Repressive measures against key Crimean Tatar charity
In apparent retaliation for the appeal lodged by the Crimea Foundation, a charity closely linked with the Mejlis, or representative body of the Crimean Tatar people, against a massive fine, the FSB [Russian security service] have initiated a criminal investigation against the Foundation’s Director, Riza Shevkiev.
Shevkiev was summoned to the FSB on Dec 17, from where he was taken together with FSB officers to the hospital in Pionerskoye where the personal belongings are being held of the well-known Crimean Tatar writer Dzhengiz Dagdzhi. The belongings were officially passed to the Crimea Foundation by the Turkish Consulate in Ukraine 5 years ago, following the death of the writer and author of novels about the tragic fate of the Crimean Tatars. It is planned in future to open a museum dedicated to Dagdzhi’s life and work.
They arrived at the hospital to find 9 FSB officers, one of whom read out an official document claiming that the personal belongings were ‘contraband’. Shevkiev points out that the load had not only come officially from the Turkish authorities, but had been formally sealed by Ukrainian customs officials, and the Russian FSB had no right to unseal them.
The officers counted, described and photographed the boxes which were all there as per documentation. They however prohibited videoing of the proceedings. It is as yet unclear whether the FSB seriously plan to pursue this purported ‘contraband’.
Shevkiev is reported byto have called the search an attempt to distract the Foundation management’s attention from the court appeal currently underway in the Crimean Court of Appeal.
“We have virtually been evicted from our offices, we’re being prevented from properly organizing our defence. The organization’s accounts have been frozen and we can’t hire a lawyer. Every day new repressive methods are initiated. All of these actions are not only aimed against the Foundation, but against the Crimean Tatars as indigenous people”, Shevkiev says.
In November a court in Simferopol imposed a fine of 4.5 million roubles on the Crimea Foundation and 350 thousand roubles on its director. Shevkiev was blunt in his condemnation, calling the court ruling the latest stage in the politically-motivated attack aimed at crushing the Crimea Foundation.
The ruling stated that the fine was for having allowed the Mejlis to occupy the building without agreeing this with the State Cultural Heritage Committee, for having allowed the Avdet newspaper (which the Crimea Foundation is a founder of) to have its offices in the building, and that repairs had been carried out without being agreed in the attic of the building. All of this was used as grounds for applying the maximum possible administrative penalty against the Crimea Foundation.
Shevkiev and other Crimean Tatars have said that they had long expected an attack, but did not know what form it would take. The Foundation is under siege and facing a huge fine which it is stripped of any possibility, while its accounts are frozen, of paying. The occupation regime may, they fear, use this situation as an excuse to confiscate the Foundation’s 7 buildings in Simferopol, including one in which a Crimean Tatar cultural centre is planned, to pay the draconian fine.
The Crimea Foundation is determined to fight this and, if necessary, will take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.
The attack on the Crimea Foundation must be viewed in the context of a major offensive against the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people. The Mejlis has from the outset been firmly in opposition to Russia’s invasion and occupation of the Crimea. It is perhaps typical that the extraordinary 5-year-ban from his homeland of veteran Crimean Tatar leader, former head of the Mejlis and Ukrainian MP, Mustafa Dzhemiliev was imposed two days after the 71-year-old former political prisoner arrived in Simferopol for the first time since annexation and insisted that the Ukrainian flag that had always been raised, together with the Crimean Tatar flag, over the Mejlis building on Schmidt St, be reinstated. On July 5 an identical ban was imposed on the current head of the Mejlis, Refat Chubarov.
The offensive began in force on Sept 16, just after the so-called Crimean elections, when armed men surrounded the Mejlis building on Schmidt St while the FSB carried out an 11-12 hour search of the entire building. They were supposedly looking for arms, narcotics and prohibited literature.
They removed the minutes from several meetings of the Mejlis; religious books and personal items, including money, belonging to Mustafa Dzhemiliev, six computer processors and hard disks.
That day the officers read out a court order stating that the search was in connection with the events on May 3 when around 5 thousand Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians arrived at the crossing between the Crimea and mainland Ukraine to meet Mustafa Dzhemiliev who had been prevented from travelling to the Crimea the day before. Administrative and, recently, criminal proceedings over what was an essentially peaceful protest have been used over the last 7 months as pretext for numerous armed searches, interrogations and prosecutions.
The following day, Sept 17, bailiffs arrived and read out a court writ ordering the building to be ‘vacated’ within 24 hours. If not all property would be seized. The formal grounds given for the eviction had nothing to do with the previous day’s search. The bailiffs referred to a questionable writ issued by the Central District Court of Simferopol on Sept 15. This prohibited the charity from carrying out any of its powers as owner of the Mejlis headquarters and six other addresses, including its right to lease or sell the properties. The document had been issued “to defend the interests of an unspecified circle of individuals” in a law suit against the Crimea Foundation.