LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A Crimean lawyer who was jailed earlier this year by Russian authorities vowed to continue his work to bring global attention to Crimeans fighting for justice after receiving a major human rights award on Friday.
Emil Kurbedinov, 35, has become known for documenting cases of Russia raiding properties and arresting people in the Black Sea peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014 and also for representing arrested and jailed Crimean Tatars.
The Tatars, a mainly Muslim community that makes up about 15 percent of the peninsula’s population, have been among the most vociferous opponents of Crimea’s Russian rule with searches of their homes, raids, and arrests becoming commonplace.
Kurbedinov was awarded the 2017 Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk by Front Line Defenders in Dublin with the rights organization condemning his arrest in January and 10 days in detention for “propagandizing for extremist organizations”.
Ahead of accepting the award in Dublin, Kurbedinov said he would continue his work, despite cases being near-impossible to win and ending in guilty verdicts.
“We believe it is not the acquittal that matters, rather that those who are in prison keep standing firm and stay strong,” Kurbedinov told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.
“All these people are examples of courage, because they do not abandon their principles and they do not give up.”
Many Tatars, who are indigenous to the peninsula, and independent human rights activists, including watchdog charity Amnesty International, say the community is being targeted by police because of its opposition to Moscow.
Some Tatars have begun referring to the crackdown as “hybrid deportation”, likening it to the deportation of some 200,000 Tatars by Stalin from Crimea to Siberia and Central Asia in 1944 - one reason for Tatars’ mistrust of the Russian authorities.
But the authorities say the police have a good reason for their activities as they have evidence some Crimean Tatars belong to Islamist groups they deem extremist.
Kurbedinov said the memory of their parents’ and grandparents’ 40-year struggle to return to traditional land in Crimea reinforced many Tatars’ determination to remain today.
“What’s happening instead is that Russia is doing everything it can to make people leave,” said Kurbedinov.
Reporting by Matthew Ponsford, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org