Court in Russia-annexed Crimea bans Tatar assembly

AP News
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Posted: Apr 26, 2016 11:18 AM

MOSCOW (AP) — The Supreme Court in the Russia-annexed peninsula Crimea on Tuesday banned a Crimean Tatar group in the latest step to marginalize the minority.

Crimea's prosecutor Natalya Poklonskaya who personally lodged the lawsuit welcomed the ruling against the Mejlis, an assembly of Tatar community leaders.

"This decision aims to ensure stability, peace and order in the Russian Federation," she told Russian news agencies after the hearing.

Crimean Tatars, who suffered a mass deportation at the hands of Soviet authorities in 1944, seemed to be the only organized force within Crimea to oppose Russia's annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula in 2014. Tuesday's ban follows months of persecution, expulsions and jailing of prominent Tatar leaders as well as rank-and-file protesters.

Six people are now on trial in the city Simferopol on charges of rioting dating back to fist fights between rival rallies of a pro-Russian party and Crimean Tatars on Feb. 26, 2014 which preceded the hastily called referendum to secede from Ukraine. Not a single pro-Russian protester has faced charges.

Russia's Justice Ministry earlier this month ruled the Mejlis was an extremist group, paving the way for the outright ban of the group that represents up to 15 percent of the Crimean population.

Ukraine's foreign ministry spokeswoman Marian Betsa has condemned the ban as an "absolutely criminal and unlawful decision of Crimea's occupational government."

Council of Europe Commissioner Nils Muiznieks on Tuesday called for a reversal of the ban, saying that equating the Mejlis with extremist groups "paves the way for stigmatization and discrimination of a significant part of the Crimean Tatar community and sends a negative message to that community as a whole."

Tatars, including prominent leaders with Soviet dissident backgrounds like Mustafa Dzhemilev, were initially invited to contribute to the new government in Crimea. But a swift ban on Tatar assemblies and the heavy-handedness of the Russian government put a strain on efforts to work together.

Dzhemilev and Mejlis Chairman Refat Chubarov live in Kiev where they were elected to the Ukrainian parliament after Russian authorities barred them from entering Crimea.