23.05.2014 | Halya Coynash

Russia’s increasingly repressive grip on Crimea


A banner before the pseudo-referendum in the Crimea reads: "Supporters of Putin!  With him, you won’t speak in Russia, you’ll be SILENT in Russian!

Russia’s State Duma has passed in its first reading a law with potentially devastating consequences for peaceful protest in the Crimea while it remains under Russian occupation.

The draft law registered on March 31 is supposedly “aimed at improving measures to defend the rights and liberties of citizens caused by unauthorized meetings, rallies, demonstrations, processions or pickets”.   It proposes to add a new article (212.1) to the Russian Federation Criminal Code on ‘repeated infringement of the established order for organizing or holding meetings, rallies, demonstrations, processions or pickets”. 

Translated from Newspeak, this means that people who have received administrative penalties twice over the space of 6 months will face criminal proceedings.  The penalties which the draft law proposes range from a prohibitively high fine to up to five years imprisonment. The law would also double the period of administrative arrest (from 15 to 30).

We are not talking here about demonstrators destroying cars or beating up police officers.  Peaceful protesters including elderly veterans of the human rights movement, former Soviet prisoners and others, are regularly detained and fined by Russian courts for supposed ‘infringements’ or for holding a peaceful protest altogether if the authorities have refused to give permission.  In August 1968, four days after Soviet tanks crushed the Prague Spring, 8 Soviet citizens came out on Red Square in protest.  They paid for that courageous act with their liberty.

In Vladimir Putin’s Russia they would most likely be detained for holding an ‘unauthorized protest’.  Up till now they would have faced administrative penalties. This may be about to change.

Russian OMON were deployed at the beginning of May to prevent veteran Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Jemiliev from entering the Crimea. Many of those who came to show their support for Jemiliev have faced repressive measures by the occupying regime 

Crimea 2014

The western media was swift to show mass rallies of jubilant pro-Russian demonstrators in the Crimea following Russia’s invasion.  Some media also reported on the serious pressure, and often violence, against those opposing Russia’s invasion.   One Crimean Tatar, Reshat Ametov, was abducted while protesting outside the government buildings in Simferopol.  His badly mutilated body was found two days later. 

All of that was prior to Russia’s formal annexation on March 18. Whether or not the deed is recognized internationally, Russia has seized Ukrainian territory and imposed its legal system.  The Russian law, in force since May 9, which criminalizes public calls to violate the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation will be applied by the occupying regime in the Crimea as well. 

The same is true of these latest attempts to crush peaceful protest.  Crimean Tatars have already faced administrative charges, warnings and possibly criminal proceedings over totally peaceful protest after veteran Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Jemiliev was banned from his native Crimea.  The attempt to totally ban the remembrance ceremonies marking the seventieth anniversary of the Deportation on May 17 and 18 was just a taste of what is to come.

Even pro-Russian residents of the Crimea have received warnings, though have proven less capable of drawing the relevant conclusions. At the end of March a police officer tried to stop a protest in support of Russian rule, but against corruption and the local mayor.  His argument that the protest was illegal according to Russian law was dismissed with the protesters saying that since he was still in Ukrainian uniform, the ban didn’t count.  On another occasion, protesters claimed that they could hold the protest because the Crimea was still in its ‘transitional period’.

Judging by the stream of legislative moves in Russia aimed at crushing protest, a bitter awakening is coming for all.

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