Crimean Tatar Official Questioned, Warned By Russia-Imposed Officials

SIMFEROPOL -- A deputy chairman of the Crimean Tatars' self-governing body, the Mejlis, has been summoned to the Russian-run Center for Combating Extremism in Ukraine's Russia-occupied Crimean Peninsula.

Nariman Dzhelyal said he was questioned for two hours on March 13 at the Simferopol-based center about a 2016 interview he gave to a Ukrainian television channel in which he was identified as a deputy chairman of the Mejlis.

Dzhelyal said he was warned that since the Mejlis is officially banned by Russian authorities, being a leader of the organization might lead to legal consequences for him.

Dzhelyal said he was also questioned about recently arrested Crimean Tatar activists who are listed as "friends" on his Facebook account.

In Kyiv, Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maryana Betsa said on March 13 that the questioning of Dzhelyal was an example of the "continuation" of Russia's "repressions" in occupied Crimea.

Russia's Supreme Court in September 2016 declared the Mejlis an "extremist" organization and banned its activities in Russia, criminalizing any association with it.

Another deputy chairman of the Mejlis, Ilmi Umerov, is facing a trial on separatism charges in Simferopol.

Two human rights lawyers who represent Umerov also were detained and questioned in January at the so-called Center for Combating Extremism, which operates under Russia's Internal Affairs Ministry.

The U.S.-based nongovernmental organization Human Rights Watch says the charges against Umerov and other Crimean Tatars are "bogus" and "related to their vocal and public opposition of Russia's occupation of Crimea."

An overwhelming majority of Crimean Tatars oppose the Ukrainian peninsula’s seizure and annexation by Russia.