A 24-year-old Crimean Tatar was sentenced Jan. 23 by a court in Russian-annexed Crimea to 10-and-a-half years' imprisonment for supposed involvement in a volunteer force patrolling the border of Crimea and mainland Ukraine to help enforce a blockade. Video evidence introduced in the trial only showed the suspect from behind. Nonetheless, Fevzi Sahandzhy was convicted of being a member of the Asker Battalion—also known as the Noman Çelebicihan Battalion, in honor of the martyred president of the short-lived independent Crimean Republic of 1918. The Battalion began participating in the blockade of Crimea in 2015 to press demands for the release of political prisoners and the restoration of freedom of speech and assembly on the peninsula. (Human Rights in Ukraine, 112 UA, Kiev, Jan. 28)
Free Ukraine Now website, which supports the pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine's east, describes the Asker Battalion as an "Islamist Battalion," mde up of 500 "Islamist radicals," and asserts that it is "taking control" of the port of Mariupol (just across the Sea of Azov from the Crimean Peninsula) under orders of the Kiev government. This is rejected as a "false claim" by Kiev's Unian Information Agency, which says that the Asker Battalion "has not been integrated into the Ukrainian army." The Asker Battalion's leader Lenur Islyamov told RFE/RL in 2017 that it is a Crimean formation, not only Crimean Tatar.
Photo: Human Rights in Ukraine