A court in Russia has sentenced five Crimean Tatars to lengthy prison terms on extremism charges that they say are politically motivated.
Teymur Abdullayev was sentenced to 17 years, Rustem Ismaiylov received 14 years, and Uzeiyr Abdullayev 13 years, while Ayder Saledinov and Emil Dzhemadenov were sentenced to 12 years in prison each.
The men were arrested in October 2016 after Russia-controlled authorities in Ukraine’s Crimea searched their homes.
Since Moscow illegally seized Crimea in 2014, Russian authorities have persecuted Crimean Tatars for opposing Russia’s takeover of the strategic Black Sea peninsula.
Rights groups and Western governments have denounced what they describe as a campaign of repression by the Russian-imposed authorities in Crimea who are targeting members of the Muslim, Turkic-speaking Crimean Tatar community and others who have spoken out against Moscow›s takeover of the peninsula.
In its annual report on religious freedom worldwide, released on April 29, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said that “In Russian-occupied Crimea, the Russian authorities continued to kidnap, torture, and imprison Crimean Tatars at will.”
In 1944, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin order the mass deportation of the Crimean Tatars from their indigenous homeland to Uzbekistan after he falsely accused them of disloyalty to the Soviet state. An estimated 45% of the deportees died along the way and the remainder were forced to live in exile in Central Asia as they were barred from returning to Crimea until 1992, several months after the Soviet Union was dissolved.