Joint press release FIDH and Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union (UHHRU)
(Paris) On March 3, 2016, the Supreme Court of the annexed Crimean Republic will consider banning Mejlis, the highest representative body of the Crimean Tatar community, accused of “extremist activities”. The lawsuit against Mejlis was filed by the Prosecutor of the annexed Crimean Republic Natalya Poklonskaya on February 15, 2016, who will reportedly personally present the indictment. Mejlis is being accused of allegedly being a threat to the constitutional order, security of the state and society. FIDH and Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union (UHHRU) denounce the prosecution of Mejlis viewing it as a sanction for its defiance of the annexation of Crimea. FIDH and UHHRU alert that qualifying the representative body of the Tatar community as extremist and banning its activities would not only ban Mejlis. It would strip the whole community of Crimean Tatars of the possibility to be politically, socially, economically and culturally represented through its only representative body.
The decision to qualify Mejlis an extremist organisation might also entail criminal prosecution not only of Crimean Tatars who are involved in its work but also of all Mejlis supporters in general. Since Mejlis is a representative body formed by a national congress of Crimean Tatars, a significant part of the community is involved in its decision making process, elect their representatives and take part in cultural, educational, political and recreational activities. All of them might be subject to criminal prosecution for showing even minor signs of support to Mejlis, such as being in position of Mejlis publications or using Mejlis symbols, if the latter is banned by court decision.
If the symbolic attributes of Mejlis are banned, uncertainty will prevail concerning the use of the flag of Crimean Tatars. The latter is not a symbol of Mejlis, but of all Crimean Tatars. It is used by Mejlis to represent the community’s identity.
“The decision to ban Mejlis for alleged “extremist activities” may open the way to a massive wave of prosecution of Crimean Tatars for whom Mejlis is a symbol of struggle against century long repressions,” – said Karim Lahidji, FIDH President.
For more than two centuries, Crimean Tatars were subjected to fierce discrimination and repressions. In the middle of the twentieth century, the Soviet leadership forcibly deported roughly 200 000 Crimean Tatars to Central Asia. For more than half a century, Crimean Tatars were banned from living in their historical homeland, some died trying to return. Community’s cultural and spiritual heritage on the peninsula was completely destroyed. Crimean Tatars were only allowed to return to Crimea in 1989.
Since the annexation of the peninsula by Russia, leaders of the Crimean Tatar community have been prosecuted on politically motivated charges. Hundreds of Crimean Tatars have fled, in opposition to the forcibly imposed Russian nationality. Since the referendum on March 18, 2014, widely recognized as being in violation of international law, Ukrainian citizens on the Crimean peninsula were obliged to renounce Ukrainian citizenship and apply for a Russian passport.
Reminiscent of the Soviet period repressions, cases of enforced disapearances and murders of Crimean Tatars since March 2014 send alarming signals of possible ethnic cleansing that might trigger a mass exodus of Crimean Tatars.