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Crimean blogger and activist Nariman Memedeminov at his court hearing, Rostov-on-Don, Russia, October 2, 2019. © 2019 Anton Naumlyik (Grati)

A Russian military court today sentenced activist and blogger Nariman Memedeminov to two and a half years in prison for “making public calls for terrorism.” The prosecution was just the latest in the government’s relentless persecution of Crimean Tatar activists.

Memedeminov has been politically active since 2014, when Russia began its military occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. His YouTube channel covered, among other topics, politically motivated court hearings of Crimean Tatar activists and unlawful searches of their homes. Crimean Tatars are a Muslim ethnic minority indigenous to Crimea, many of whom openly oppose Russia’s occupation.

According to his lawyer, Memedeminov faced pressure and threats for his reporting. In 2017, authorities fined him for “participating in an unsanctioned gathering” while he was livestreaming an activist’s home search. Then, in March 2018, Memedeminov was arrested and charged, and has remained in custody ever since.

The charge stems from a video Memedeminov posted in 2013 of a Hizb ut-Tahrir meeting and two other videos he reposted about the movement’s activities. Hizb ut-Tahrir, a pan-Islamist movement that seeks to establish a caliphate but does not espouse violence to achieve it, is banned in Russia as a terrorist organization but operates legally in Ukraine.

Since 2015, Russian authorities have prosecuted at least 63 Crimean Tatars on fabricated terrorism charges. In March alone, Russian authorities arrested 24, most of whom were active in Crimean Solidarity, a support group for families of those arrested for political reasons. All were charged for association with Hizb ut-Tahrir. None were accused of any act of violence. At least four of those arrested alleged torture or ill-treatment by Russian security agents.

Human rights lawyers in Crimea have also been targeted. In 2018, Emil Kurbedinov – one of the few remaining human rights lawyers in Crimea – was sentenced to five days in jail for distributing “extremist materials” for a 2013 social media post about a Hizb ut-Tahrir meeting in Crimea. Kurbedinov had previously spent 10 days in jail in 2017 on the same charges and for the same post on a different social media site.

As an occupying power, Russia is obligated to uphold international human rights law in Crimea. Instead, Russian authorities have been harassing journalists, intimidating human rights lawyers, and seeking to portray politically active Crimean Tatars as “terrorists” and “extremists.” They should drop the charges against Memedeminov and free him.

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