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European Parliament Condemns Banning of Crimean Tatar Council

Activists take part in a flashmob to highlight human rights violations against Tatars living on the peninsula of Crimea, annexed by Russia two years ago, in Kiev, Ukraine, March 16, 2016.

The European Parliament on Thursday strongly condemned last month’s decision by Crimea's Russia-backed authorities to ban the Crimean Tatars' representative body amid reports that access to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Crimea news website had been blocked in the region.

A resolution passed by the European legislature called the Crimean Supreme Court's April 26 decision to ban the Tatars' Mejlis "systemic and targeted persecution" and "an attempt to expel them from Crimea, which is their historical motherland.”

The resolution also said Crimean Tatar institutions and organizations are increasingly being branded as “extremist” and that prominent members of the Crimean Tatar community have been or risk being arrested as “terrorists."

Crimean Tatar activists reported Thursday that security forces in masks searched homes and detained four Crimean Tatars in the town of Bakhchisaray, Crimea. Russian media quoted Crimea's pro-Moscow chief prosecutor, Natalya Poklonskaya, as saying that four members of the outlawed Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir had been detained.

Pokolonskaya was also quoted as saying the European Parliament's resolution reflected a "selective attitude" at a time "the whole world is fighting against extremism and terrorism." It has been "proven and established," she said, that the Mejlis is an "extremist organization."

The European Parliament's resolution also reiterated its "severe condemnation” of Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and "full commitment to the sovereignty, political independence, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.”

Meanwhile, Crimean authorities reportedly blocked RFE/RL's Crimea news website. Web users in Ukraine, Russia and Crimea reported Thursday that it was inaccessible, replaced by a notice stating: "Access denied, as the site has been added to the list of banned sites."

RFE/RL Editor in Chief Nenad Pejic said in a statement that the move was "an aggressive act that uses the outrageous pretext of extremism to censor RFE/RL and prevent audiences in Russia and Crimea from learning the truth about the annexation."

RFE/RL is funded by the U.S. Congress through the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

Danila Galperovich in Moscow contributed to this report

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