Officials in Moscow-annexed Crimea said on Thursday that a revered community leader of Tatars, a Muslim minority with a long history of persecution by Russia, has been arrested in absentia and faces three unspecified charges for "premeditated crimes".

Mustafa Jemilev, a lawmaker in Ukraine's parliament who was exiled from the Black Sea peninsula for “extremist” calls to oppose the 2014 Russian annexation, inspired last year’s civilian-led “blockade” of Crimea by Tatar and Ukrainian activists.

A district court in the southern Crimean city of Simferopol put Jemilev on the federal and international wanted lists on Thursday because he is “hiding from prosecution and court, may exert pressure on witnesses, destroy evidence.”

'Premeditated crimes'

Crimea’s prosecutor Natalya Poklonskaya said the charges that have not been made public to prevent the obstruction of justice stem from a series of “premeditated crimes” committed by Jemilev, the RIA Novosti news agency quoted her as saying.

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry condemned the charges. The Ministry’s spokeswoman Mariana Betsa said in a tweet that they were part of “repressions” of Crimean Tatars who amount to about 15 percent of Crimea’s population of 2 million.

Jemilev, 72, is a Soviet-era dissident who spent 15 years in jail or exile for advocating the Tatars’ right to return to Crimea after their 1944 en masse deportation for alleged collaboration with German Nazis during World War II. Almost 200,000 Tatars were deported to Soviet Central Asia, up to a half of them died of starvation and diseases.

Ukraine recognition

The survivors and their descendants were branded “traitors” until Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev allowed their return to Crimea in the late 1980s. Jemilev headed the Mejlis, an informal Tatar parliament that helped resolve conflicts with ethnic Russians and Ukrainians who dominated the peninsula.

In November, Ukraine recognised the deportation as a “genocide.” 

Although Tatars claimed that Ukrainian authorities tacitly barred them from jobs in the government and police, many of them opposed the 2014 annexation and the emergence of thousands of Russian servicemen in unmarked uniforms.

The Kremlin declared the annexation “bloodless,” but an ethnic Tatar activist who protested the move was kidnapped by pro-Moscow fighters and was later found dead with traces of torture. Several more Tatars have been abducted and allegedly killed, their families told Al Jazeera.

Russian authorities also started massive searches and detentions of Tatars, especially mosque-going Muslims many of whom likened the persecution to Moscow’s repressive policies in the Caucasus region. 

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies