he is currently in Kyiv and plans to ask for asylum either in Ukraine or another country.

Kashapov was the first person in Russia to be imprisoned for publicly criticizing Moscow's military seizure and illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.

He was released from a prison in Russia's northern Komi region on December 27 after serving his sentence on charges of separatism and inciting ethnic hatred.

He says the charges against him were politically motivated.

Kashapov told RFE/RL he fled from Russia because sources in Tatarstan informed him that a new criminal case could be launched against him.

In an interview with RFE/RL shortly after his release, Kashapov sharply criticized Russia -- saying that being released to live in Russia was like trading a "small prison" for a big one.

His arrest in December 2014 came after he posted articles on social media in which he criticized Moscow for violating the rights of Crimean Tatars.

He also criticized Russia's military involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Kashapov's heads a nongovernmental group in Tatarstan called Tatar Public Center. The group campaigns to preserve the national identity, language, and culture of Tatars.

The prominent Russian human rights group Memorial recognized Kashapov as a political prisoner.