The Self-Government Body of the Crimean Tatar People must not be Banned

Over the past two years, members of the Crimean Tatar nationality and anyone involved in their self-government, the preservation of their cultural heritage, and their fight for their rights and freedoms have faced relentless persecution in Crimea. Many members of this nationality have an extremely unfavorable view of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, which was accompanied by the deployment of Russian troops, the removal of Ukrainian authorities under the threat of violence, and the establishment of Russian government bodies on Crimean territory.

After the annexation, the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, which is the representative body of the Crimean Tatars chosen by the Qurultay (general assembly) of the Crimean Tatar People, expressed the opposition of native residents of Crimea towards Russia’s seizure of this peninsula. The Mejlis has received repeated threats that its “activities on Russian Federation soil will be banned” in connection with protest actions and the failure of the Crimean people to subjugate themselves to the Russian government (this was in reference to peaceful actions in the form of demonstrations, meetings, and car rallies, as well as attempts to disrupt economic measures and the Ukrainian government’s energetic support of an annexed Crimea).

The leaders of the Crimean Tatar people—Mustafa Dzhemilev (the first chairman of the Mejlis) and Refat Chubarov (the current chairman)—were basically run out of Crimea and banned from returning. Criminal cases were opened against them in Russia. As for the Mejlis itself, the Russian government is trying to have it banned as an “extremist organization,” and the corresponding lawsuit was filed with the Supreme Court of Crimea on February 15. The banning of “extremist” organizations is a widespread practice in Russia which entails the criminal prosecution of anyone who is in any way connected with the banned organization and even of people (primarily writers in the mass media and online) who mention the shuttered entity without using the words “which is banned in the Russian Federation.” What this actually amounts to is the complete criminalization of the activities of any “banned” entity. The obligatory use of the claim “which is banned in the Russian Federation” also paints this entity as anathema.

When we are referring to the banning not just of the self-government body of the Crimean Tatar people, but also of its elected representatives, repressions apparently also apply to anyone who participates in the activities of elected entities which run communities, nominate representatives, and implement decisions adopted over the past 25 years regarding the lives of the Crimean Tatar people. This attempt to ban the Mejlis, this new stage in the incursion on the rights of Crimean Tatars, amounts to the ethnic, cultural, and political (on the grounds of political convictions) discrimination of the Crimean Tatar people.

When First Deputy Chairman of the Mejlis Nariman Jelal received the lawsuit “to ban the activities of a public association,” he called the lawsuit’s title “the first mistake, since the Mejlis is not a public association, but the representative body of the Crimean Tatar people.” He also noted that “It is important to remember that the Mejlis is not just a structure. It is an idea, a distinct symbol, a set of specific actions. And these kinds of direct, crude bans don’t change anything, because this national movement has always found a form that corresponds to a concrete moment in history, to concrete government actions, and, as a result, this period of history passes. Anyone who believes that he is still responsible to his own people, who, through their votes, gave him the right to represent them, will continue to bear this responsibility in the future.”

And this lawsuit truly does abound with mistakes. Moreover, almost all the charges the prosecutor lodged against the Mejlis are in direct violation of the norms of international and Russian law. For example, the Mejlis leaders were charged in relation to actions that took place outside of the Russian Federation (both in Ukraine until 2014 and currently) and in relation to the Declaration of National Sovereignty of the Crimean Tatar People (adopted on 26.06.1991), which was criticized by prosecutors and actually dates back to the time of the Soviet Union (of which the uninformed prosecutors are apparently unaware, since they noted that the Mejlis was “created in 1991 in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, which was part of Ukraine”).

It is not at all clear what business the Regulations, which the Mejlis adopted in 2004 to “secure a status for Crimea as part of Ukraine,” are of the Russian Prosecutor’s Office or how they could serve as grounds for a charge of “violating the integrity of the Russian Federation.” The ominous words from the lawsuit that “amendments to the Regulations of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People were not made” do not offer an explanation either. Moreover, there is no longer a need to secure a status for Crimea—two years ago Ukraine guaranteed “protection and the realization of the inalienable right of the Crimean Tatar people to self-determination as a part of a sovereign and independent Ukrainian state.”

The parts of the lawsuit that lay out the problems that the Russian authorities have with the leaders of the Crimean Tatar people are no less absurd. It states that a decision was adopted in relation to Mustafa Dzhemilev regarding the “undesirability of his stay in the Russian Federation,” while the very next sentence says that Russia has put him on an international wanted list. The authors of this lawsuit accuse Refat Chubarov of “collecting tendentious information during voting to discredit the elections” and delivering a speech in Ukraine “to the general public.” The lawsuit also accuses these men of organizing a protest action, “infringing on the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation” by demanding Crimea’s return to Ukraine, and “promoting the creation of conditions for committing crimes.”

It is abundantly clear that neither peaceful protest actions against the sudden violent change in state borders (when the opinion of the native people of Crimea was completely disregarded), nor a desire to seek recognition of the right to self-determination, nor the collection of information about elections can be considered a legal basis for banning the activities of the representative body of the Crimean Tatar people.

The only somewhat serious charge of extremism in connection with “establishing preferences for people of the ‘Crimean Tatar nationality,’” which the lawsuit alleges appears in the Declaration of National Sovereignty of the Crimean Tatar People (of 26.06.1991), actually directly contradicts the text of this Declaration (which is not quoted once in the 10-page lawsuit, even though it is attached to the lawsuit as evidence). On the contrary, in the Declaration we find the requirement “to guarantee the observance of the rights and freedoms of all people, regardless of their race, nationality, political views, or religious beliefs.”

There is no doubt that the repression of the Mejlis and Crimean Tatars violates the right to non-discrimination, equality of peoples, and their rights to self-government, preservation of their cultural heritage, and the development of autonomy.

We demand an end to the persecution of Crimean Tatars in Crimea, a renunciation of any attempt to ban the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, and the opportunity for all members of this nationality to live freely and peacefully in their land.

Anti-Discrimination Centre Memorial
Center for Civil Liberties
Human Rights organization Citizens’ Watch
Kharkiv Regional Foundation “Public Alternative”
Crimea SOS Social Initiative
Human Rights Information Center
the Coalition “Justice for Peace in Donbas”:
Alchevsk Human Rights Analytical Center
Eastern-Ukrainian Center for Civic Initiatives
Public Movement “Ochyshchennya”
Donetsk “Memorial”
Luhansk Regional Human Rights Center “Alternative”
Public organization “Mirny bereg”
Public Committee for Protection of Constitutional Rights and Freedoms of Citizens
Starobilsk public organization “Volya”
Starobilsk district public human rights women’s organization “Victoria”
Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group
Ecological and Cultural Center “Bathmat”

Kirovograd Province Organization “Assotiation of Political Sciences”
Kirovograd Province Civil Organization «Committee on Restoring of Historical Justice »
All-Ukrainian Initiative «Movement of State Builders »
Civil Organization «People’s Watch of Kirovograd Province»
Ukrainian Human Rights Monitors on Law Enforcement
Center of Political Studies and Analysis
Information agency Article 20
Charitable foundation ECOSOCIS
Solidarität mit der Bürgerbewegung in Russland e.V.
Civic Assistance Committee
Fund “Open Society”

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Ukrainian version is available on Russian web-page