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Russia seeks to ban Crimean Tatar Representative Assembly as ‘extremist’

Halya Coynash
Russia’s Civic Chamber has publicly asked the Prosecutor General to investigate the Mejlis, or Crimean Tatar representative assembly for so-called ‘extremism’. This new move follows a similar threat made a month ago and ‘advice’ to the Crimean media not to mention it at all

   CRIMEA IS OURS!  (Image by Oleksy Kustovsky.)

Russia’s Civic Chamber has publicly asked the Prosecutor General to investigate the Mejlis, or Crimean Tatar representative assembly for so-called ‘extremism’.  This new move follows a similar, but more vague, threat  made a month ago  and ‘advice’ to the Crimean media not to mention it at all.  Although recent rhetoric has been linked with the Crimean Blockade in force since Sept 20, the general offensive against the Mejlis – the self-governing body which represents most Crimean Tatars -  began within months of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.  

The letter to Russia’s Prosecutor General Yury Chaika is reported by the Civic Chamber’s Press Service as penned by Maxim Grigoryev, first deputy chair of the ‘Commission on harmonization of inter-ethnic and inter-faith relations within the Civic Chamber.  Grigoryev claims that “during meetings with residents of Crimea, we were on several occasions passed complaints about the Mejlis’ extremist activities.”

The description of the Blockade is highly specific.  “From Sept 20, the Mejlis, together with the armed formation Right Sector, banned in Russia, have organized attacks on freight transport taking goods to Crimea”.  Grigoryev claims that some ‘victims’ have been allowed through, enabling them to conclude that the Mejlis is engaged in extortion, that many businesses have been forced to stop “due to Mejlis threats” and that a lot of the victims are Crimean Tatar small business owners.

It was Crimean Tatar leaders in forced exile in mainland Ukraine who initiated the blockade, not the Mejlis in Crimea.  While concerns have been raised about some of the activities of other groups supporting the blockade, including Right Sector, there has been no suggestion that Crimean Tatars are engaged in any unlawful activities. 

Grigoryev points to an explosion to electricity pylons, overtly linking this with “the calls from the leader of the Mejlis Mustafa Dzhemiliev to stop electricity supplies to Crimea”.   He asserts that the Mejlis constantly intimidates other Crimean Tatars to get them to refuse to work in « other civic organizations, and also executive and legislative bodies of power in Crimea ».  Veteran Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemiliev is referred to as being behind the formation of the ‘Krym’ volunteer battalion which is claimed to have “taken part in punitive operations and killing of civilians in Donbas”.  The letter asserts also that some of its members are now fighting in the ranks of the Islamic State. 

Russia’s Prosecutor General is asked to check “these facts and others with respect to the existence of an extremist component in the activities of the ‘Mejlis’ organization.”

This latest attack comes less than a fortnight after high-ranking officials in the de facto Crimean government claimed, without a shred of evidence, that Crimean Tatar leaders are recruiting Crimean Tatars to become Islamic State fighters.   

Russia and the leaders it installed at gunpoint in Feb 2014 have constantly pushed the line that the Mejlis is a ‘civic organization’ and claimed that it does not represent most Crimean Tatars.  The Mejlis is the representative assembly or self-governing body of the Crimean Tatar People, and while there are Crimean Tatar groups that do not support it, they have always been a small minority.  Some, however, have been brought to the fore through their willingness to collaborate with the occupation regime. 

Moscow’s clash with the Mejlis was probably inevitable.  From the outset the Mejlis called on Crimean Tatars to boycott the pseudo referendum in March with which Russia attempted to justify its invasion and annexation of Crimea.  By September similar calls to boycott the de facto regime’s elections were also prompted by mounting repression and rights violations.  Accusations of ‘extremism’ were hurled at the Mejlis and its leaders from very early, with the term effectively used to mean being opposed to Russian occupation.  There have been attempts since early autumn 2014 to push claims of ‘Muslim radicalism’, and no let-up in repressive measures, including the ongoing detention on absurd charges of the Deputy Head of the Mejlis, Akhtem Chiygoz

Nariman Dzhelyal, the Mejlis’ First Deputy Head, is adamant that the accusations are groundless and that the Mejlis has not done anything against the law.  While pointing out that there is no proof of the alleged offences on the border areas under the blockade, he stresses that, in any case, the blockade is not organized by the Mejlis in Crimea.

Russia has already demonstrated that it is willing to imprison Chiygoz and other Crimean Tatars over a demonstration that took place before annexation and therefore under Ukrainian jurisdiction.  Now it is accusing the Mejlis of actions it is not a part of. 

Avdet reports Dzhelyal as saying that they have heard these threats to ban the Mejlis on many occasions and from different sources, and are ready for the ban.

“Such a decision, if it is taken, will only prove that the authorities are powerless to respond properly to the demands of the majority of Crimean Tatars, incapable of real dialogue and have chosen the path of the weak – suppression and bans…”

He is convinced that if there is such a ban, that those elected to represent the interests of the Crimean Tatar people « will find the strength and possibility, on the basis of the principles of the Crimean Tatar national movement, in the first instance, the principle of non-violence, to carry out activities aimed at defending human rights, the rights of the Crimean Tatar People, at protecting and developing their culture and the revival of statehood.”

In short, what a repressive regime calls ‘extremism’. 

Worth noting that since March 2014, a number of people have faced charges of ‘extremism’ after expressing opposition to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.  Russian Tatar leader Rafis Kashapov has been sentenced to 3 years imprisonment, poet Alexander Byvshev – to community work and prohibited from working as a teacher, while Yury Ilchenko has been in detention for several months now over an article critical of Russia’s actions.  In most, if not all not, such cases, the person charged has been added to Russia’s formidable and ever growing ‘List of extremists and terrorists’.  

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