Russia Detains Crimean Tatars for Red Square Protest


Russian police on Wednesday detained seven Crimean Tatars on Red Square as they held up posters protesting against the persecution of the Muslim ethnic group on the Black Sea peninsula, lawyers said.

The indigenous community has largely opposed Moscow's 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, and the protest comes on the eve of a Supreme Court hearing for four Crimean Tatars convicted of plotting an uprising.

A group of around 18 men in their 50s and 60s, many wearing skull caps, stood in line on the cobbled square holding posters in televised footage.

The posters carried photographs of prisoners and slogans such as "End repressions" and "Our children are not terrorists."

Police approached the activists around two minutes after the protest began and ordered them to roll up posters, video posted by news website showed. Some then walked away.

Those detained were taken to a police station in central Moscow and charged with breaching rules on public protests, which is punishable by fines or community service, before being freed pending a court hearing, their lawyer Alexander Pikhovkin told journalists.

The new Russian authorities in Crimea have cracked down on the media and national assembly, imprisoning dozens of activists on extremism charges.

Another lawyer representing Crimean Tatars, Emil Kurbedinov, told AFP the men "came out to picket on Red Square against repressions that have gone on five years now against Crimean Tatars, against arrests and lengthy prison terms for peaceful people that Russia has labelled terrorists."

The protest was the largest in Moscow in recent years by Crimean Tatars, said the lawyer.

One of those detained was the father of an imprisoned activist accused of membership of the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, Kurbedinov added. The group wants to establish a pan-Islamic state and is banned in Russia, but not in Ukraine.

The protest came a day before Russia's Supreme Court is due to hold an appeal hearing over the sentencing in December of four Crimean Tatars to up to 17 years in prison for belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir and plotting a violent uprising.

The court is not expected to change the verdict, Kurbedinov said at a press conference in Moscow ahead of the hearing.

Russia has jailed at least 276 people for being members of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Crimea and also in Russian regions with long-standing Muslim populations, according to Memorial rights group. Some have been handed the maximum possible sentence of 24 years.

In Crimea this year alone, around 30 people have been detained, Kurbedinov said.

"Personally I do not see any light at the end of the tunnel."

Crimean Tatars were deported en masse to Kazakhstan by Joseph Stalin during World War II and many have drawn comparisons between this and their current treatment by Russian authorities.

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