Stop Repression in Crimea!
The Ukrainian Center of the International PEN strongly protests against the rising tide of political repression in the Russian-annexed Crimea that encroaches upon basic rights and freedoms including those of speech, opinion, and access to information.
One of the most barbaric acts of the occupation regime was the recent shutdown of virtually all the Crimean Tatar media, including the children’s TV channel, “Lale”, on April 1. However outrageous per se, the act is only a small part of the systematic campaign launched by Russian authorities in the newly occupied territory against all vestiges of the local civil society that had evolved in a more open, free, and competitive environment in previous years. The local ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic minorities have become the primary targets of Russian repression aimed at eradicating all dissent and disloyalty, both real and imagined. Minority institutions have been closed or destroyed, sometimes physically (such as Ukrainian and Tatar libraries, schools, religious sites and buildings); their leaders and activists have been harassed, abducted, and even murdered by Russian nationalist militia that closely cooperate with the authorities.
The infamous “anti-extremist” law is being applied arbitrarily against any opinion that does not toe the official line. Legally expressed doubts about the annexation of the Crimea are criminalized, while public use of the term “annexation” instead of the mandatory “reunification” is deemed “extremist”. Within the few past weeks alone, dozens of journalists and their colleagues and relatives were interrogated by the notorious Russian Security Service, the FSB; their houses were searched and computers and other property confiscated. The prominent film director, Oleg Sentsov, is still imprisoned for supposedly “terrorist activity”, while the campaign of blackmail and intimidation continues, with the goal of forcing Crimean professionals and intellectuals to be obedient or to emigrate.
Many inhabitants of the peninsula have in fact left, but for the Crimean Tatars, who are the only native people of the Crimea, emigration is a desperate choice since they have no other home. They are determined not to give in to the occupiers who destroyed Tatar statehood in the late 18th century, colonized and militarized their land, deported all the Tatars summarily to Central Asia in 1944, and are now trying to extinguish them as a separate ethnos by making them voiceless, leaderless, and assimilated.
We, members of the Ukrainian PEN, express our solidarity with all the people who are culturally oppressed and politically persecuted in the Crimea, in particular with the Crimean Tatars. We also call on our international colleagues to voice their protest against Russian repressive policies in the Crimea and support the freedom of speech and opinion that have come dramatically under threat in the occupied territory.