Independent Crimean broadcaster raided by Russian security agents

ATR Director Elzara Islyamova describes the raid on ATR before agents cut her short. (YouTube)

New York, January 26, 2015–Authorities in Crimea should stop targeting the independent regional broadcaster ATR immediately, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today after the broadcaster was raided and its equipment seized.

Dozens of Russian investigators and masked security agents armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles raided the newsroom of ATR in the regional capital Simferopol and confiscated its servers and reporting files from journalists’ computers, according to regional and international press. ATR’s analog broadcasting was temporarily suspended, news reports said. ATR’s broadcasts are also available via satellite and online.

The independent Ukrainian news website Ukrainska Pravda reported that ATR journalists were barred from entering or leaving the newsroom and that the newsroom’s Wi-Fi access was blocked.

ATR Director Elzara Islyamova began describing the raid in a live interview before the agents cut her short, the broadcaster reported. Before the interview was halted, Islyamova said the agents accused the staff of possessing video materials that they refused to provide to investigators in connection with the probe into the deaths of two protesters at a February 2014 rally in Simferopol. Islyamova denied the allegations and said ATR always provided authorities with information when requested through the proper channels.

CPJ was unable to contact the ATR newsroom by phone.

ATR is operated by the ethnic Crimean Tatar minority and airs content in the native language, news reports said. The broadcaster has been repeatedly targeted by pro-Russia authorities, and its journalists attacked, following the region’s annexation by Russia in March 2014, according to news reports. In September, Russian anti-extremism authorities accused ATR of inciting extremism and ordered its management to submit a list of the broadcaster’s documents, including its registration and licenses and staff names, according to Ukrainian and regional reports.

“Today’s debilitating raid against ATR is clearly part of a campaign to muzzle the remaining independent and critical voices in Crimea,” said Muzaffar Suleymanov, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia researcher. “We call on authorities in Moscow and Crimea to stop harassing ATR journalists and to let the channel broadcast freely.”

During a CPJ mission to Kiev in July, journalists who fled Crimea asked CPJ to monitor press freedom conditions in the region and said that news outlets, specifically those belonging to the Crimean Tatar minority, would face repression under Russia’s draconian laws. Journalists and human rights activists, including those from the Tatar minority, have been harassed in the region following Crimea’s annexation, according to human rights groups.