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Riot police and Crimean Tatar activists in front of Kiev District Court in Simferopol. Crimea, February 17, 2021. © 2021 Crimean Solidarity

On February 17, Russia’s security services and national guard raided the homes of seven Muslim men in Crimea — six of them Crimean Tatars.

At four in the morning, armed men banged on the doors and windows of their homes in Sevastopol, Bakhchisaray, Belogorsk, and Simferopol. They entered without introducing themselves, conducted searches, questioned terrified family, and confiscated religious books. Then they took the men away.

The same day, courts ordered six of them be placed in custody until mid-April, one of their lawyers told me.

All six are being accused of involvement with Hizb-ut Tahrir, a group which aims to establish an Islamic caliphate but renounces violence. Banned in Russia as a terrorist organization, the group operates legally in Ukraine.

Russian authorities have relentlessly persecuted Crimean Tatars for nothing more than their peaceful opposition to Russia’s occupation of the peninsula starting in 2014. Dozens of Crimean Tatars are currently serving unfounded and brutally harsh prison sentences on terrorism charges, solely for practicing religious or political beliefs, often in private, that Russian authorities claim constitute affiliation with Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Lutfie Zudiyeva, a leader of Crimean Solidarity, a group established to support Crimean Tatars arrested on politically motivated grounds, was detained herself on spurious charges in 2019. She told me that those arrested this week are either members of Crimean Solidarity or have supported some of its activities. For example, Azamat Eyupov took part in a peaceful protest Crimean Tatars held on Red Square in July 2019. Timur Yalkabov attended trials. Oleg Fedorov, the only non-Crimean Tatar among the six detained, helped raise awareness around politically motivated cases in Crimea. Lenur Seydametov delivered care packages to prison inmates.  Authorities have repeatedly detained numerous other Crimean Solidarity members since the group was established in 2016.

Such raids are nothing new in Crimea since 2014, a fact that no doubt compounds the fear and suffering of these men and their families, who know they are unlikely to see them home soon. These men — and all others arrested or prosecuted on politically motivated charges should be immediately released, and the authorities should end their ruthless persecution campaign.  

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