Aug 21, 2017

Crimean Tatars: Despite International Condemnation, Russia Continues with Repression

Photo Courtesy of KyivPost

In light of continued Russian oppression, Crimean Tatars have grown increasingly united in their fight for justice. The International Court of Justice recently condemned the actions of the Russian government in Crimea but Russian authorities continue to discriminate against the Crimean Tatars. The latter continue to be arrested for expressing political views that are unpopular with the Russian governement, face increased travel restrictions, unwarranted raids and extremely costly fines. In an effort to take a stance against the oppression, the Tatar community has come together to raise funds to pay off the unfair penalities and protest unjust arrests. Although discimination persists, the Tatars hope that their collaboration and activism will shed light on their repressive circumstance. 

Below is an article published by KyivPost:

Not all Ukrainians will be able to openly celebrate Independence Day on Aug. 24. After three years of Russian occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, the historic homeland of more than 300,000 of Ukraine’s Crimean Tatar population, many of them are still fighting for justice and independence in the face of Kremlin repression.

Despite April’s ruling by the International Court in The Hague that Russia must stop discrimination and prosecution of Crimean Tatars, the repression has continued.

But while earlier Crimean Tatars have felt lost and scared, and didn’t know how to resist Kremlin repression, in the past months they have become more united, standing up for each other, fighting in the courts and protesting on the streets of Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Crimea, says Tamila Tasheva, a founder of Crimea SOS, a Kyiv-based non-profit organization.

“The Crimean Tatars have stopped being scared,” Tasheva told the Kyiv Post. “They’re uniting in active groups, like the Crimean Solidarity and Our Children. Such organizations help the families of political prisoners and many others who have suffered from Russian injustice.” Since the Russian military invasion, human rights watchdogs have documented at least 289 cases of human rights abuse in Crimea, including kidnappings, illegal searches of offices and apartments, and arrests and criminal cases being brought on bogus charges against people who support Ukraine.

Russian authorities deny all accusations, saying they operate within the law.

Crimea SOS has reported that, as of April, 37 Crimean Tatars had been arrested in politically motivated cases since 2014, 20 Crimean Tatars were in prison, and 17 were under house arrest or under travel restrictions.

Out of the 37 arrested, 19 Crimean Tatars were accused of terrorism and extremism. The authorities said that they were members of Hizb Ut-Tahrir, an international Islamic political organization, which is banned in Russia as a terrorist organization, but is not banned in Ukraine.

Some Crimean Tatars have been ordered to pay huge fines for making pro-Ukrainian posts in social media.

And Russia’s occupying authorities in Crimea are becoming more harsh: on Aug. 9th they sentenced a 76-year-old Crimean Tatar, Server Karametov, to 10 days in prison and a 10,000-ruble fine ($176) for disobeying the police.

Karametov’s “crime” was to stage a one-person protest next to the Crimean Supreme Court in Simferopol. The elderly man was protesting against the prosecution of Crimean Tatars with a banner addressing Russian leader Vladimir Putin, reading: “Putin! Our children are not terrorists!”

After the Russian court denied Karametov’s lawyers’ appeal for a softer penalty, at least dozen elderly Crimean Tatars staged one-man protests in the same way as Karametov in various Crimean cities, this time demanding freedom for him, as well as other Crimean Tatars.

At least eight of them have since been detained by the police.

In April, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that Russia had to answer to charges that it was discriminating against ethnic Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars in Crimea.
Under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Russia must refrain from maintaining or imposing limitations on the ability of the Crimean Tatar community to maintain its representative institutions, including the Mejlis, the Crimean Tatar’s representative body.

Under that convention, the Russian authorities in the occupied Crimea also have to ensure that Crimean citizens can be educated in the Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar languages in schools, the court ruled.

“It was a really important decision, but not for Russia, because the occupants did not take it seriously. They continue the repression,” Tasheva said.

Already after the ruling, Russian-backed courts in Crimea arrested at least five Crimean Tatars in politically motivated cases in July and August. Seven more were fined, according to Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry.

“The Russian (occupying) authorities conducted at least three illegal searches in the houses of Crimean Tatars during last week — cynical Soviet-secret-police-style searches,” the ministry wrote. “(They were) as cynical as the arrests of those elderly men who were protesting against Karametov’s arrest.”Whenever a Crimean Tatar is convicted in Crimea, dozens of other Crimean Tatars show up near the court in support. Similarly, they gather every time Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) conducts an illegal search of a Crimean Tatar home.

Deliyaver Memetov, a coordinator of the Crimean Solidarity Movement, told the Kyiv Post that in April 2016 the relatives of illegally arrested Crimean Tatars, together with lawyers and human rights activists, had created the movement to help anyone who has suffered from politically motivated charges and discrimination.

Crimean Solidarity activists provide legal aid to Crimean Tatars in trouble, financial aid to families of illegally arrested Tatars, and inform journalists and people in Crimea about the actions of the Russian occupying authorities.

“The Russian-backed authorities in Crimea don’t approve of our existence, of course,” Memetov said. “But we can’t stand aside during such a mess — it’s our shared problem.”

“First, the Soviet authorities demonized the Crimean Tatars as ‘traitors of the Soviet regime.’ Our parents were dubbed traitors’ children. Today history is repeating itself. For the Russian authorities, we are terrorists and extremists.”Trying to help their compatriots, Crimean Tatars went online, posting pictures on social media, in which they pose with a 10-ruble coin, adding a #CrimeanMarathon hashtag. The campaign, called Crimean Marathon, was launched by Crimean lawyers and activists to help several Crimean Tatars, who were ordered by Russian courts to pay from 10,000 rubles ($176) to 300,000 rubles ($5,000) fines in June.

“One young woman got a 300,000-ruble ($5,000) fine for making a pro-Ukrainian post on Facebook. A regular person in Crimea just can’t afford to pay such a fine,” Tasheva said.
Karametov was also given a 10,000-ruble ($176) fine on top of his 10-day jail term.

Tasheva said that every Crimean Tatar on the annexed peninsula can help their convicted fellows pay fines by contributing just 10 rubles each.

“Why 10 rubles? Because that is what you get when you divide the whole sum of fines between all of the Crimean Tatars on the peninsula,” Tasheva explained.

Tasheva said Tatars also intended there to be an element of humiliation for Russian law enforcers in raising the money in this way.

“A person can contribute money only in 10-ruble coins,” Tasheva said. “When we collect all the money, the activists will bring it to the law enforcers in several big heavy bags. Let them count it.”

Within a month the Crimean Marathon campaign has spread all over Ukraine and abroad. However, people outside the peninsula can’t pay in coins, as there is no way to get them to Crimea. The only option is to send the money to Crimea SOS bank account, and “we will change the money into 10-ruble coins,” Tasheva said.

More than Hr 6,000 ($234) have been already sent to Crimea SOS in week and a half, its press service said on Aug. 15.

Memetov said Crimean Tatars would continue to fight for their rights in the occupied peninsula.

“The Russian occupiers will use force against the truth,” Memetov said, “as they have nothing more to offer to the people. But mass arrests, searches, penalties, and raids won’t stop the expression of the Crimean Tatars’ will.”