Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea two years ago -- following a sham referendum conducted in violation of Ukrainian law and Ukraine’s constitution -- has resulted in gross violations of fundamental freedoms in Crimea. Russian occupation authorities have forcibly suppressed dissent by targeting and intimidating journalists and pro-Ukrainian activists. The Crimean Tatar population has been a particular focus of repression, and that repression is intensifying.
The Tatars, who have lived in Crimea for centuries and make up about 13 percent of its population, are ethnically Turkic, Muslim, and the majority opposes Russian rule.
The State Department’s most recent human rights report on Crimea noted that in 2014 Russian occupation authorities killed, kidnapped, and forcibly detained Tatars. They shut down the Tatar Mejlis the legally recognized representative council of the Crimean Tatars; banned Tatar leaders Mustafa Dzemiliev and Refat Chubarov from Crimea for five years; and raided Tatar mosques, other religious institutions, libraries and schools.
In early February, Russian authorities arrested at least nine Crimean Tatars after a series of raids on their homes. They have charged four with belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist political organization banned in Russia and Central Asia.
On February 15, a Russian prosecutor filed a request with Crimea’s Supreme Court that the Tatar Mejlis be banned and listed as an extremist organization.
In a recent address to the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna, U.S Representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Daniel Baer denounced the Russian move against the Tatar Mejlis, as well as the general persecution of the Tatars in Crimea as a tragic part of the overall violation of Ukrainian sovereignty by Russia.
Anmbassador Baer noted that the Tatar Mejlis “is guilty of no crime – only of protesting Russia’s occupation and repression of the Crimean Tatar people.”
He called on his colleagues in the OSCE not to forget that “Crimean Tatars face repression and discrimination in their homeland, with no representation and no recourse. Almost 10,000 Crimean Tatars have been forced to flee,” he noted. “Those who remain have been subjected to abuses, including interrogations, beatings, arbitrary detentions, and police raids on their homes and mosques. These brutalities must end,” said Ambassador Baer, “as must Russia’s occupation of Crimea.”