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.

Russia to criminalize Crimean Tatar Mejlis for refusal to collaborate

Halya Coynash
The Mejlis, or representative assembly of the Crimean Tatar people is likely to be criminalized on the basis of unwarranted warnings about supposed ‘extremism’ or criminal charges brought for opposing Russian occupation of Crimea.

The Mejlis, or representative assembly of the Crimean Tatar people is likely to be criminalized on the basis of unwarranted warnings about supposed ‘extremism’ or criminal charges brought for opposing Russian occupation of Crimea.  

A court in Russian-occupied Crimea has thus far rejected most objections brought by the Mejlis, against plans to prohibit it as ‘extremist’.  Despite international calls on Russia to desist from such a hostile action against the entire Crimean Tatar people, the ban seems imminent.     

The earlier hearing on March 10 was adjourned since the Mejlis had been given four days to read through 506 pages of procedural documents and eight disks with recordings. 

In a recent interview, Dzhemil Temishev, the lawyer representing the Mejlis in this case, explained that the material added from the original 9 pages presented on Feb 15 was more of the same. He stressed that he was unable to give details since Nariman Dzhelyal, First Deputy Head of the Mejlis had been forced to sign an undertaking to not disclose the documentation. 

Temishev was however able to explain that all the pages were of procedural documents.  This includes decisions to initiate criminal proceedings; to detain people; to warn them of the consequences of ‘extremism’, etc. 

This is of critical importance.  The Mejlis looks set to be criminalized on the basis of such documents as:

a warning from de facto prosecutor Natalya Poklonskaya to Refat Chubarov, Head of the Mejlis against supposed ‘extremist activities” on May 4, 2014.  Poklonskaya did not provide a copy at the time which could be appealed but a recording can be heard here.  She stated that “if the Mejlis does not stop its extremist activities. … it will be dissolved and prohibited on the territory of the Russian Federation.”  The alleged ‘extremism’ was that around 5 thousand Crimeans, most Crimean Tatar, had come to the border crossing at Armyansk to meet veteran Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemiliev after he was banned by Russia from his invaded and occupied homeland.

the notification of criminal proceedings lodged against Mustafa Dzhemiliev for having tried to enter his homeland; and against Refat Chubarov, for “encroaching upon Russia’s territory”, that is, opposing Russia’s occupation of his native Crimea.  

the documents about the arrest and surreal charges against the Deputy Head of the Mejlis, Akhtem Chiygoz, who has been imprisoned since Jan 2015 on legally nihilistic charges regarding a demonstration over which Russia has no jurisdiction.

Quite incredibly, the de facto prosecutor’s arguments also include the Mejlis’ founding documents, drawn up years before Russia’s annexation of Crimea.  Poklonskaya claimed on Thursday that these documents somehow claim some kind of superiority of Crimean Tatars over other nationalities.  The original documents also found ‘extremism’ in their stated aim, that being the reinstatement of the Crimean Tatar people’s national and political rights, , etc. within Ukraine.

The meeting in support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity on Feb 26, 2014 is also claimed to have been unlawful, although it took place before Russia invaded and annexed Crimea. 

At the hearing on March 17, the Mejlis asked for their material – around 800 pages - to be added to the case.  Temishev later reported that the State Committee on Inter-ethnic relations and deported citizens of Crimea should be involved as an interested party.  The hearing was therefore adjourned until 7 April.  

There were many people outside the court wishing to express their support.  The judges did not allow any filming or photography at the hearing itself.   This was reportedly on the application of Poklonskaya who claimed that material “of an extremist nature” could be broadcast and this was undesirable to circulate in the media.  Together with the ban on the Mejlis divulging any information, this enables the occupiers to maintain the pretence that there actually is something ‘extremist’.

The Mejlis rejects the claims against it and points out that as the representative body of the Crimean Tatar People, it is not a civic organization and cannot be banned as such.  The Mejlis is the single authorized Crimean Tatar representative and executive body  which is elected by the Qurultay or national congress, which is itself an elected body. 

The consequences of such an act of aggression against the main indigenous people of Crimea are still unclear.  Over 2, 300 people involved in the Mejlis would effectively be criminalized, and any number of Crimean Tatars could be targeted simply for supporting the Mejlis.  

If the magnitude of the likely repressions is still unknown, nobody is in any doubt as to why the Mejlis and, in fact, the Crimean Tatars, are being targeted.  The assessment given by Eskender Bariev, Coordinator of the Crimean Tatar Rights Committee and Mejlis member, is that the Mejlis is facing reprisals for their refusal to collaborate with the occupation regime. 

Amnesty International has just issued a statement calling the move the culmination in repression against the Crimean Tatar people, while the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe openly states that the ban of the Mejlis will be “solely for its open opposition to the illegal annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation. “

The ban would indeed be a grave violation of the rights of the Crimean Tatars, and it would be appropriate to now hear direct indications from western countries of real consequences to Russia if it does not back down.  

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