Rafis Kashapov, an activist from the Tatar community, was sentenced on September 15 to three years in jail for “calling for separatism” and “inciting ethnic hatred” on posts that he published on social media last year. His actions were described by the court as “aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation”.
The charges related to four posts that Kashapov published on his personal page on the Russian popular social media site VKontakte. On his posts, Kashapov criticized Russia for annexing the Tatar-populated Crimea from Ukraine.
The activist was arrested on December 28, 2014 by ten civilian-dressed armed men in the Republic of Tatarstan, Russian Federation. He was held under custody in Kazan throughout his trial.
He pleaded not guilty and claimed that the trial against him was politically motivated. On top of the jail sentence, the court banned Kashapov from using social media for two years after his release.
Kashapov is the director of the Tatar Public Center, an NGO that aims to preserve the national identity, language and culture of Tatars. The court accused Kashapov’s organization of “advocating the independence of Tatarstan”.
The Crimean peninsula was seized by Russia from Ukraine in March 2014. Following the annexation, about 15,000 Tatars have fled the region. The remaining Crimean Tatars were demanded to vacate their coastal lands in exchange of territory in a different area in the region. They were told that the land was “required for social needs”.
The Crimean Tatars used to form the majority of Crimea’s population until May 1944, when most of them were expelled from the area under the order of the USSR State Defense Committee. The exile was condemned in 1989 by the Soviet Parliament as being “inhumane and lawless”.
Gradually, more than 250,000 Tatars have returned to Crimea. However, they were unable to reclaim their former owned lands. Nowadays, the Crimean Tatars form approximately 12% of the Crimean population.