Russian authorities detain prominent Crimean Tatar lawyer

DAILY SABAH
ISTANBUL
Published

Crimean Tatar lawyer Emil Kurbedinov – who defends political prisoners and was most recently involved in the case of 24 captured Ukrainian soldiers – was detained by members of Russia's Center for Countering Extremism in Simferopol, Crimea, chairman of the Crimean Tatar representative body announced Thursday.

Refat Chubarov – chairman of the Mejlis, which now operates in exile – shared the information about the Kurbedinov's detention on Facebook, according to Ukrainian News Agency (UNIAN).

Kurbedinov was detained over a social media post he shared in 2013 before the Russian forces annexed the peninsula. Russian authorities claimed the post was linked with "elements of extremism," Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported.

Kurbedinov is one of the Crimean Tatar lawyers who agreed to defend the 24 Ukrainian sailors captured by Russian forces on Nov. 25 near the Kerch Strait.

"The last case in which lawyer Kurbedinov accepted an order for defense (as part of the selection of a preventive measure) is the case of captured Ukrainian sailors," Russian lawyer Nikolai Polozov wrote on Facebook, as quoted by UNIAN.

Kuberdinov's detainment was another case of "pressure on lawyers involved in political cases in Crimea," Polozov told RFE/RL.

According to UNIAN, Kurbedinov was detained for 10 days in January 2017 on similar charges over another social media post that featured symbols of a group, Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Russia but legal in Ukraine.

On Nov. 25, three Ukrainian naval vessels were heading from the Black Sea into the Sea of Azov when they were blocked by the Russian coast guard near the Kerch Strait between Russia's mainland and Crimea. After tense hours of maneuvering, the Russians opened fire and seized the Ukrainian vessels and 24 crew members.

Russia blamed Ukraine for provoking the incident, which sharply escalated tensions that have been growing between the two countries since Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Russia has worked steadily to bolster its zone of control around the peninsula.

Ukraine says that its ships were operating in line with a 2003 treaty with Russia envisaging free navigation for vessels of both countries in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait.

The Kerch Strait is the only passage into the Sea of Azov. The strait is spanned by the recently completed Kerch Bridge, connecting Crimea to Russia.

Moscow has conducted a persistent campaign of oppression targeting Crimean Tatars since Russia first annexed the peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.

Russian law enforces have detained 65 and arrested 107 Crimean Tatars in the first nine months of 2018, UNIAN previously reported.

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