Elected to Crimean Tatar Mejlis – expect repression under Russian occupation
Less than a week after being elected First Deputy Head of the Mejlis, or Crimean Tatar representative assembly, Nariman Dzhelyal has been subjected to a five-hour interrogation and a search of his home.
Dzhelyal: “Every member of the Mejlis can expect a search of his home”
There were no grounds for any interrogation or search, but the move was not unexpected. Since soon after Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea, the Mejlis, and Crimean Tatars generally, have faced an ongoing offensive, and Dzhelyal would have been aware when he agreed to coordinate the work of the Mejlis in Crimea as First Deputy Head that he would be targeted.
The Head of the Mejlis Refat Chubarov and veteran Crimean Tatar leader (and former Mejlis Head) Mustafa Dzhemiliev have both been banned from their homeland. The First Deputy Head Akhtem Chiygoz was arrested on Jan 29 on surreal charges related to a protest which took place before Russia’s annexation of Crimea. He is still in custody and seems likely to remain there, despite the lack of any evidence against him specifically, and the legal nihilism implicit in charges over something that took place under Ukrainian legislation and Ukrainian rule.
Zair Smedlyaev, head of the Central Election Commission of the Qurultay [Crimean Tatar congress] is in no doubt that this is a campaign of intimidation by “the Russian government of Crimea”, linked with his appointment. “So that everybody will be scared of holding posts not agreed with [Sergei] Aksyonov [the leader installed after Russian soldiers seized control on Feb 27, 2014], even in the Crimean Tatar representative body”, he told Radio Svoboda’s Crimean Service.
Dhelyal had been summoned before for questioning about the demonstration on Feb 26, and if this was not solely aimed at intimidation, it is not clear why he was summoned again. Another activist present at the Feb 26 demonstration Asan Charukhov was questioned at the same time, and it is unfortunately possible that the FSB have used threats or worse to obtain the testimony they want. Dzhelyal has been forced to sign an undertaking to not divulge any information.
Ilmi Umerov, elected Deputy Head at the same meeting which appointed Dzhelyal as First Head, coordinating the work of the Mejlis in Crimea, was questioned on March 23 about the same Feb 26 demonstration. He was asked about Chiygoz’ activities and about who had organized the demonstration. His testimony totally refuted the charges against Chiygoz, with Umerov explaining that every time he saw Chiygoz during the demonstration, he had been trying to calm people, not escalating the situation”.
Four Crimean Tatars, including Akhtem Chiygoz, are facing charges under Russian legislation in connection with the pre-annexation demonstration on Feb 26, 2014.
The so-called ‘case’ has been condemned by the Crimean Human Rights Field Mission as legally unfounded and politically motivated, aimed solely at persecuting those who oppose the Crimea occupation regime.
Russia and the ‘government’ it installed, with the use of armed Russian soldiers, on Feb 27, 2014, are trying to change historical fact and claim that the current ‘prime minister’ Sergei Aksyonov assumed control on Feb 26. He certainly did not do so in any legal faction. The large protest outside parliament that day was organized by Crimean Tatars to prevent an attempt to seize control of parliament. There were effectively two demonstrations in the same place: one organized by Crimean Tatars and EuroMaidan activists, the other by the Russian Unity party run by Sergei Aksyonov. Both he and his party were then extremely marginal in Crimean politics, yet Aksyonov then proclaimed himself ‘prime minister’ following a parliamentary ‘session’ under Russian soldiers’ machine guns on Feb 27.
Two people died that day: one elderly man of a heart attack, and another elderly woman died later in hospital, possibly after being crushed by the crowd.
It is typical of the nature of this ‘criminal case’, that only Crimean Tatars are suspected of trouble. The Russian Investigative Committee in Crimea claims to have over 150 ‘witnesses’ and reports that 40 people have been given victim status.