war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Armed offensive against Crimean Tatar Mejlis

Halya Coynash

The 11-hour search of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis ended with the FSB removing the minutes from several meetings of the Mejlis; religious books and personal items, belonging to Mustafa Dzhemiliev.  It appears that Russia and its occupation regime, having failed Russia, having failed to ‘tame’ or at least silence the Mejlis, are now resorting to open repression

Two days after ‘elections’ organized by the occupation regime were boycotted by most Crimean Tatars, their representative body, the Mejlis has come under serious attack.  On Tuesday morning,  armed men surrounded the Mejlis building in Simferopol, blocking the road to it, while Russian FSB officers began carrying out a search of the premises. 

The search lasted 11 hours and ended with the FSB removing the minutes from several meetings of the Mejlis; religious books and personal items, including money, belonging to Mustafa Dzhemiliev, the veteran Crimean Tatar leader banned by Russia from his homeland.  Six computer processors and hard disks were almost taken away with the officers refusing to give any idea when they would be returned. 

Riza Shevkiyev, head of the charity “Crimea” which owns the building, explained that the officers read out an order stating that the search of the Mejlis was being carried out in connection with the events on May 3.  The document did not carry either an issue number, nor the appropriate stamp depriving it of any legal force. 

This is not the first time that the documents imposed with the full repressive weight of Russia’s security service and other authorities are of questionable legality.  The same was true of the letters notifying Dzhemiliev and head of the Mejlis, Refat Chubarov of the ban on their entering the Crimea. Such apparent sloppiness in fact enables initial denials and effectively prevents decisions being appealed against in court. 

Notification that Dzhemiliev had been banned from the Crimea came on April 22 and was denied by high-ranking Russian officials.  The ban was, however, imposed less than a fortnight later, first on May 2, then in the morning of May 3 when  around 5 thousand Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians outraged by the ban came to meet Dzhemiliev at the border between the Kherson oblast and Crimea.  A hefty contingent of OMON riot police and other officers turned up to physically stop the 71-year-old Dzhemiliev from entering his native Crimea.  Since the occupation authorities were clearly set for confrontation, bloodshed would have been inevitable, and so Mustafa Dzhemiliev decided to return to Kyiv and others present were asked to express their protest in peaceful fashion.  Some were subsequently fined for having temporarily blocked roads in protest.  The ‘prosecutor’ also announced that she was seeking to have criminal proceedings initiated over what she claimed to be breach of the Russian law on extremism.

A supposed criminal investigation over the events on May 3 has in recent weeks been cited as a pretext for a large number of armed searches of Crimean Tatar homes and madrasas or Muslim schools.  Suspicion of ‘extremism’ is also often mentioned.   In the Nizhnegorsky district, for example, several families were searched, supposedly for weapons and ‘extremist literature’ as part of this May 3 criminal investigation.

Earlier in the day it was reported that the editorial office of the Mejlis’s newspaper, Avdet was also being searched in the absence of its Chief Editor Shevket Kaibullaev.  Both the paper and its chief editor have previously been accused of something that the occupation regime calls ‘extremism’.  In June Kaibullaev received a formal warning, after the prosecutor installed after the Russian occupation, Natalya Poklonskaya claimed that texts in the newspaper arouse tension in inter-ethnic relations and constitute extremist activity.  The words deemed ‘extremist’ appeared to include ’annexation’, ‘occupation’ and ‘temporary occupation of the Crimea’. 

On Tuesday evening Shevkiyev reported that the FSB had also searched the office of their charitable fund, this being in flagrant breach of the law.

On Tuesday morning armed men also burst into the home of a member of the Mejlis, Eskender Bariyev, and searched the place, removing computers.  They were purportedly looking for ‘prohibited literature’.

With a formidable number of perfectly normal books on the Russian post-Soviet list of prohibited literature, it is not difficult to find such material.  It is considerably harder to explain the need for armed men to burst into private homes or schools, often terrifying young children. 

The major operation undertaken on Tuesday, involving armed men surrounding the Mejlis building and blocking transport, while FSB officers searched the building and threatened to arrest journalists if they didn’t vacate the premises, was manifestly excessive. 

These heavy-handed measures also come a day after three armed men broke into the building at 3 a.m. and took down the Ukrainian flag. 

This was reinstated the following morning.  This is likely to have annoyed the authorities, however the reasons for the overt harassment are well-symbolized by the flag, but go deeper. 

Russia and its occupation regime in the Crimea have on a number of occasions tried – verbally – to gain Crimean Tatar support.   They have failed for several reasons. The Crimean Tatars have every reason to distrust Russia and the Soviet Union, and for all the mistakes that successive Ukrainian governments have made, firmly wish to remain part of Ukraine. 

In just over 6 months Russia’s occupation regime has also demonstrated that the Crimean Tatars’ fears were well-founded.  In a statement reiterating its call on Crimean Tatars and all concerned Crimeans to boycott Sunday’s ‘elections’, the Mejlis cited a long list of repressive moves, as well as crimes, such as the murder of Reshat Ametov, which the authorities are basically refusing to investigate. 

The extraordinary behaviour on Tuesday unfortunately suggests that Russia, having failed to ‘tame’ or at least silence the Mejlis, is resorting to open repression. 

Worse was to come on Sept 17 - see Crimean Tatar Mejlis given 24 hours to leave

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