Apr 24, 2014

Crimean Tatars: Mustafa Jemilev Barred From Returning To Crimea Until 2019

Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Jemilev has been barred from returning to Russian soil – and by that to his homeland Crimea – until 2019. Mr. Jemilev, who fights for the rights of the Crimean Tatars, has been banned under a law that bans foreign nationals accused of threatening public order. 

Below is an article published by the Wall Street Journal

Authorities in Crimea barred the Crimean Tatar leader from returning to the breakaway region and Russia for five years as he left Tuesday [22 April 2014] for meetings in the Ukrainian capital Kiev. Mustafa Jemilev was seeking to meet with visiting U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in Kiev, the Tatar assembly said late Monday [21 April]. However, a senior U.S. administration official said they didn't meet and no meeting had been planned. Mr. Jemilev couldn't be reached on Tuesday [22 April 2014] for comment.

The assembly quoted him as saying the order was "nothing more than a sign of how civilized a state we are dealing with." The Tatar assembly said pro-Russian border guards handed Mr. Jemilev the order as he and his deputy drove out of Crimea toward Kiev, telling him he couldn't return to Russian soil until 2019. Russia annexed Crimea last month [March 2014] and now considers it part of the country.

Crimean Tatars, a Muslim group that overwhelmingly opposed the annexation, make up about 12% of the region's population of two million. Many participated in the pro-Europe protests in Kiev that led to the February [2014] ouster of then-President Viktor Yanukovych. The order barring Mr. Jemilev comes as the Kremlin moves to cement control over Crimea and suggests it aims to clamp down on dissent. In the run-up to the March [2014] referendum in which Crimea voted to secede from Ukraine, Mr. Jemilev urged his tightly knit followers not to participate. He has since vocally opposed the annexation.

The hastily arranged referendum—which was conducted while the region was occupied by thousands of armed Russian troops—has been widely viewed abroad as illegitimate. Russia's subsequent annexation was met with sanctions from both the U.S. and the European Union against a number of Russian officials and people close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

U.S. officials deplored the reports of restrictions on Mr. Jemilev's ability to return to Crimea. State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said Mr. Jemilev "is legendary for his courageous advocacy for the human rights of his people. This ban, if true, is particularly disturbing given the history of deportation of the Crimean Tatars for 70 years or so."

The order barring Mr. Jemilev from returning, which the Tatar assembly posted on its website, didn't say which Russian agency had issued it and it lacked any official seal. A spokesman for Russia's Federal Migration Service, which normally handles such matters, said he was unaware of the order. But he said such dictates can come from a variety of agencies, including the state security service. The document said Mr. Jemilev, a Ukrainian citizen, was banned from entering Russia under a law that bans foreign nationals accused of threatening public order.

In early April [2014] during a visit to Washington, Mr. Jemilev described an uncertain future for the region's Tatar population, saying that many could be blocked from government jobs as he expected few would agree to switch to Russian citizenship. He said Ukraine should rebuild its nuclear arsenal to defend itself from Russian aggression.

On Monday [21 April], Crimean Tatar officials said a group of camouflage-clad men stormed the Tatar assembly offices and tore down a Ukrainian flag that flew overhead, replacing it with a Crimean flag. After the men left, the flag was removed and replaced by a Crimean Tatar flag. Hours later, Mr. Putin officially cleared the Crimean Tatars of the political crimes they were accused of under Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, who persecuted the group and deported them en masse during World War II. Mr. Putin's decision to rehabilitate them was seen as aimed at easing their concerns of being oppressed once again under Russia leadership.

On Sunday [20 April], the acting head of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, accused the Crimean Tatar leadership of "provoking ethnic strife," and said he considered them extremists. "If you do not like it, leave!" he wrote on his Twitter feed.