The IPI global network condemns Russia’s sentencing last week of three Crimean Tatar citizen journalists to 14 years in prison. IPI calls on the Russian authorities to release Osman Arifmemetov, Ruslan Suleymanov, and Rustem Sheykhaliyev.

On November 24, Crimean Tatar citizen journalists Arifmemetov, Suleymanov and Sheykhaliyev were sentenced to 14 years of prison, plus an additional year of restrictions on their freedom of movement, by the Southern District Military Court of the Russian Federation in Rostov-on-Don. The journalists were ordered to serve four years in prison and 10 years in a maximum-security colony. The Russian court’s ruling is based on charges of “organizing the activities of a terrorist organization” and “attempted forcible seizure of power by an organized group”, to which the three men pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors alleged that the citizen journalists “actively participated in the secret meetings of ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’” – a pan-Islamist political organization which is outlawed in Russia, but not in Ukraine – and “spread its propaganda with the aim of recruiting new members”. However, Crimean Solidarity, a local human rights group, said that the evidence used against the three citizen journalists was not credible and included audio and visual material retrieved by Russian intelligence that appears to be doctored as well as testimonies of secret witnesses and intelligence officers.

Suleymanov and Sheykhaliyev were detained in Crimea on March 27, 2019 and transferred to a pretrial detention facility in Russia the next day. Arifmemetov was arrested a day later. The three men were among the 23 Crimean Tatars detained in a series of house raids conducted by the Russian security forces in the Crimean peninsula, which was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014. The Russian intelligence service claimed that the house raids targeted proponents of “Hizb ut-Tahrir”. Russia has long been accused by international human rights groups of “relentlessly persecuting Crimean Tatars for their vocal opposition to Russia’s occupation” by “portraying politically active Crimean Tatars as extremists and terrorists”. The Russian Memorial Human Rights Centre, one of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize recipients, considers Suleymanov, Sheykhaliyev, and Arifmemetov political prisoners.

“Russia should immediately release Osman Arifmemetov, Ruslan Suleymanov, and Rustem Sheykhaliyev”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “Their lengthy pre-trial detention and the extreme sentence the court has imposed indicate a continued effort by Russia to stamp out critical voices in occupied Crimea. Amid Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, the international community must continue to call out the repression in Crimea and join in demanding the release of all Crimean journalists and other media workers jailed by Russia.”