Crimea: Hizb ut-Tahrir in crosshairs
Newly appointed head of the Crimean Security Service, Petr Zima, said March 3 that he plans to take measures against Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist organization with a following among the Crimean Tatars. "Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir is recognized as a terrorist organization," he announced in a televsied statement. "Today there are elements of this organization in Crimea. Corresponding functions are laid on the Crimean Security Service and we will struggle against them. Crimea's Prime Minister Sergey Aksenov added that officials will take measures, including using force, "against those who don't want to cooperate with official power." (InterFax, March 3) Zima's appointment comes just as Aksenov's government has welcomed Russian troops to Crimea, in defiance of authorities in Kiev.
But local Hizb ut-Tahrir leader Fazil Amazayev told The Independent that any crackdown would backfire. He recalled Zima's reputation as local security chief in Sevastopol, the home of Russia's Black Sea Fleet—a post from which he was just promoted as the Ukraine crisis has escalated. "Zima built up a reputation in Sevastopol for carrying out raids, accusing people of being involved in extremism," Amazayev said. "But, if he starts doing that now, he will make a big mistake. The people in the [Tatar] establishment, the Mufti and the Mejlis [representative council] criticized us in the past, but now we are all facing the common enemy. And, if they do start persecuting us, we know how to survive, we have done it in Syria, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia."
Rustam Minnikhanov, president of the Russian republic of Tatarstan, has meanwhile arrived in Crimea to meet with local Tatar leaders in an effort to defuse tensions. But the visit comes just as Minnikhanov and Aksenov have signed an agreement on cooperation—a move hardly likely to win the confidence of Crimean Tatars. (RFE/RL, ITAR-TASS, March 6)
Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation) is an Islamist grouping, mostly with a following in Central Asia, which is non-violent in orientation, although it has been accused by authorities in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan of links to an armed cell, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. It has also been taragetted by authoriities for nonviolent activities such as leafleting and propaganda in China's Xinjiang region.