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Home News Russia detains four Crimean Tatars over ‘terrorism’

Russia detains four Crimean Tatars over ‘terrorism’

Published on 12/05/2016

Russia on Thursday detained four Crimean Tatars, a group opposed to Moscow's annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine, on suspicion of belonging to radical Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, lawyers and prosecutors said.

Since it annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, Russia has cracked down on the peninsula’s Muslim Tatar community with frequent house searches, arrests and closures of independent media and has banned the group’s governing body.

Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation) seeks to re-establish a Caliphate — a pan-Islamic state based on Islamic rule harking back to medieval times — and has been banned in Russia since 2003.

Rights lawyer Emil Kurbedinov told AFP that on Thursday morning two busloads of armed officers swept into the town of Bakhchysaray, Crimea’s ancient capital, and searched five homes and a cafe.

The FSB officers detained four Crimean Tatars and took them to the security force’s headquarters, the lawyer said. He added that the men were likely to be formally arrested in custody on Friday.

“I see this as real repression,” Kurbedinov said.

Crimea’s fiercely pro-Kremlin chief prosecutor Natalia Poklonskaya said on Facebook that the FSB had arrested three suspected participants and one organiser of a local cell of Islamist Hizb ut-Tahrir party, outlawed in Russia as a terrorist organisation.

She accused the men of carrying out “hidden anti-constitutional activity through carrying out propaganda among the public.”

The suspected organiser of the “terrorist cell” faces up to 20 years in jail, while participants face up to 10 years.

Poklonskaya told Russian news agencies that the FSB had also summoned a prominent Crimean-Tatar community leader, Ilmi Umerov, for questioning on suspicion of making “public calls to breach Russia’s territorial integrity.”

Umerov was a longtime head of the Bakhchysaray district who quit when it moved under Moscow’s control.

Crimean prosecutors on Thursday also announced that US-funded Russia Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s website, which carries news and views on Crimea, has been blocked in Russia as extremist.

Prosecutors have already opened a criminal probe into the site for alleged extremist activities, saying it aimed to “discredit the activities of Russia in Crimea.”

“This is an aggressive act,” RFE /RL’s editor-in-chief Nenad Pejic said in a statement.

He accused Russia of using the “outrageous pretext of extremism” to “censor RFE/RL and prevent the audience in Russia and Crimea from learning the truth about the annexation.”