(Kyiv) – Russian authorities have detained two human rights lawyers who represent prominent Crimean Tatar leaders, Human Rights Watch said today. The lawyers’ clients are being prosecuted on politically motivated charges in retaliation for their activism.
Emil Kurbedinov, who was detained on January 26, 2017, and Nikolai Polozov, detained on January 25, represent Akhtem Chiygoz and Ilmi Umerov, prosecuted on bogus charges related to their vocal and public opposition of Russia’s occupation of Crimea. Chiygoz and Umerov are deputy chairmen of the Mejlis, the Crimean Tatar representative body. Crimean Tatars are a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority in Crimea, many of whom have peacefully protested the Russian government policies since it occupied Crimea in February 2014.
“With the detention of lawyers defending Crimean Tatar activists, the Russian authorities are going even further to undermine human rights protections and the rule of law in occupied Crimea,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia division director at Human Rights Watch. “The Russian authorities should stop harassing lawyers and activists and guarantee Crimean Tatars' rights.”
Officials from the Center for Combating Extremism, operating under Russia’s Internal Affairs Ministry, detained Kurbedinov on January 26 in the city of Bakhchysarai, a colleague who was with him told Human Rights Watch. Kurbedinov was on his way to see a client when traffic police stopped his car, claiming they were making a routine check. Anti-extremism officials soon arrived and detained Kurbedinov.
Officials took Kurbedinov to the Simferopol district court, which found him guilty of a misdemeanor for “public distribution of extremist materials” and sentenced him to 10 days in detention. Kurbedninov’s alleged offending act was to repost on social media an article about a 2013 public meeting of supporters of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a radical Islamist political movement opposed to the use of violence, in Simferopol, Crimea’s capital. Hizb ut-Tahrir is banned in Russia as a terrorist organization.