Feb 04, 2015

Deputy Chairman of Crimean Tatar Mejlis Arrested: Story of Detentions, Deportations and Defeats Continues

On 29 January 2015, Russian authorities occupying the annexed Crimean Peninsula detained Deputy Chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, Akhtem Chiygoz. The authorities claim that the arrest was made on the accusation of Mr Chiygoz organising ‘mass disorder’ in Simferopol outside the Crimean Parliament last year. This arrest is the latest in a long series of detentions and deportations used by the Russian authorities against prominent Crimean Tatars in what appears to be a serious case of ethnic and political persecution.

The Russian Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said that “on [26 February 2014], unknown individuals called on Crimean Tatars to disobey local officials' lawful demands, which caused mass disorder accompanied with violence.” Akhtem Chiygoz has been taken into custody under suspicion of inciting the ‘mass disorder’. However, UNPO is dismayed at the arrest, particularly due to the fact that on the date in question – nearly a year before the arrest was made – Simferopol was still under the legal jurisdiction of Ukraine and therefore Russian authorities have no legal justification for pressing charges against Mr Chiygoz for the acts he is accused of committing.There are also reports that a confession by Refat Chubarov, who maintains that he is behind the organisation of the demonstration, has been ignored by the authorities.Owing to these circumstances, the arrest and detention of Mr Chiygoz must be viewed as arbitrary; and furthermore, it illustrates the ongoing political persecution aimed at prominent members of the Crimean Tatar community.

Russian authorities have since denied Mr Chiygoz bail and he will remain in custody until 19 February 2015. Mr Chiygoz faces up to ten years in prison for his charges.

Akhtem Chiygoz becomes the fifth high profile member of the Mejlis (the highest executive-representative body of the Crimean Tatars) to be detained, deported or refused entry since the annexation of Crimea by Russia in March 2014. A second Crimean Tatar, Asan Chebiyev, has since also been arrested in connection with organising the protest on 26 February 2014. On 4 February 2015, Mr Chebiyev was taken into custody by Russian security services but was later released after questioning regarding his involvement with the protest.

Mustafa Dzhemilev, former Chairman of the Mejlis and current member of the Ukrainian Parliament, has been denied re-entry to Crimea since the Russian annexation. Following years of activism in which he engaged in a strictly non-violent struggle for the rights of the Crimean Tatars to return to their homeland, from where the Soviet regime had deported thousands of their members in 1944, Russia still regard Mr Dzhemilev as a dangerous political figure. This became evident as Mr Dzhemilev, on arriving at the de facto border between Ukraine and Crimea on 3 May 2014, was handed a simple scrap of paper by Russian officials stating that he was barred from entering the peninsula until 2019. As a result, the thousands of Crimean Tatars who had gathered at the border to welcome Mr Dzhemilev home for the 18 May celebrations commemorating the forced deportation of thousands of Tatars under the USSR, staged large-scale protests.

Many of the politically motivated arrests and deportations of Crimean Tatars that have occurred since the annexation have been declared by the Russian authorities to be in connection with the 3 May demonstrations. One such example is Crimean Tatar activist and Mejlis member, Tair Smerdlyaev, who was arrested on 22 October 2014 and held in pre-trial detention with the trial scheduled for 22 December. In a hearing on 24 October, the court refused to allow any defence witnesses and remanded Mr Smerdlyaev in custody. He was later released a week before the trial on 15 December 2014 having spent nearly two months in prison. The use of a closed court for the hearing on 24 October and the release of Mr Smerdlyaev before the trial are distressing. The lack of due process and apparent lack of evidence for trial suggests that the detention was purely political in motive.

Refat Chubarov, current leader of the Mejlis, has also been the target of political attacks after receiving a five-year ban on entering the Crimean Peninsula following allegations of extremism. Following a speech that Mr Chubarov gave on the 5 June 2014, Russian authorities imposed a five-year ban on entering Crimea the following day saying his speech, titled "Realizing the Right of the Crimean Tatars to Self-Determination on Their Historic Land in Crimea” had shown “signs of racism”. The Ukrainian government were quick to point out the political motives behind this heavy-handed punishment issuing a statement calling the decision ‘absurd’ and saying it illustrates “the chauvinistic policies that Russia has been implementing against the Crimean Tatars, continuing the tradition of Stalin, from the beginning of the armed occupation of the peninsula to the annexation of Crimea”.

Ismet Yuksel, Mejlis Advisor on Affairs with Turkey, has also been banned from entering the Crimean Peninsula. After launching a law suit against the Russian Federal Security Bureau (FSB), a criminal charge was brought against him by Moscow and his case has since been deemed ‘top secret’ on 28 January 2015 allowing a closed court to be considered legally appropriate.

The politically motivated legal cases brought against Crimean Tatars are certainly not confined just to members of the Mejlis, with many other supporters and activists being targeted. One such example of this was the deportation of Crimean Tatar Rights Committee member, Sinaver Kadyrov, on 23 January 2015. He was travelling with two other members of the Committee, Eksender Bariyev and Abmedzhyt Suleymanov, when they were stopped by Russian authorities when trying to cross the border in to mainland Ukraine. Russian actions have been facing increased international scrutiny following the actions highlighted above, and as a result Eksender Bariyev and Abmedzhyt Suleymanov, who are also members of the Mejlis, were allowed to return home in order to avoid further political scandal. However, Mr Kadyrov, who holds no official political position, was presumably targeted for his activism against the persecution of Crimean Tatars and swiftly deported. Other such instances of targeted abuse of Crimean Tatar rights activists are increasingly common, including severe physical abuse.

In addition to these personal attacks, a number of other trends shown by the Russian authorities are deeply worrying. Examples of these are the raids of the Mejlis by Russian officers on 16 September 2014, a raid by masked men – presumed operative of the Russian state – on the Crimean Tatar Television station ATR, and the persistent practice of forced disappearance used against Crimean Tatars. The raids on the Mejlis and ATR show the Crimean annexation governing structure’s complete intolerance not only for political opposition and freedom of expression, but also a concerted effort to undermine public expressions of Crimean Tatar identity and anti-Russian sentiment. The practice of enforced disappearances on the other hand shows the total disregard for human rights and the rule of law in the region. Since March 2014, 19 Crimean Tatars have been abducted, with many of them being tortured and killed. Authorities have also shown no serious attempt to investigate any claims of these enforced disappearances.

All of these instances, and the ongoing deterioration in the protection of Crimean Tatars’ civil and political rights, are of deep concern for UNPO. The aforementioned cases against prominent members of the Crimean Tatar community are clearly politically and ethnically motivated, and as such must be deemed arbitrary and contrary to rule of law. Moreover, these high profile cases are merely a representation of the wider abuse – ethnic, political and religious – that Crimean Tatars face on a daily basis in the annexed Crimean Peninsula. UNPO’s concern coincides with the latest analysis of civil and political freedoms in Crimea conducted by Freedom House which scores Crimea as 6.5 (with 7 being the worst ranking) making it one of the least free areas in the world.

UNPO calls on the Russian authorities in de facto control of Crimea to release all imprisoned Crimean Tatars who are the subject of political incarceration and to allow freedom of movement for all persons between Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula. Furthermore, we urge the Russian occupational authorities to promote freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, and to desist with its institutional and systematic persecution of the Crimean Tatar people and their culture.


Photo courtesy of Krymedia