• Topics / Human Rights Abuses in Russian-occupied Crimea
Russia jails four respected Crimean Tatars and spreads lies about ‘machine guns & drugs’ to discredit the Mejlis
Any doubt that the FSB arrests in Russian-occupied Crimea on November 23 which caused the death of Vedzhie Kashka, 83-year-old veteran of the Crimean Tatar national movement, were a special operation aimed at discrediting Crimean Tatars and the Mejlis have been dispelled. Russian and Kremlin-loyal Crimean media have come out with lies about supposed “ammunition, drugs and material of an extremist nature” found during the searches “of Mejlis” members. It is even claimed that machine guns were found, citing “a source in the enforcement agencies”. The level is primitive, the inaccuracy astounding, yet almost openly so, suggesting that the main objective is to pour out as many headlines as possible to try to link the Mejlis with violence and crime.
The Russian state-controlled RIA Novosti had already on Thursday edited its video in order to avoid showing the attempted arrest of an 83-year-old woman held in immense respect by all Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians. Now, despite widespread coverage by its own journalists, it has reported as fact the claim of an anonymous source that “Weapons, drugs and extremist literature were found at the homes of the arrested Mejjlis men”. It is claimed that during searches, they removed “three Kalashnikov rifles, around 60 7.62 calibre bullets; material of an extremist-terrorist content, as well as drugs of vegetable origin in large quantity”. It is claimed that, lo and behold, these were ‘discovered’ at the home of Asan Chapukh, head of the Mejlis in Yalta, and that the “Mejlis members involved a veteran woman in their crime”. RIA-Novosti repeat, as it did on Thursday, the assertion that Vedzhie Kashka was “a go-between”, and that “she died as a result of the stress experienced”, without mentioning that she died directly as a result of the attempt to arrest her.
The same kind of headlines and unproven allegations presented as fact are found in numerous other reports. One stands out, however, for the cynicism of its falsification. REN-TV’s headline is “Video of the removal of machine guns from members of the banned Mejlis, arrested in Crimea”. It is not even clear what the video in question is supposed to be showing, and it assuredly has nothing to do with the events on November 23. While the assertion that this is from September 23 may just be a typo, the report carefully avoids mentioning Vedzhie Kashka at all. It claims that four members of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis were arrested, and deliberately suggests that the alleged machine guns were found with more than one of the men.
Veteran Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev has provided details about the actual story behind this attempt to prosecute highly respected members of the Crimean Tatar community of ‘extortion’. Vedzhie Kashka’s granddaughter became friendly with Turkish citizen Yusuf Aigan, who around two years ago claimed to have an urgent problem and ‘borrowed’ the family’s savings – 7 thousand USD. All attempts to get the money back had failed, and Vedzhie Kashka turned to three men she trusted – Asan Chapukh, Bekir Degermendzhy, a veteran of the Crimean Tatar national movement and father of a recognized political prisoner, and Kazim Ametov, seemingly a member of the local mejlis or self-governing body in the Hrushevka township. They had given Aigan until the end of November to give back the money and arranged the meeting with him. Vedzhie Kashka had wanted to come and “look him in the eye”, presumably telling him what she thought of him.
When Aigan began collaborating with the FSB is unclear, but this was evidently a set-up, during which the man even ‘handed over’ the missing money. Just in time for the FSB to leap in, forcing the men, none of whom is young, to the ground, and then trying to detain an 83-year-old woman in very ill health.
Having caused her death, the FSB continued this ‘special operation’, with several other Crimean Tatars also seized. Not one of the men arrested is a member of the Mejlis, or representative assembly of the Crimean Tatar People, which Russia banned in April 2016,, but such details are irrelevant to the FSB. They can rely on the Russian media, after all, to spread toxic lies.
Four men have now been remanded in custody for two months: Bekir Degermendzhy who suffers badly from asthma; Kazim Ametov; Asan Chapukh and Ruslan Trubach. A fifth man detained on Thursday, Kurtseit Abdullaev, was later released. The ‘judges’ were Viktor Mozhelyansky, notorious for his involvement in politically-motivated prosecutions and Yanina Okhota. There were no possible grounds for the detention, especially given that at least two of the men are in their sixties.
Russia’s extraordinary ban of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, the self-governing body of the main indigenous people of Crimea was condemned by the international community, and has been referred to as an attack on the entire Crimean Tatar people. If the calls from the UN, EU, PACE and OSCE to lift the ban are not binding, the same is not true of the International Court of Justice in the Hague which Russia has committed itself to comply with. The Court back on April 19 ordered Russia to reinstate the Mejlis and to stop other forms of discrimination against Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians.
While avoiding arrests directly linked with involvement in the Mejlis, Russia has not complied with the ICJ ruling, and has now set to trying to undermine the Mejlis and slandering the Crimean Tatar people, using a cynically concocted criminal prosecution and media willing to spread any toxic lies.