Russia Fines Over 60 Crimean Tatars For Rights Pickets
19 December, 2017

The conveyor belt of politiсally motivated court cases in occupied Crimea has kicked into high gear before the New Year’s holiday. On December 18, a Russian court in Crimea — which the Kremlin annexed in 2014 — heard 76 misdemeanor cases against ethnic Crimean Tatars who took part in solitary pickets on October 14.

The Tatars called on Moscow to halt the security agencies’ repressions against Crimean Muslims. But although solitary pickets are the only form of unregistered protest allowed in Russia, the Tatars were still charged with violating the law on gatherings and demonstrations. The activists faced fines of 10 to 20 thousand rubles ($170-340) each. Based on previous incidents, it is expected that the defendants will face a combined fine of 700 thousand rubles ($11940).

And according to RFE/RL’s Krym.Realii project, more than sixty Tatars were indeed fined for their pickets.

How It All Began

On August 8, as the so-called “Supreme Court of Crimea” heard Crimean Tatar leader Akhtem Chiygoz’s final statement in his separatism case, 76-year-old Server Karametov arrived at the courthouse. He was carrying a sign that read “Putin, our children are not terrorists!”

Photo credit: Crimean Solidarity

By law, that should have been legal. But the police opened two charges against Karametov: “violating the rules for conducting solitary pickets” and “resisting police officers.”  The “court” fined him 10 thousand rubles sentenced him to ten days in jail.

Soon, a new wave of repressions began: at the start of October, Russian law enforcement detained six Crimean Tatars for allegedly having ties to the the Islamic organizatoin Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned Russia and areas under its de facto control. The police also carried out searches of their homes.

Photo credit: Crimean Solidarity

On October 14, more than 100 Crimean Tatars from across the Crimean peninsula took to the streets with solitary pickets. They carried signs that read: “Crimean Tatars are not terrorists,” “Return children to their parents,” “Halt the repressions against Crimean Tatars,” “Allegations of extremism and terrorism are genocide against Crimean Tatars,” and other slogans.

Photo credit: Crimean Solidarity

Broadly speaking, they called for an end to oppression by the security forces, mass searches, and the arrests of abductions of Crimean Tatars in Crimea.

In response, the police opened misdemeanor charges for violating the protests rules against the activists and detained thirteen of them. Most of the activists were identified based upon photographs in social media.

Judgment Day

Analysis by the Russian Interior Ministry’s expert center will serve as the main evidence against the defendants. The center alleges that the pickets were not solitary at all; rather, they were “united by a common aim, goal and unified organization.”

Activists from the Crimean Solidarity movement say that security forces blocked the entrance to the court in the Crimean capital of Simferopol. But in other parts of Crimean, dozens of people gathered outside other courthouses.

Photo credit: Crimean Solidarity

Inside, the “courts” found the activists guilty and fined them 10 thousand rubles. Meanwhile the Crimean Tatar activists outside the courthouses began gathering money to pay the fines. It’s not a new practice: activists from Crimean Solidarity have taken to carrying out “fundraising drives” in August each year as a response to “courts” imposing large fines on Tatars for expressing their pro-Ukrainian views in social media posts.

In one act of protest, the activists even paid a Tatar’s $5 thousand fine in 10 ruble ($0.17) coins. The fine weighed 140 kilograms.

/By Matthew Kupfer