14:13 19 May 2023

Zelensky seeks Saudi support in freeing political prisoners and safeguarding Ukraine's Muslim community

Photo: Jakub Porzycki / All Over Press

President Volodymyr Zelensky traveled to Saudi Arabia to seek support from the country in releasing political prisoners whom Russia illegally detains.

The head of state announced his visit to Saudi Arabia, which has mediated prisoner swaps in Russia's war before, in a statement on the Telegram messaging app.

"I've arrived in Saudi Arabia. I'll speak at the Arab League Summit. I will meet with Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman al-Saud and conduct other bilateral negotiations," Zelensky said.

The president intends to present the Ukraine Peace Formula at the summit, which needs the participation of as many states as possible. He also aims to discuss ensuring energy security for the upcoming winter.

He also reported that the priority of the visit is the return of all political prisoners of Crimea and other territories temporarily occupied by the Russian invaders, as well as all captured and illegally deported citizens.

According to the Crimean Tatar Resource Center, there are currently 286 people who've been imprisoned on political grounds or falsely charged with criminal offenses during Crimea's annexation. Out of those 286, 195 are Crimean Tatars. The latest report by Ukraine's human rights commissioner Dmytro Lubinets on February 26, the ninth anniversary of the start of the Russian occupation of Crimea, shows that 180 political prisoners are being unlawfully detained in Russian-occupied Crimea. Among them, 116 individuals belong to the Crimean Tatar community.

According to the president, another priority is protecting the Muslim community of Ukraine, Crimean Tatars. Zelensky is accompanied by Mustafa Dzhemilev, the leader of the Crimean Tatar people and activist, who spent 17 years in Soviet jail for advocating for his people.

"Crimea was the first to suffer from the Russian occupation, and most of those subjected to repression in the occupied Crimea are Muslims," Zelensky added.

After Russia occupied and annexed Crimea in March 2014, it further worsened the rights of the Crimean Tatars. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights warned Moscow in 2016 as it "intimidated, harassed and jailed Crimean Tatar representatives, often on dubious charges." Russia also banned the representative body, the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People.

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