02/14/2022, 10.48
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Russian Persecution of the Crimean Tatars

by Vladimir Rozanskij

It began in 2015, after Russia's annexation of the peninsula. The Islamic organisation Khizb ut-Takhrir was targeted. One of its representatives, Zekirja Muratov, sentenced to more than 11 years in prison for terrorism. Moscow wants to assert its undisputed sovereignty.



Moscow (AsiaNews) - The military court of the Russian Southern Department has sentenced 64-year-old representative of the Crimean Tatar movement, Zekirja Muratov, to 11 and a half years in a maximum security prison, as announced by the Krymskaya Solidarnost association. The repression of Muslim Tatars in Crimea over the Khizb ut-Takhrir affair began in 2015, after Russia annexed the peninsula. It is an organisation that was allowed by Ukraine, while the Russians consider IT "terrorist'.

Several international associations, including the Russian Memorial, insist that people arrested in Russia on this charge are in fact political prisoners, and to date there are 89 in prison in Crimea. In 2021 alone there were 170 arrests of Crimeans, most of whom were demonstrators at peaceful demonstrations.

Muratov is a Ukrainian citizen, a Muslim of Tatar ethnicity, who was given a Russian passport after the annexation, but does not want to recognise Moscow's power over the historical territory of the Tatars and many other peoples. Its association Khizb ut-Takhrir professes to be Islamic, and engages in politics with the aim of "uniting Muslims of all countries in an Islamic caliphate", but rejects war and terrorist methods to achieve this goal. Russia had declared its terrorist nature as early as 2003, well before annexing Crimea.

Muratov's defenders believe that the arrests and convictions in this case are religiously motivated, putting Crimean Tatars on the same footing as many other Russian citizens persecuted for belonging to radical Islam or other unwelcome religions. International law, the lawyers remind us, prohibits the imposition of the invading state's legislation in occupied territories. Muratov himself believes that he is being unfairly prosecuted as a dissident and volunteer in humanitarian actions, who used to go to the trial sessions of his compatriots who were judged without recognising the norms of international law.

Russia officially denies cases of persecution of Crimean citizens on ethnic or religious grounds, and even accuses foreigners and especially the US of "interfering in Crimean social and religious affairs" to support the uprisings against the Russian authorities. The case of Khizb ut-Takhrir is not the only one in Crimea, according to an investigative technique that targets individuals or small groups of people before openly accusing organisations. In this way, the courts attract less attention and people's social defence is weakened.

Muratov had been arrested in 2020, following a provocative action by the Russian internal security services (FSB), showing footage of forbidden terrorist meetings that were in fact simply friendly gatherings. The Moscow authorities asked him to cooperate with the investigation on pain of imprisonment.

The Tatar activist refused the agreement and ended up in prison on serious charges. His daughter Lenara Mutalypova said she had been surprised from the start by the accusations and repression against her father, who she said had never thought of inciting anyone to violent action: "He is a musician by profession, he studied clarinet at the conservatory, then worked as a taxi driver, and loved to communicate with many people without any subversive purpose".

Muratov is also a Class III invalid, having suffered frostbite on his feet during his military service in the Soviet army, and in the cold he is forced to limp severely, in addition to a number of other ailments he has to deal with. During his detention in Rostov-on-Don prison he became infected with Covid-19 and spent 46 days in the infirmary ward, from which he emerged with hypertonic decompensation.

His story is an example of the difference in mentality between Russians and Ukrainians: the latter have always tolerated the Tatars, with whom they sought alliances in the past against the Russian and Polish 'masters'. The Russians, on the other hand, persecute them to assert their undisputed sovereignty, having been subjugated by the Tatar-Mongolian hordes for two centuries.

The Crimea is a land of contradictions and historical memories for the Eastern Slav peoples and the other lands bordering the Black Sea, which are now called to a new test in the face of the possible conflict that brings into play all the legacies and prospects of Europe's eastern borders.

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