Unafraid of likely persecution, Crimean Tatars boycott Russian presidential election

The Mejlis, the representative assembly of the Crimean Tatar People was declared unlawful in September 2014.
17:23, 19 March 2018

Flag of Crimean Tatars

The fourth election of Vladimir Putin as the President of Russia was set for a date a week earlier so that it would coincide with the fourth anniversary of the annexation of Crimea by Russia. That meant that the turnout on the occupied peninsula was expected to be rather significant. However, pictures taken outside of Crimean polling stations on 18 March are not consistent with that notion, and many of the peninsula’s Crimean Tatar inhabitants seem to have boycotted the voting. And that is despite the four years bitter experience of repressive measures they are likely to face for their position, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group reports. 

Repressive measures against the Mejlis, the representative assembly of the Crimean Tatar People started soon after the institution called on all Crimeans to boycott the controversial referendum organized in Crimea by the Russian government on 16 March 2014. Two of the leaders of the Mejlis – Mustafa Dzhemilev and the current speaker Refat Chubarov – were effectively banned from entering their native land. The new wave of repressions began soon after the Mejlis called on Crimeans to boycott the Russian elections, which took place in September 2014. The Deputy Head of the representative assembly of the Crimean Tatar People Akhtem Chiygoz was put in prison for close to three years, whereas the Mejlis itself was declared unlawful. On 12 March, the Mejlis published a statement claiming the illegality of the election on an occupied land and reminded that participating in the process is in breach of the Ukrainian legal framework.

Russia has apparently decided to keep ignoring the ruling made by the United Nations International Court of Justice to remove the legal ban on the self-governing body of the peninsula’s main indigenous inhabitants. Meanwhile, all members of the Mejlis still remain at risk of being persecuted in Crimea.

Related: 78 Crimean Tatars were persecuted due to single pickets since November 2017, - UN OHCHR

Nevertheless, Nariman Dzhelyal, who became the First Deputy Head of the Mejlis in 2015 after Chiygoz was arrested, decided to publish a very powerful video statement to his compatriots. In particular, he stated that the capacity to decide whether to participate or not to participate in elections is a fundamental human right, and it is up to each individual to make his or her own choice.

“I only ask you to understand the current situation. If you don’t see anything wrong with the current developments in Crimea as a whole, and with the Crimean Tatars in particular, if you are fully convinced that the repressions, raids, searches, and arrests; the legal travesties and the torturing; the restriction in rights and the abductions are in line with the legal requirements; if you are convinced that there is nothing wrong with life without freedom and to surrender to lies, then you are free to go vote at a polling station.

At the same time, whatever you do once you get to a polling station is irrelevant. It does not matter whether you tick a certain box or choose to spoil the ballot. By simply arriving at a polling station, you will support the murderers of Reshat Ametov, the abductors of Ervin Ibragimov, and many other people who conduct numerous cases of persecution and torture. This will be your recognition of their right to continue their illegal and immoral operations. You will essentially hand them your native land, the free and prosperous Crimean peninsula, which is no longer there for you or your children. Because, from their childhood, they will be brought up to exist without freedom.

The majority of you probably know what the right thing to do is, but you are afraid. Admit your fears, and it will allow you to tackle them. Do not accept blackmail and do not let yourselves to be deceived. Think of freedom when you make your choice. I have already made mine”.

Nariman Dzhelyal is definitely not the only Crimean that has spoken out publicly, being well aware that the Russian security service pays close attention to whatever they say or post on social media platforms.

When the event came to an end on 18 March, Dzhelyal wrote that he “did not care at all about the election turnover, nor about the legal consequences of the process. It is crucial that we have seen many of our compatriots who were courageous enough to stand up to the threats and pressure.”

Related: Ukraine’s Army ready to accept Crimean Tatars

Then he went on to speak of the likelihood of backlash ensuing.

