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Silence over Repression of Crimean Tatar Leader

09.07.14 | Halya Coynash

For the second time since Russia annexed the Crimea in March 2014, the authorities have banned entry to a prominent Crimean Tatar leader over alleged ‘extremism’.  Despite the absurdity of the charges and impossibility of lodging appeals against them, there has been no reaction from the EU or USA, nor from international human rights organizations.  If Russia’s occupation regime was trying to avoid accountability, it looks as if it needn’t have bothered.

As reported, Refat Chubarov, head of the Mejlis or representative body of the Crimean Tatar people was stopped from returning to the Crimea on July 5.  He had been attending a meeting of the Mejlis held exceptionally in mainland Ukraine to enable Mustafa Dzhemiliev to attend.  The veteran  Crimean Tatar leader and Chubarov’s predecessor in the Mejlis has been under a ban since late April this year. 

In a statement issued on July 7, the Mejlis Presidium notes that Refat Chubarov was detained at passport control, and that the Crimean prosecutor, Natalya Poklonskaya then appeared and proceeded to read Chubarov a prosecutor’s warning claiming that his activities fall under the Russian Law on Extremism.  She ignored his legitimate demand to be given the document in Crimean Tatar or Ukrainian and stated only that he had three days in which to lodge an appeal with the courts against the document.  She did not, however, leave a copy of her opus in any language, thus rendering any appeal impossible.  It seems clear from the video that Chubarov’s ‘extremism’ is linked with his – and the Mejlis’ position on self-determination for the Crimean Tatars.  For both Chubarov and Dzhemiliev, the Crimea and its indigenous Crimean Tatar people are irrevocably part of Ukraine. 

Chubarov’s passport was not returned to him and as they stood waiting, a van used for transporting detainees appeared, and armed men in military uniform began amassing.  A little later, some men in civilian clothes appeared, with some of them identifying themselves as FSB [Russian Security Service] officers. In their presence Refat Chubarov was read “notification of a ban on entry to the Russian Federation” for 5 years. The document was signed by the senior border guard officer on duty, M. Sirotkin, but does not have any official stamp.

The same tactic was used when banning Mustafa Dzhemiliev.  The scrappy document handed to Jemiliev on April 22 enabled Russian President Vladimir Putin and various officials to deny the ban yet Dzhemiliev was prevented from flying to Simferopol on May 1, and then stopped at the border the following morning.  

The Mejlis considers both these bans as demonstrating the regime’s crackdown on dissident assessments of what is happening in the Crimea. It calls on all Crimean Tatars to rally around the Mejlis.  It also asks human rights organizations to do all in their power to prevent systemic and inhuman discrimination against the Crimean Tatars in their homeland.

How much international NGOs can do is not clear, but silence is unacceptable.  Two major organizations protested immediately on July 5 at the cancellation of a gay pride march in Kyiv with statements suggesting serious implications for human rights in Ukraine.  This, in fact, was not entirely clear since the march was cancelled by the organizers themselves after the police stated that they could not guarantee the participants’ safety.  Perhaps in normal circumstances that line from the police would be unacceptable.  The circumstances are anything but normal, and some LGBT groups were themselves doubtful about the wisdom of holding the march right now.

There was only one possible reaction to the overt violation of Chubarov’s rights and affront to the Crimean Tatar people.  This was given immediately by Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry, and within the next three days by the Human Rights Ombudsperson, Valeria Lutkovska; the special government envoy on ethnopolitics Gennady Druzenko and the Congress of National Communities of Ukraine.  Turkey has also formally expressed protest over the ban.

There has not been a word of protest from western governments. This is not because they are focusing on proper sanctions over Russia’s aggression in eastern Ukraine.  Despite apparently unequivocal warnings that third-level sanctions would be imposed, a meeting of EU state ambassadors on Monday is reported to have only agreed to add some low-level names to the blacklist.  Various states, we are told, “led by France and Germany want to make sure Russia is kept on board in diplomatic efforts”.

Diplomatic efforts in 1938 have long been known by another name.  The EU has levers it could apply.  Failure to do so and silence when Russia resorts to overt repression of the indigenous Crimean Tatar people are about collaboration, not diplomacy. 

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