Week-ending 18 September 2020
On Wednesday, 16 September 2020, RFE/RL reported that a court in Russia sentenced seven Crimean Tatars to lengthy prison terms on charges of being members of a banned Islamic group. On September 16, the Southern Military Regional court in the city of Rostov-on-Don sentenced Marlen Asanov, Memet Belyalov, Timur Ibragimov, Seyran Saliyev, Server Mustafayev, Server Zekiryayev, and Edem Smailov to prison terms of between 13 and 19 years. All were found guilty of being members of the Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamic group, which is labeled as extremist and banned in Russia but is legal in Ukraine. An eighth defendant, Ernes Ametov, was acquitted. Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) branch in Crimea said earlier that Smailov and Mustafayev, a coordinator of the Crimean Solidarity human rights group, were arrested in May 2018, while the other men were arrested in Crimea in October 2017.
On Monday, 14 September 2020, Human Rights in Ukraine reported that sentences were due to be passed on 16 September against eight Crimean Tatar civic journalists and activists: “Sentences, not verdicts, as this is a Russian court for whom the lack of any crime is irrelevant, and which has spent a year hearing contradictory testimony from two secret witnesses, while refusing to allow many of a huge number of witnesses for the defence. This is the first time Russia has openly targeted civic activists and journalists and, having thus abandoned any pretence, it is seeking sentences of up to 21 years’ imprisonment. There will be more detail about each of the eight men separately, but as three judges are almost certainly about to sentence innocent men to huge terms of imprisonment, it is worth considering what ‘evidence’ has been provided to back the profoundly flawed charges.”
On Tuesday, 15 September 2020, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that, after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, some Crimean Tatars–the indigenous population of the Crimean peninsula–had to flee for the Kyiv-controlled part of Ukraine. But most have chosen to remain. As the Russian-appointed new authorities established blanket censorship, squeezing out independent media outlets, a new phenomenon emerged–civic journalism. Members of the Crimean Tatar community–who had not previously worked as journalists–started photographing and filming raids and searches of homes and offices as officials cracked down on the Muslim-minority Crimean Tatar community.