With eyes cast toward Brisbane and with the latest round of sanctions hitting “officials” in eastern Ukraine, Crimea slips further from the news-cycle. Reports detail the shelling and battalions in eastern Ukraine, as well as the koala grip-and-grin taking place at the G20, continue to flood publications and feeds. All the while, those in Crimea continue to suffer a hardening occupation of an invading power. Crimea continues, trampled underfoot, under Moscow’s yoke.
Fortunately, a 37-page report from Human Rights Watch released this week can help keep Crimeans’ sufferings in the news a bit longer. Detailing the unfolding repression since Russia’s occupation began earlier this year, the report documents the varied legislative and security measures the new “authorities” have taken to suppress any internal dissent, and to force quiescence upon the ethnic minorities. Foremost among these minorities is a Crimean Tatar population that, 70 years prior, saw nearly half their population killed off under Stalin’s forced deportation.
The Tatar population, of course, is not the only one to have found the brunt end of Russian repression over the past few months. But as the report makes clear, Russian authorities have found especial means of targeting any outspoken Tatar individuals – activists, homemakers, none the difference between them:
In particular, authorities in Crimea have used Russia’s vaguely worded and overly broad anti-extremism legislation to issue several “anti-extremist warnings” to the Mejlis, the Crimean Tatar representative body, and have banned mass public gatherings by the Crimean Tatar community. Between August and October, authorities conducted invasive and in some cases unwarranted searches at mosques and Islamic schools and searched dozens of private homes of Crimean Tatars, including members of the Mejlis. The searches, which the authorities say were conducted to look for “drugs, weapons, and prohibited literature,” were carried out by both local police and Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) but also involved dozens of unidentified armed, masked men.
Tatar leadership has been effectively decapitated. Mustafa Dzhemilev – leader of the longest hunger strike in Soviet history; ideal candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize – has been barred from re-entering Crimea. Refat Chubarov, Dzhemilev’s replacement, has likewise seen exile from Crimea. But these two are not the only proponents of Tatar right, reconciliation, and repatriation to have suffered since Russia’s “little green men” first began popping up at strategic points along the peninsula. Beatings, intimidation, and disappearances have continued apace. Young Tatar men vanish. Some turn up in nooses. Some don’t turn up at all.
And some know exactly what they’re facing, with all of the legal farce authorities can muster:
In October, authorities arrested and charged three Crimean men whom they accuse of carrying out various criminal acts during the protests on May 3. On October 22, police arrested Crimean Tatar activist Tair Smerdlyaev, a member of the Mejlis. Smerdlyaev’s brother, Zair, told Human Rights Watch that the law enforcement agents who arrested his brother told him that he was suspected of using violence against a police officer during the mass gathering on May 3. Smerdlyaev was placed in a temporary detention cell and on October 24 a court in Simferopol remanded him to pretrial detention pending a court hearing on the criminal charges against him scheduled for December 22. Smerdlyaev’s lawyer, Emil Kurbedinov, told Human Rights Watch that the October 24 court hearing was closed for relatives and the media and that during the hearing the judge rejected all of the defense’s motions and ruled to keep Smerdlyaev in custody despite insufficient evidence that would justify lengthy pretrial detention. Kurbedinov said that the judge based his decision to keep Smerdlyaev in custody on “oral accounts of 60 people, mostly Smerdlyaev’s neighbors,” who allegedly told police that Smerdlyaev had “extremist and anti-Russian views.” Despite Kurberdinov’s request, none of the witnesses for the defense were brought to court for the hearing. The judge also referenced information by the Interior Ministry’s Center for Combating Extremism alleging that Smerdlyaev “had extremist connections” and was a member of the Right Sector, an ultra-nationalist Ukrainian group. ...
Human Rights Watch is not aware of evidence—other than the alleged denunciations by neighbors and the allegations by the anti-extremism department—the authorities possess that they have used to justify keeping Smerdlyaev in custody prior to the trial.
