This afternoon in Crimea, Russian counterextremism police detained two women leaders of Crimea Solidarity, an independent group that speaks out for people arrested for opposing Russia’s occupation of the Crimean peninsula. It’s the latest of the authorities’ many steps to try to silence the group.
The women are Lutfie Zudiyeva and Mumine Saliyeva, both Crimean Tatars, and their activism with Crimea Solidarity is to support people arrested or prosecuted on politically motivated grounds. They help organize legal support for detainees, provide financial and social support for their families, and live stream court proceedings, police searches, and raids.
Zudiyeva and Saliyeva are among the most vocal at Crimea Solidarity. When I went to Crimea earlier this month to look into the arrests of Crimean Tatars, Zudiyeva told me she believes the arrests aimed to intimidate and discredit Crimea Solidarity. But the arrests, she said, have “not led to a drop in our activities. Quite the contrary.”
Zudiyeva’s lawyer told my colleague that the authorities are charging both women with “propaganda using extremist symbols” – punishable by a fine and up to 15 days behind bars. Police didn’t let their lawyers meet with them in custody. Both women were released, pending court hearings.
Crimean Tatars, a Muslim ethnic minority, have been targets of persecution since Russia began occupying Crimea in 2014. Russian authorities have sought to portray Crimean Tatars who oppose Russia’s occupation as “terrorists” and “extremists.”
It’s not yet clear how the authorities are justifying the charge against Saliyeva. The charge against Zudiyeva stems from a 2014 Facebook post, which her lawyer said was academic papers, at least one of which contained an Arabic inscription. We do not yet know what this inscription said. Last year, law enforcement charged Zudiyeva’s lawyer, Emil Kurbedinov, Crimea’s leading defense lawyer for clients facing politically motivated charges, with propaganda charges. Those stemmed from a 2013 social media post that included a link to a video showing a gathering in Crimea of supporters of Hizb ut-Tahrir, which aims to establish an Islamic caliphate but renounces violence as a means to do so. Hizb ut-Tahrir is banned in Russia as a terrorist organization but operates legally in Ukraine.
In March, Russian authorities arrested 23 Crimean Tatars on criminal charges of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, most of whom are Crimea Solidarity activists. At least three more Crimean Solidarity activists were arrested in 2018 on similar charges and remain in detention.
Russian authorities should drop the charges against Zudiyeva and Saliyeva and stop harassing Crimea Solidarity.