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U.S. Calls On Russia To Release Dozens Of Political Prisoners

Oyub Titiyev attends a court hearing in Grozny on March 6.
Oyub Titiyev attends a court hearing in Grozny on March 6.

WASHINGTON – The United States has called on Russia to release dozens of people it says have been identified by rights groups as political prisoners.

The June 18 statement by the State Department said more than 150 people were being held in all, including Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov and human rights activist Oyub Titiyev.

Sentsov was arrested in Crimea in 2014, after Russia seized the Ukrainian region. A Russian court in 2015 convicted him of planning to commit terrorist acts and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. He has been on hunger strike since May 14.

Titiyev, who heads the Chechen office of the rights group Memorial, has been pretrial detention in Chechnya since his January arrest on drug charges that he and his associates say are fabricated.

“We call on Russia to release all those identified as political or religious prisoners immediately and cease its use of the legal system to suppress dissent and peaceful religious practice,” the statement said.

There was no immediate reaction to the statement by Moscow. In the past, the Foreign Ministry has responded with angry denunciations, accusing Washington of meddling in its internal affairs.

The State Department also mentioned the case of a Jehovah’s Witness who it said had been in pretrial detention for more than a year now. Other religious followers facing pressure include Church of Scientology followers and those of a Muslim Turkish theologian, the department said.

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