08.05.2015 | Halya Coynash

Crimean prosecutor warns Ukrainians will be jailed


Natalya Poklonskya, installed as Crimean prosecutor after Russia’s invasion of the peninsula has warned that there is plenty of room in Crimean SIZO or remand prisons for all “Ukrainian nationalists and radicals” should they get to Crimea.  She believes, however, that the said Ukrainians will “draw the correct conclusions” and not try to come.

Poklonskaya claims that ‘fascism’ is beginning to flourish in Ukraine.  “If they think that we won’t get to them, they’re badly mistaken. The security services are at work and all potential radicals are known to us. We have lots of room in prisons and SIZO. I can’t promise that it will be with a view of the sea, but we’ll find places, ” she told TASS.

She added that the same security service is carrying out active work at identifying nationalists on the Internet.  So far 10 sites demonstrating “radical sentiments” have been blocked.  She did not specify which.

On May 2 the occupation regime’s leader Sergei Aksyonov threatened to initiate a ‘Crimean Tribunal’ for alleged followers of Nazi ideology in Ukraine.  This would “try”, for example, people carrying portraits of the nationalist leader Stepan Bandera.  Poklonskaya told TASS that she did not exclude the possibility of being the prosecutor at such a ‘tribunal’.

WWII anniversary rhetoric?

There will be plenty of pathos from world leaders over the next two days which mark the seventieth anniversary of the Second World War.  Lots of speeches about the lessons learned, etc.  

Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014 despite the assurances given Ukraine by the USA and UK, as well as Russia, to honour its territorial integrity. The Minsk Protocol only arose in September 2014, after Moscow, having seen that protest remained purely verbal, then continued its aggression in eastern Ukraine.  Crimea was not mentioned.

Both Aksyonov and Poklonskaya were doubtless following the rhetoric pouring out of Moscow at the moment, with respect to fighting ‘fascism’. 

In their case, however, there is every reason to take the threats seriously, with ‘nationalist’ and ‘radical’ meaning anybody who does not support Russia’s occupation of Crimea. 

Mounting repression

Exiled Crimean blogger Liza Bohutska reports that the home of a Ukrainian activist Volodymyr Balukha was searched by the FSB on May 7.  This follows court cases and other repressive measures against four Crimeans for their Ukrainian flags and ribbons at a peaceful gathering on March 9 marking the 201st anniversary of the poet Taras Shevchenko’s birth.  Leonid Kuzmin, for example, lost his job as a teacher, was warned over ‘extremism’ and sentenced to 40 hours community work.  A couple of weeks later he was attacked and badly beaten by two young thugs who accused him of being a Ukrainian nationalist.

There is little information about Thursday’s FSB search, however 6-8 men in full  military gear with machine guns burst into the home of 26-year-old Crimean Tatar Mustafa Degermendzhy at 8 a.m. on May 7.  They hit the young man, put handcuffs on him and threw him into their car.  His parents were told that their son was “a criminal, he took part in a demonstration on Feb 26”. 

The demonstration referred to was on Feb 26, 2014, before Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea, meaning that even had there been crimes committed, Russian-occupied Crimea would have no jurisdiction to prosecute. 

In fact, however, the case is very clearly targeting Crimean Tatars, and the five men previously detained include Akhtem Chiygoz, Deputy Head of the Mejlis, or Crimean Tatar representative assembly.  He has now declared hunger strike after being placed in a solitary confinement punishment cell for no reason.   In another chilling development, Eskander Nebiyev, a photographer from the now silenced Crimean Tatar TV channel ATR who was there in his professional capacity is also in detention and facing absurd charges.

There are ongoing summonses, searches and interrogations of members of the Mejlis and other Crimean Tatar bodies, as well as ordinary Crimean Tatars who were seen on photos of the demonstration.  Russia’s Novaya Gazeta reports that the investigators were so short of any material, that they invited Simferopol residents who had been subjected to force “even in the absence of bodily injuries” to come forward.   Those Crimean Tatars taken in for ‘questioning’ or detained are placed under heavy pressure to ‘confess’ and to give false testimony about Chiygoz.

All of this was seen in the arrests and almost year-long detention of Crimean film director Oleg Sentsov, civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko and two other opponents of annexation.  Sentsov and Kolchenko are now facing likely 20 year sentences on completely fictitious ‘terrorism’ charges for not ‘cooperating with the investigators’.   Another EuroMaidan activist, Oleksandr Kolchenko is also on trial, facing charges over alleged events in Kyiv on Feb 18, 2014.

The message to ethnic Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars and other Crimeans is that they should leave or keep their heads low, with even not taking on Russian citizenship being treated as suspicious.  Ukrainians from mainland Ukraine have now also been warned. 

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