The Last Castle of the Crimean Tatars Has Fallen
This week marked a particularly dark period in the ongoing stifling of freedoms of the Crimean Tatars as epitomized by unfair local elections and the raiding of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People. Both are examples of forceful, but shameless attempts by the Russian authorities to tighten its grip on the Mejlis and the Crimean Tatar community, to symbolically reassert its leadership and deny any possibility of a political future for the community.
On Sunday [14 September 2014], local and regional elections were held in Crimea and the district of Sevastopol, which has been under Russia’s illegal occupation since March 2014. Voters were to cast their support for members of the regional Parliament in Crimea and the Legislative Assembly in Sevastopol, a move pushed by Russia to solidify and legitimize the annexation, which has received condemnation across the international community.
In Sunday’s election, which many locals are calling undemocratic, Russia’s leading political party, United Russia, allegedly received 70.4% of the votes for the regional Parliament in Crimea. The elections represented no political competition, and instead displayed a high level of repression of political opponents. With only 2 political parties in Parliament, and 100 seats reduced to 75, 70 are now occupied by the ruling party and 5 by the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, the LDPR. While Russian sources claim that voter turnout was at around 53% in Crimea and 48% Sevastopol, alternative sources suggest that the actual participation was approximately 28-30%.
The latest example of human rights abuses perpetrated by the Russian authorities against the Crimean Tatars specifically was a raid of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People. On 16 September , Russian officers surrounded the Mejlis in order to conduct a ‘search’ despite the fact that there is no legal ground for searches and no laws have been broken. The following day [17 September 2014], the premises were to be completely emptied, including books, papers and computers, which were confiscated by the Russian authorities as part of an “investigation”. This followed an incident, which took place on Monday [15 September 2014], where masked men ripped of the Ukrainian flag from the Mejlis building.
The overall situation for local Crimeans and Crimean Tatars has deteriorated over the summer. Locals are no longer able to conduct any official or bureaucratic procedures without a Russian passport, including driving. Failure to meet the stipulated deadlines for changing license plates on cars is to result in confiscation.
Police and Special Forces have been tasked with searching the homes of Crimean Tatars, particularly human rights activists. Alarmingly, on Tuesday [16 September 2014], Russian Defense Minister, Mr Sergey Shoigu, reaffirmed that the Crimean Peninsula remained a “top priority”, and this will bring a sharp increase in region’s military presence.
UNPO calls on the international community and the European Union in particular, to continue to show support and solidarity for the Crimean Tatars who have found themselves trapped by the invasion and illegitimate annexation of their homeland by the Russian Federation. Furthermore, UNPO appeals international protagonists to not overlook or neglect the suffering endured by the Crimean Tatars in light of the recent crises in Eastern Ukraine and Iraq.