Russia detains and prosecutes elderly activists for flying the Crimean Tatar Flag
Two Crimean Tatars were detained on 25 June 2023 in Russian-occupied Crimea and subsequently fined for the Crimean Tatar flags they were flying on their cars. The ‘police’ who claimed that 73-year-old Rustem Kurnosov and 65-year-old Enver Useinov had ‘held a public event without giving prior notification’. The ‘officers’ proved unable, or unwilling, to comment on whether those who posted a Russian flag at the same site had needed to provide such ‘notification’. The answer was all too clear. It is only the Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian flags that are, effectively, prohibited in occupied Crimea.
The Crimean Solidarity human rights initiative on 25 June that the two Crimean Tatars had been detained for the flags on their car as they drove to Aq Qaya [White Rock] in the Bilohirsk raion to make the traditional ascent with flags marking Crimean Tatar Flag Day on 26 June. The two men were taken to the occupation police station, together with Ebabil Ibrahimov, who was there filming the events on the peak.
The cars which Kurnosov and Useinov were driving when they were stopped were among several heading towards Aq Qaya. The men stress that there were no slogans, no calls to any kind of action. The ‘police’ released Ibrahimov, but not Kurnosov and Useinov. One of those who witnessed the ‘police’ actions said that the latter had claimed that this was “a mass, unlawful public event with flags and a car procession with more than 50 people.” Rustem Kurnosov and Enver Useinov were charged under Article 20.2 § 2 of Russia’s code of administrative offences for supposedly ‘organizing or holding a public event without providing notification’). Despite the charges being nonsensical and prompted only by the Crimean Tatar flag, both men were fined 20 thousand roubles.
On the protocol drawn up against him, Rustem Kurnosov wrote that he was unaware of any need to agree his excursions on a Sunday and had no idea what he was supposed to have infringed.Within two months of its invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014, Russia had banned all events marking the anniversary on 18 May of the Deportation of the Crimean Tatar people. Since then, it has regularly hounded, harassed or prosecuted Crimean Tatars, including for demonstrating the Crimean Tatar flag. It is standard for the Russian-controlled ‘police’ or ‘prosecutor’s office’ to mark important anniversaries (of the Deportation, of Crimean Tatar Flag Day or of Ukraine’s Independence) by delivering ‘warnings about the inadmissibility of extremist activities’ to prominent members of the Crimean Tatar community, human rights activists, etc. No attempt is ever made to explain how honouring the memory of victims of the Deportation or the national flag of one’s people can be deemed ‘extremist.
All such behaviour will doubtless be considered when the UN’s International Court of Justice issues its ruling over two complaints made by Ukraine, one of which is over Russia’s alleged violation of the Convention discrimination of Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians in occupied Crimea. Since the Court in April 2017 found grounds for imposing provisional measures (which Russia has flouted), it is hard to imagine that the ruling, anticipated later in 2023, will not find grave violations.
In greeting Crimean Tatars and all Ukrainians with Crimean Tatar Flag Day, Refat Chubarov, Chair of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, explained that the Crimean Tatar national flag had been affirmed by the First Qurultay of the Crimean Tatar People in 1917, with 26 June established as National Flag Day during the Qurultay which took place on 26-30 June 1991. Russia’s repressive measures in response to the Crimean Tatar (and Ukrainian) flag surely confirm that Chubarov is right when he says that the Crimean Tatar flag has become a symbol for the entire world “of the unconquered nature and courage of the indigenous Crimean Tatar people, a symbol of its struggle for its rights and for the reinstatement of Ukraine’s sovereignty over Crimea.”
While Russia persecuted Crimean Tatars for honouring their national flag, in mainland Ukraine, the Crimean Tatar Flag was raised, together with Ukraine’s Flag, over all official buildings. Refat Chubarov that the next Crimean Tatar Flag Day will be celebrated again in liberated Ukrainian Crimea.