Armed Offensive against Independent Crimean Tatar TV Channel
Monday’s armed search of TV ATR was the most dramatic, but not the only offensive against the only Crimean Tatar TV channel since Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014 and appears part of mounting efforts to intimidate, silence or banish Crimean Tatars
“How will the regime look Crimean Tatars in the eye?”, the channel’s director Lidia Budzhurova asked in an address while the channel’s headquarters swarmed with men from the Investigative Committee and counter-terrorism department, as well as masked men carrying machine guns. She explained that the search was supposedly part of an investigation linked with a many-thousand strong demonstration outside parliament on Feb 26, 2014, the day before Russian forces seized control. Two people died as a result of the demonstration by Crimean Tatars, as well as supporters of the Russian Unity party, communists and others. At the time it was reported that one of the people had died of a heart attack, and there does not appear to be any suggestion that the two were deliberately killed. Russia’s Investigative Committee claimed that the channel had refused to hand over material. This is vehemently denied, and in fact Budzhurova says that the fact that the channel had already handed over any material in their possession indicates that an order was issued from above to carry out this operation.
“From time to time ATR has come under pressure however they did not dare up till now to apply measures of force since we did not and do not infringe the law. But seemingly the current Crimean authorities do not like the very existence of a channel not under their control. The authorities don’t like the very existence of the world’s first and only Crimean Tatar television channel whose main aim is not politics, but the preservation and development of the language and culture of our people…. I don’t know how, after the closure of ATR, if there are such plans, the authorities will look Crimean Tatars in the eye. I don’t know how these actions can be reconciled with the Russian President’s decree about the rehabilitation of deported peoples, including the Crimean Tatars.”
Budzhurova mentioned one of the first demonstrations of the occupation regime’s treatment of the Crimean Tatars – the ban on all public remembrance gatherings to mark the seventieth anniversary of the Deportation of the Crimean Tatar People on May 18. In doing that, she says, the occupation regime “prohibiting Crimean Tatars from mourning [lit. weeping]. Now they, seemingly, want to prohibit them from seeing, hearing and speaking. However for now we have the right to live in our native land which nobody will take away. And while we are alive, we will use all legal means in our fight to ensure that the Crimean Tatars keep their national channel. We are not bidding farewell and await development of events and the further actions of the local authorities who, I hope, realize the blow they are dealing not only Crimean Tatars, but also their own reputation and the reputation of the federal authorities”.
It is easy to see what prompted such bitter words. At around 11.00 on Monday several dozen men in full military gear appeared at the channel’s headquarters. The men, who identified themselves as being from the Crimean ‘Berkut’ special force, prevented people from entering or leaving the channel’s headquarters on the outskirts of Simferopol, and prohibited any filming of the search underway.
Hundreds of people came to the building to demonstrate their support. More OMON riot police were brought in and they tried to disperse the crowd, threatening administrative proceedings – and fines of 10 -20 thousand roubles - for what they called ‘an unauthorized rally’. There were people overtly photographing and videoing those present, and judging by the months of Russian rule, repressive actions against participants are likely.
The search ended close to 18.00 and the men left taking part of the channel’s archives on the hard drive, as well as data from staff members individual computers. The analogue signal, which had disappeared when the search began, was restored. During the day the channel had been accessible only to viewers with satellite television or online.
Natalya Poklonskaya, the ‘prosecutor general’ installed by the occupation regime, claimed on the official website, that the search accompanied by men with machine guns “had been in strict compliance with the law”.
Or not so strict…
Poklonskaya also “informed that the republic’s prosecutor’s office had previously twice issued the channel’s management with warnings about the inadmissibility of infringements of legislation on countering extremist activities”.
This has been Poklonskaya’s refrain since early May when the head of the Mejlis, Refat Chubarov was read the same warning over the peaceful protest after veteran Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemiliev was banned from his homeland. Chubarov was also issued the same 5-year-ban in early July with supposed infringements of Russia’s dangerously loose law on extremism used as a pretext.
In September, for example, the channel received a letter from the Centre for Countering Extremism. This stated that Roskomnadzor [the supervisory body increasingly turning into the Russian state censor] had been informed by the police that ATR ‘is persistently fostering the idea of possible repression on ethnic or religious grounds, is fostering the formation of anti-Russian public opinion and is deliberately stirring up distrust of the authorities and their actions among Crimean Tatars, with this indirectly creating the threat of extremist activities.”
The accusations made it quite clear that any suggestion that the Russian occupation authorities are harassing Crimean Tatars or infringing their rights would be termed ‘extremism’.
Over the last week, as well as the armed search of ATR, there has been renewed harassment of members of the Mejlis and Qurultay, or Crimean Tatar National Congress and another arrest on highly dubious charges more than 6 months after the May 3 peaceful protests. The last week also saw a particularly sinister development in the ‘deportation’ from his native Crimea of Sinaver Kadyrov.
Kadyrov is one of the three leaders of the Crimean Rights Committee who organized a conference on Jan 17 which adopted an appeal to the UN over infringements of Crimean Tatar rights.
Also, presumably, an ‘extremist document’