A Crimean Tatar who had been protesting against Russian troops in the Black Sea peninsula has been found dead, days after he was seen being hauled away by men in military-style jackets.
Human Rights Watch has called for an urgent investigation into what they say is the "enforced disappearance and subsequent killing" of Reshat Ametov, a construction worker, who had been attending a protest almost two weeks ago on Lenin Square in the regional capital Simferopol.
He was politically active in his local community, petitioning authorities about problems in the neighbourhood, and posted worried Facebook statuses about the situation of Crimean Tatars and the future of Crimea, in the weeks leading up to his disappearance.
Deceased Reshat Ametov was recorded by local TV crew protesting in front of Parliament in Simferopol. pic.twitter.com/jP1QQSSysl
— Ryskeldi Satke (@RyskeldiSatke) March 17, 2014
Relatives of the a 39-year-old father of three say they had desperately tried to locate him after he was led away by three unidentified men in military-style jackets. He had gone to the square for a small protest in front of the the Crimean Council of Ministers building.
Footage from ATR (the Crimean television channel) shows two men in green uniforms and one in a black uniform, all without insignias, leading Ametov away from the square.
Though his wife reported the disappearance to the police, his family told HRW they had received no communication whatsoever from authorities.
And then police found a body on Sunday, bearing marks of a violent death and dumped outside the town of Belogorsk. According to unverified local media reports, the marks on his body indicate Ametov may have been tortured before his death, with transparent tape wrapped around his head and hands,
Ametov's wife formally identified him on Monday but the family have not been able to retrieve his body or death certificate from the mortuary.
“The disappearance and murder of Reshat Ametov illustrates the climate of lawlessness that has been pervasive in Crimea over the last week,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“Crimean authorities have a duty to thoroughly investigate this case and punish those responsible, whoever they are."
“For weeks, armed masked men who refuse to identify themselves have harassed and intimidated people,” Denber continued.
“Failure to call a halt to this mistreatment and investigate would only embolden the people responsible for the abuse.”
HRW has documented the involvement of self-defence units in the abductions of at least six activists from the Euromaidan movement, the NGO said, adding that the units have also attacked and harassed numerous local and foreign journalists.
Tatars, are a minority group of Sunni Muslims who oppose a return to Russian rule in Crimea, because deportations and killings of Tatars which occurred under Josef Stalin. Most of Tatar population boycotted Sunday's referendum in which 97% of voters voted to be ruled from Moscow, not Kiev.
Tatars make up around 12% of the population of the peninsula, which is majority ethnic Russian.
Crimea's authorities, who back a return to Russia, have insisted they will guarantee Tatar representation in the local government and give the community financial aid and entrenched land rights.