“Be prepared to continue the fight, as there will be those who are going to retaliate for your position. And their readiness to retaliate depends on us “not wanting trouble” and being silent. Be sure to record voice and video recordings of any threats, and do not hesitate to report a complaint to the prosecutor’s office and the Central Election Committee.”

It is still likely that the occupation regime will aim at avoiding direct consequences since they could only underline the apparent violations in the course of the election. They may use many other methods of repression, as the previous four years have shown.

Among the Crimean Tatars arrested in the previous six months, there was a number of individuals, who had been involved in the Crimea Solidarity movement or those who had reported repressions in Crimea to various international institutions. From the very beginning, the Russian occupation authorities focused on those who remained a patriot of Ukraine and anyone holding “dissident” views or beliefs.

There are way too many victims to note here but do not forget those Crimeans who are widely described as Kremlin’s political prisoners. The links below will typically have the prisoners’ contact details. Whatever the case may be, it is of paramount importance for us to pass information about them to politicians and the media in Ukraine.

Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov; civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko and Oleksiy Chyrniy

Mykola Shyptur  – the first and most forgotten political prisoner held in Crimea

Ali Asanov, Mustafa Degermendzhy – now held under house arrest after being detained for two years, probably for refusing to give false testimony against Akhtem Chiygoz

Volodymyr Balukh

Jailed for three and a half years (reduced on 16 March by only two months) on grossly falsified charges, essentially for the Ukrainian flag, he refused to remove from his home.

25 men, mostly Crimean Tatar, are facing huge sentences for unproven ‘involvement’ in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a peaceful pan-Islamist organization which is legal in Ukraine.  A number of them are human rights or civic activists, including from the initiative Crimea Solidarity.

Related: Crimean Tatars start campaign for de-occupation of Crimea

‘Convicted’              Ruslan Zeytullaev ;  Ferat Saifullaev ; Rustem Vaitov ; Nuri Primov

11 Feb 2016           Emir-Usein Kuku (a human rights activist); Muslim Aliev; Envir Bekirov and Vadim Siruk

18 Apr 2016          Arsen Dzhepparov and Refat Alimov  

12 May 2016          Enver Mamutov, Rustem Abiltarov, Remzi Memetov and Zevri Abseitov

12 Oct 2016           Teymur Abdullaev; Uzeir Abdullaev; Emil Dzhemadenov; Aider Saledinov   Rustem Ismailov

11 Oct 2017           Suleyman (Marlen) Asanov; Ernest Ametov;  Memet Belyalov; Timur Ibragimov; Seiran Saliev and Server Zekeryaev

‘Tablighi Jamaat’

New religious persecution on charges of involvement in Tablighi Jamaat   Talyat Abdurakhmanov; Renat Suleymanov; Arsen Kubedinov;  Seiran Mustafaev

’Saboteur’ charges

August 2016            First ‘Crimean saboteur plot’

Yevhen Panov, Volodymyr Prysich, Redvan Suleymanov and Andriy Zakhtei) 

November 2016       Second ‘Crimean saboteur plot’

Dmytro Shtyblikov; Oleksiy Bessarabov; Volodymyr Dudka; Oleksiy Stohniy; Hlib Shabliy

Leonid Parkhomenko, a long-retired Black Sea Fleet captain, arrested on Nov 24, 2016. 

August 2017            New ‘Crimean saboteur’ charges  Hennady Lymeshko

February 2018         Kostyantin Davydenko arrested on ‘spying’ charges

Revenge for Euromaidan  Oleksandr Kostenko,  Andriy Kolomiyets

23 November 2017   The arrest was attempted of the 83-year-old veteran of the Crimean Tatar national movement Vedzhie Kashka.  Instead, the FSB caused her death

Four men were arrested and remanded in custody on insultingly implausible charges which seem aimed at trying to discredit the Crimean Tatar Mejlis: Bekir Degermendzhy; Kazim Ametov; Asan Chapukh and Ruslan Trubach

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