New Weapon against Dissent in Crimea: ‘Ideology of Terrorism’
Armed FSB officers search the home of a member of the Mejlis, or Crimean Tatar representative assembly
Try defining ‘the ideology of terrorism’, and it should be clear why human rights activists are concerned about new measures to counter such ideology that have been announced in Russian-occupied Crimea. They believe such measures will serve as yet another pretext for mass restrictions and rights violations. With Oleg Sentsov, Oleksandr Kolchenko and two other Crimean opponents of annexation in detention for over 10 months on fabricated ‘terrorist plot’ charges, there are very real grounds for concern.
The new ‘Comprehensive Plan for Countering the Ideology of Terrorism from 2015-2018’ was adopted through a decree passed by ‘prime minister’ Sergei Aksyonov on Jan 30. The plan, while broadly similar to plans adopted for the Russian Federation in 2013, was put together by ‘anti-terrorist commission’ set up on April 15 last year, less than a month after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
The reason for such haste in drawing up – and applying – measures against ‘extremism’ and ‘terrorism’ became clear all too soon. Russia’s dangerously broad ‘anti-extremist’ legislation has been repeatedly used against Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians who oppose Russia’s occupation of their homeland.
There is every reason to fear that new measures to counter ‘ideology of terrorism’ will also be used against dissidents, not terrorists.
According to this document, by ‘ideology of terrorism’ is meant “the sum total of ideas, concepts, beliefs, dogma, goals, slogans justifying the need for terrorist activities, as well as other destructive ideas which have led to or could lead to such ideology”.
Such as: “Crimea is part of Ukraine”, for example?
If this seems overly cynical, consider who the people needing to be ‘identified’ and “persuaded to renounce their unlawful and destructive ways, repent and take part in prophylactic measures” are:
“participants in armed conflicts on the territory of the Northern Caucuses and foreign states (Ukraine, Syria and others) and their accomplices;
people spreading terrorist, extremist ideologies and information discrediting the Russian Federation;
active members and ideologues of non-traditional religious organizations and sects functioning in Crimea.”
Would people supporting volunteer battalions fighting for Ukrainian unity in Donbas count as ‘accomplices’? This cannot seem improbable given that since May 9, 2014, it has been a criminal offence in Russia (and Russian-occupied Crimea) to call for an end to Russia’s occupation of Crimea,
There is plenty of entirely true information that discredits Russia. Take, for example, its military engagement in eastern Ukraine and support for those committing terrorist acts in different parts of Ukraine. Or the treatment of Sinaver Kadyrov, one of the founders of the Crimean Tatar Human Rights Committee, who was deported from his native Crimea one week after the Committee organized a conference and initiated an appeal to the UN over ongoing rights violations.
What is meant by ‘non-traditional’ religious organizations? The only religious group that has not faced repressive measures since annexation is the Russian Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate.
With respect to Muslims, in particular, there have been armed searches of mosques, religious schools and private homes. Crimean Tatars have been accused of ‘extremism’, on occasion for the use of words like ‘annexation’ and ‘occupation’. There have also been attempts to present Crimean Tatars as ‘radical Muslims’ who could unleash a wave of violence in the Crimea.
‘Identification’ of groups regarding as suspect involves the making up of lists and requesting such lists from regional branches of the FSB [Russian Security Service]. Once such individuals are ‘identified’, the municipal anti-terrorist commissions will draw up timetables and plans for “prophylactic measures with such people”.
Records about such individuals are to be kept and updated on a permanent basis.
Other activities covered by this document include “monitoring of terrorist and anti-Russian activity on the Internet”.
“Preparation and implementation of measures for protecting the Crimean Internet from penetration by terrorist and extremist material, destructive information, information on preparing explosive devices, calls to commit terrorist acts”.
This may seem uncontroversial, but is not. Russia’s register of “terrorists and extremists” includes 3 Kuban activists who tried to hold a peaceful demonstration last August in support of greater autonomy for the region. Its Register of prohibited ‘extremist’ material includes books in which Holodomor, the artificially created famine in 1932/33 is called genocide, Jehovahs Witness material and Muslim prayer books. A Crimean librarian has already been fined for holding such ‘seditious’ material about Holodomor.
In August last year and later Russia’s media regulator and, increasingly, censor, blocked or threatened to block a number of Internet publications, including Glavcom and the BBC Russian Service if they did not remove material about planned peaceful marches for greater federal autonomy. The excuse was that the material “was calling people to commit acts of extremism”.
Regional branches of Romskomnadzor will be engaged in such ‘extremist’-hunting in Crimea as well.
In short, the vocabulary has changed very slightly, the essence remains the same – Soviet and repressive.