Crimean Tatar broadcaster accused of inciting extremism

New York, September 24, 2014–Kremlin-controlled authorities in Crimea should stop harassing the independent regional broadcaster ATR and allow the outlet to cover the news free from reprisal, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. ATR is the only regional broadcaster of the ethnic Crimean Tatar minority.

The Simferopol-based anti-extremism department of Crimea’s interior ministry sent a letter to the independent regional broadcaster ATR today, accusing it of inciting extremism and ordering its management to submit a list of the broadcaster’s documents, including its registration and licenses and staff names and schedules, according to Ukrainian and regional reports.

The letter, available on Twitter and published by a Kiev-based press freedom group, cited Russian laws in connection with its demand. The letter cited the Russian media regulator Roskomnadzor as saying that ATR “persistently fosters an idea on alleged repression based on national and ethnic grounds; contributes to developing anti-Russian public sentiment; [and] intentionally incites Crimean Tatars to distrust of authorities and their actions, which indirectly creates the threat of extremist activity.” The letter did not specify any ATR programs.

“Crimea’s anti-extremism center should immediately cease its harassment of regional news outlets and reporters and withdraw its accusations and demands against ATR,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Research Associate Muzaffar Suleymanov. “Authorities should stop repressing the regional media and allow journalists to fulfill their public duty by reporting on official actions.”

Journalists and human rights activists, including those from the Tatar minority, have been harassed in the region following Crimea’s annexation by Russia in March, according to news reports. Earlier this month, blogger Elizaveta Bogutskaya fled Crimea after being questioned by the anti-extremism police department about her alleged presence at a rally to protest a ban on a Tatar leader from entering Crimea. Bogutskaya has not publicly said whether she was at the rally.

In May, at least five journalists were detained in Simferopol while covering and preparing to cover rallies by the Tatars commemorating the 70th anniversary of the forced deportation of Tatars from the region, according to reports. Authorities had banned the protest, saying they would spread tension.

In recent weeks, Crimean authorities have raided Tatar activists’ organizations, according to news reports. Most recently, officials evicted Mejlis–Tatars’ parliament–from the building it shared in Simferopol with Avdet, its official ethnic newspaper, reports said. Avdet staff was also forced to leave.

Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, press freedom conditions in the region have deteriorated significantly, according to CPJ research. CPJ has documented harassment of and attacks against local and international journalists; the blocking and removal of Ukrainian TV channels from regional airwaves and cable networks by pro-Russia authorities; and shutdown orders to independent broadcasters. Journalists who have fled asked CPJ in July to closely monitor press freedom conditions in Crimea, which they said they expect would deteriorate further when the peninsula adopts Russia’s restrictive laws on January 1.