Individuals and political organizations aren’t the only ones Russian authorities have spent the past few months smothering. Media organizations – again, those heavily people with or slanted toward Tatars – have suffered alongside others opposing Moscow’s viewpoint:
[O]n September 16, law enforcement agents searched the office of Avdet, located in the same building as Mejlis’s office in Simferopol. Kaibullaev told Human Rights Watch that the authorities did not show a warrant for the search of the newspaper’s office and did not let him inside until after the search ended. The authorities seized the newspaper’s stationary computer, a hard drive, and several flash drives. Kaibullaev said that because the authorities did not give him relevant procedural documents after they completed the search, he was not able to trace which of the law enforcement agencies conducted the search and seized the equipment. Avdet’s office has since remained sealed and its bank accounts frozen. ...
ATR’s deputy director, Lilya Budzhurova, told Human Rights Watch that the pressure on independent media in Crimea in general and ATR in particular has been unprecedented in the past six months. She said that ATR had to develop self-censorship in order to survive:
All media outlets in Crimea have until January [the end of the transition period] to re-register under Russian law. After that, Roskomnadzor [the Russian state media oversight body] will have complete freedom to do what they like with “provocateurs” like us. We want to continue working so we started self-censoring where we can: for example, we avoid using certain words and phrases, such as “annexation” or “occupation’ of Crimea.”
Of course, these cases highlighted are only those whose plight makes some semblance of sense – that can abut against some Russian law, however farcical the legislation or evidence may be. There are other cases, however, that push into the realm of absurdity. (Black is white, up is down, Crimea is Russia, etc.) One centers on the person and participation of Dzhemilev. Dhzemilev, as it is, has been many things, but never a founding member of the Crimea Foundation. A certain Crimean judge, however, decided that that would not fly:
Shevkiev told Human Rights Watch that the Crimea Foundation’s founding documents did not list Dzhemilev as a founder. However, when Shevkiev presented the founding documents at a September 29 court hearing, the judge did not examine them and ordered the foundation to exclude Dzhemilev from the group’s list of founders notwithstanding the fact that he was not included. Shevkiev said,
Mustafa [Dzhemilev] was never among the list the founders of the Crimea Foundation. He is the president of the foundation, which is more of a ceremonial position. We have three founders, including me, and Dzhemilev’s name is not among us. But considering the absurdity of the situation, I assembled a conference of the board of the foundation and we agreed to “remove” Dzhemilev from the position that he never occupied in the first place. Shevkiev is currently appealing the court’s decision to seize the property of the Crimea Foundation.
At time of writing, the offices of the Mejlis and Avdet remain sealed, and their bank accounts remain frozen.
Other absurdities can be found even prior to court cases:
Mejlis member Eskender Bariev told Human Rights Watch that on September 16 at about 6.30 a.m., a group of approximately 15 men— some 10 in camouflage uniforms and masks and the others in civilian clothing—came to his flat. One of the men introduced himself as a Crimea FSB lieutenant but refused to show identification. He showed Bariev a search warrant and said that they needed to search his apartment for weapons, drugs, and prohibited literature. Bariev requested that two outside witnesses be brought in to observe the search, as required by law, but the men told him that they brought their own witnesses.
The FSB, Russia’s successor agency to the KGB, likewise apparently revels in the conspiratorial swirls currently coming from Moscow, painting Dzhemilev as an "American agent":
After Asaba showed his Ukrainian passport, the FSB agent asked him why he did not have a Russian passport. Asaba told Human Rights Watch, I didn’t have Russian passport, only a Ukrainian [passport] and told him that. He responded, “Do you have something against Russia?” He asked me several strange questions, like, “Why do you support Dzhemilev? Did you know that Dzhemilev is an American agent and gets money from the Americans?” and “Why are you watching [pro-Ukraine] Channel 5?”
And then there’s the move beyond absurd, into something a bit more Kafkaesque that should be relegated more to Pyongyang than eastern Europe:
In August, the authorities cancelled ATR journalist Shevket Namatullaev’s accreditation to cover local parliament sessions because he did not stand up during the Russian anthem, she said.
The entire report – for edification; for the Tatars – should be read in its entirety. The above-mentioned are but the highlights. Tatars will continue suffering, simply by living in the land they’d colonized before the Russians ever arrived. Crimea will continue to wilt – a tumor of nostalgia, infected by those that can’t let go of a past long gone.