Jun 08, 2016

Crimean Tatars: Community Still in Limbo Following Russia’s 2014 Illegal Annexation

Even two years after the events of February 2014, which led to the illegal annexation of Crimea by the Russian regime, the plight of the Tatar community within is still a hard one to address. Now left adrift from Ukrainian authorities, the Tatar community experience of Russian life has often been an unsympathetic one, with counts of numerous and repeated human rights abuses now a routine pattern. Abuses against the Crimean Tatars have gone so far as arrests on charges of extremism, disappearances and the recent ban on the activities of the Mejlis

Below is an article from published by Voice of America

Since the annexation of Crimea, numerous have been arrested for alleged extremism on suspicion of being a member of Hizbut Tahrir, an Islamic organization banned in Russia, but legal in Ukraine. On June 2nd, four Crimean Tatars pleaded not guilty in a Russian court in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don after being arrested in their home city of Simferopol, Crimea, on extremism charges.

Living in fear

“They are afraid of Facebook posts, they are afraid of phone calls. I call and we speak about the weather,” he said. According to Enver Ochilov, Crimean Tatar elders say because there have been many disappearances, young men should not walk alone on the streets.

Since Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in early 2014, there have been frequent reports of detentions, disappearances and mass arrests of Crimean Tatars. Russian security officials insist all the measures are aimed at preventing terrorist activities. Rights groups disagree, saying that Russia is accusing the Crimean Tatars of being Islamic extremists because the small ethnic group has never accepted Russia’s claim over their ancestral homeland.

“The crackdown on dissent in Crimea continues to deepen, as the few remaining independent journalists and other critical voices are methodically targeted,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said in April. “As a result, virtually all forms of Tatar political expression and organization have effectively been criminalized.”

A 'Crimean Nelson Mandela'

In April 2014, a Russian court designated Mustafa Dzhemilev, leader of the Mejlis, the Crimean Tatar council as an “extremist” and banned him from entering Crimea or Russia for five years. This past January, a Russian court in Simferopol arrested Dzhemilev in absentia. The FSB added Dzhemilev to its list of most wanted fugitives. On April 26th, a Russian court banned the Crimean Tatars’ Mejlis, accusing it of “extremism.”

Crimean mosques have frequently been the targets of police raids and there have reportedly been mass detentions of parishioners. The latest such raid on a mosque resulted in a detention of about 50 Crimean Tatars, allegedly for not carrying their passports.

Deportation Memorial Day

In addition, the Russian-backed authorities in Crimea prevented residents from holding public commemorations marking Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s mass deportation of the Crimean Tatars to Central Asia and parts of Russia on May 18, 1944. “In the past on Deportation Memorial Day the whole nation used to gather and commemorate the victims of the tragedy. This year all public gatherings where banned,” Zair Smedlyaev, chairman of the election committee of the Kurultai, the Crimean Tatar elected representative council, told VOA in a phone interview from Simferopol.

Denied the right to come to streets on May 18, Crimean Tatars held community prayers in the cities and villages. All cars stopped at midday to honk simultaneously in a memory of the thousands of victims. Police briefly detained some of the drivers for disturbing the peace. “Although the authorities did not give any specific explanation for banning public events on Memorial Day, everybody understood it wasn’t a coincidence,” Smedlyaev said.

Photo Courtesy of Voice of America