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Russia arrests, fines 30 Crimean Tatars celebrating release of their unjustly imprisoned lawyer with a 50-kilo cake

Fatime Yanikova, a mother of four, is arrested by Russian police while coming to greet the release of lawyer Edem Semedlyaev in occupied Simferopol. Photo: Crimean Solidarity
Russia arrests, fines 30 Crimean Tatars celebrating release of their unjustly imprisoned lawyer with a 50-kilo cake

Crimean Tatar lawyer Edem Semedlyaev was released from a remand prison in occupied Simferopol on the evening of 23 November after spending 12 days under administrative arrest. Members of the Crimean Tatar community came to the jail to celebrate his release with luminescent balloons and a 50-kilo cake. But celebrations did not last long: they were all detained by the police and taken away to remand prisons. Nine women were fined RUB 10,000-15,000 ($134-200); 21 men were given 10 to 14 days of administrative arrest, Crimean Tatar activist Luftiye Zudiyeva reported.

A team of Crimean Tatar cheerleaders comes to greet the release of Edem Semedlyaev on the evening of 23 November. Photo: Crimean Solidarity
The cheerleaders carried luminiscent balloons. Photo: Crimean Solidarity
They brought a 50-kilo cake with the inscription “Edem Semedlyaev – a son and defender of his people.” Photo: Mumine Saliyeva
The lawyer’s support group was rounded up by police and taken away. Photo: Crimean Solidarity
The lawyer’s support group was rounded up by police and taken away. Photo: Crimean Solidarity
The lawyer’s support group was rounded up by police and taken away. Photo: Crimean Solidarity

Speaking to RFE/RL’s Crimea desk, Semedlyaev commented on the detentions that the Russian occupation authorities are trying to show their fight against “terrorism” by detaining Crimean Tatar activists who support each other.

“Just yesterday, when people came to meet me, to support me, they were detained near the temporary detention center, from where I had to leave and were detained even before I left,” Semedlyaev said.

According to the lawyer, the detention of Crimean Tatar activists is connected with the fact that the Russian authorities do not like the fact that “people come [to the courts] and support their relatives”.

“This greatly changes the picture that they are trying to show in Crimea. The authorities are trying to show that they are catching terrorists, protecting the population from terrorists. And here huge numbers of people come to the so-called terrorists and support them. If a person were a real terrorist and tried to blow up, kill, or harm someone, then, I think, not a single person would come and support him. But here everything turns out the other way around, so they are trying to make sure that no one comes to the trials,” Semedlyaev said.

Edem Semedlyaev was arrested for “police disobedience” while providing legal aid to his clients on 25 October. His clients, Crimean Tatars who came to attend a court session in which their compatriots were being accused of terrorism on charges critics say are falsified, started being rounded up by the police when waiting for permission to be admitted to the court hall.

Semedlyaev was told by the police to stop his voice recorder, which the lawyer declined to do, as he was documenting what he believed were illegal actions of the police. Then, the police ordered him to strip naked, allegedly to search his body for “extremist” markings. This Semedlyaev, a Muslim like most of the Crimean Tatars, an ethnic minority in Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula Russia occupied in 2014, also refused to do, likely on the basis of his faith.

For this, he was given 12 days of administrative arrest, which he finished serving today.

The Lawyers for Lawyers Foundation released a statement condemning the acts of harassment against the lawyer. Front Line Defenders, an NGO protecting human rights defenders at risk, also expressed grave concerns about Semedlyaev’s detention. On 25 November, after the arrest of Semedlyaev’s support team, the Council of Europe issued a statement calling to end the persecution of Crimean Tatars, stressing that the latest detention is only “the latest link in a chain of reprisals and harassment directed at members of this community.”

After Russia occupied Crimea, it unleashed a persecution campaign against the Crimean Tatars, who actively resisted the illegal landgrab. Crimean Tatars are routinely jailed for up to 20 years in jail on fabricated charges of terrorism. Persecution has forced many Crimean Tatars to relocate to mainland Ukraine. The contemporary repressions echo the deportation of Crimean Tatars conducted under Stalin, and have been called a “hybrid deportation.”

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