Russia Jails Tatar Activist for Inciting 'Separatism'


Russia has jailed an activist from the Muslim Tatar community for three years for 'inciting separatism' after he criticized Moscow's annexation of Crimea, a regional court told AFP on Thursday.  

Rafis Kashapov, the head of the Public Tatar Center NGO, was found guilty of whipping up racial hatred and calling for actions "aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation," a court in the central Tatarstan region said.

It was the first high-profile conviction for "inciting separatism" since controversial laws regulating online posts came into force last May when the West was accusing Moscow of sending weapons and troops to support pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. 

The court said Kashapov's organization -- which campaigns for the preservation of the Tatars' distinct Turkic language and culture -- was advocating the independence of Tatarstan, an oil-rich Russian region where more than half the population is ethnic Tatar. 

Under Russian law, inciting separatism over the Internet can be punished by up to five years in jail. 

Kashapov -- who has been also been barred from using social media for another two years after his release -- has denied all charges and says the action against him is politically-motivated. 

There is also a sizable Tatar community in the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in March 2014.

Many in the Crimean Tatar community have been critical of Moscow's actions, which activists and international organizations say sparked a crackdown by the Kremlin-backed authorities. 

Between 10,000 and 15,000 Tatars are thought to have fled Crimea since the Russian flag was raised there.

Political activists in other regions have also faced justice for advocating regional autonomy.

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