Another Group Of Crimean Tatar Activists Handed Lengthy Prison Terms In Russia

ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia -- A court in Russia has sentenced another group of Crimean Tatars to lengthy prison terms on charges of being members of a banned Islamic group amid an ongoing crackdown on members of the ethnic group.

Russia's Southern District Military Court in the southwestern city of Rostov-on-Don on March 18 sentenced Akim Bekirov, Seytveli Seytabdiyev, and Rustem Seytkhalilov to 14 years in prison, and Eskender Suleymanov and Asan Yanikov to 15 years in prison after finding them guilty of being members of the Hizb ut-Tahrir group.

The defendants, all of whom are also members of the Crimean Solidarity human rights group, pleaded not guilty.

They were arrested in March 2019 along with more than a dozen other Crimean Tatars in Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014. Hizb ut-Tahrir is an Islamic group banned in Russia but not in Ukraine.

Ukrainian Ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova condemned the sentencing of Ukrainian citizens by Russian authorities.

"By its activities, the country-occupier, the Russian Federation, is violating the norms of international law, the [European] Convention on Human Rights, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," Denisova wrote, calling on the international community to "force Russia to stop its unfounded detention and rigged trials of illegally jailed Ukrainian citizens."

Last month, the same court sentenced two other Crimean Tatars to prison on the same charge.

Since Moscow seized Crimea, dozens of Crimean Tatars have been prosecuted for allegedly belonging to the Islamic group.

Moscow's takeover of the peninsula was vocally opposed by many Crimean Tatars, who are a sizable minority in the region.

Exiled from their homeland to Central Asia by Soviet authorities under the dictatorship of Josef Stalin during World War II, many Crimean Tatars are very wary of Russia and Moscow's rule.