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Crimean Tatars accuse Russia of forcing media shutdown

March 27, 2015

The Tatar community on the Russian-annexed Crimea peninsula warned Friday it will be forced to shut down its independent TV and radio stations by the end of the month after Moscow repeatedly refused to grant them legal status.

Most of the 300,000-strong Muslim group strongly opposed Russia’s annexation of Crimea, condemned by Kiev and the West as an illegal land grab, and have since faced a crackdown that has seen activists detained and leaders barred from the region.

The United States’s top diplomat for Europe, Victoria Nuland, this month condemned what she called a “reign of terror” in Crimea and east Ukraine.

The Kremlin denies any discrimination against the Tatars.

On Friday, the head of the company that owns the community’s only television channel, ATR, said the station would be forced to close on April 1 after Russia’s state media regulator refused to register it.

If the channel does not go off the air, the authorities can accuse it of broadcasting illegally, and start slapping on penalties, Elzara Islyamova told AFP.

“In this case, we will be threatened with fines of up to half a million rubles ($8,681) and most importantly, the confiscation of our equipment.”

Russia’s Roskomnadzor media regulator has four times rejected applications from ATR, saying they contained errors, Islyamova said, adding this happened even when they hired Moscow lawyers specialising in media.

The channel is running a televised awareness campaign called “Don’t kill ATR.”

“People are taking this very hard. A lot of people are simply crying on camera,” Islyamova said.

“They all say ATR is their national heritage, their hope for the future, their guarantee that their native language and culture will be preserved and developed.”

Masked Russian riot police raided the channel in January, with the Moscow-based Investigative Committee saying this was to probe the deaths of two activists at a rally last year ahead of the annexation, which was attended both by Crimean Tatars and pro-Russian activists.

The Crimean Tatars, who have a distinct language and culture, make up around 13 percent of the population of the Black Sea peninsula.

The Tatars were exiled by Stalin to Central Asia during World War II, with almost half perishing in harsh conditions. They only returned to Crimea at the end of Soviet rule.

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov this month denied any discrimination against Crimean Tatars since Moscow’s seizure of the region a year ago.

Tatars have “absolutely equal rights,” he said.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.