A Eurasianet partner post from RFE/RL
A Russian-run court in the annexed Crimean Peninsula has branded the executive council for the region's Tatar minority an extremist organization and ordered it banned.
The April 26 ruling by the region's Supreme Court was the latest in a series of moves restricting the activities of Crimean Tatars, many of whom have strongly resisted Russia's efforts to consolidate authority over the Ukrainian region.
Last week, Russia's Justice Ministry said the Crimean Tatar council, known as the Mejlis, had been placed on a list of civic and religious organizations for alleged extremist activity.
The court ruling endorsing that Justice Ministry announcement gives local officials new authority to begin shutting down enterprises, including newspapers, or potentially confiscating computers or other property.
Many Tatars, who make up around 12 percent of the peninsula's 2.5 million residents, fled Crimea after Russia occupied then seized the region two years ago.
Russia's top prosecutor for the peninsula, Natalya Poklonskaya, was quoted by the Russian news agency TASS as saying that any actions taken by the Mejlis on Crimean territory would now be considered unlawful.
Refat Chubarov, a Tatar lawmaker who heads the Mejlis, told reporters in Kyiv that the council, and other related bodies, would move operations in full to Kyiv.
Many Tatars who have remained complain of persistent harassment under the Moscow-backed authorities. An unknown number have disappeared as well, possibly detained by security agencies.
The Turkic-speaking Muslim ethnic group has had a tortured history on the peninsula, going back centuries, and an uneasy relationship at times with Russians, Ukrainians, and other ethnic groups living there.
During World War II, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Tatars were deported to Central Asia by order of Soviet leader Josef Stalin, who alleged they were collaborating with Nazi Germany.
Many of those deported and their descendants began returning to Crimea in the 1980s. The Mejlis itself was established in 1991 amid the Soviet breakup, but was only authorized by the central government in Kyiv in 1999.
During the 2014 referendum in occupied Crimea that Moscow organized as a prelude to the annexation, the Mejlis declared Crimean Tatars would boycott the vote.
The United Nations has voted overwhelmingly to insist on Crimea's status as Ukrainian territory.
Ukraine's Foreign Ministry condemned the ruling, and called for "unhindered access" by human rights organizations to the peninsula to monitor problems there.
Many Western governments, along with rights groups, have also repeatedly criticized Moscow and local authorities for policies restricting Crimean Tatar activities.
Last year, authorities closed down the peninsula's Tatar-language TV channel, along with other independent broadcasters.
The U.S. government responded to last week's announcement by the Russian Justice Ministry by saying Russian authorities have no jurisdiction over Tatar issues in Crimea.
"This action is the latest in a series of abuses perpetrated by de facto authorities against those in Crimea who oppose the occupation, including Crimean Tatars and members of other ethnic and religious minorities in Crimea," U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said on April 21. "Such abuses include arbitrary detentions, beatings, and police raids on their homes and places of worship."
Crimean authorities have targeted other individuals and organizations who have criticized the Russian annexation or reported on some of the problems that region has faced.
A local journalist who has contributed to RFE/RL and its Krym.Realii website is under criminal investigation for allegedly "undermining the Russian territorial integrity via mass media."
With reporting by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.
Copyright (c) 2016. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
A Eurasianet partner post from RFE/RL