Russia pulls plug on Crimean Tatar TV sparking Ukraine outrage
Russian authorities on Wednesday shut down a television channel for Crimean Tatars, an ethnic group that opposed Moscow's seizure of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine, despite an outcry from activists and the West.
ATR television channel was forced to go off air after Russia's state media regulator refused to give it a broadcasting licence.
The move also caused outrage in Kiev, with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko tweeting: "You can shut down the channel but you cannot stop the Crimean Tatars' desire for freedom and the truth!"
The closure of a media outlet that served the minority group for nearly a decade is the latest salvo in Russia's crackdown on the largely pro-Ukrainian community that has also included raids on the channel's offices.
"We stopped broadcasting at midnight," the channel's deputy general director, Lilya Budzhurova, told AFP.
Budzhurova, who also reports for Agence France-Presse, said the staff of more than 200 people have refused to give up and were looking for ways to keep the media outlet alive in some form.
"We will now think how we are going to live next. This is not the end," she said.
"If someone thinks that they can kill the channel -- which is one of a kind in the world -- then they are mistaken."
She said the closure of the channel was a major blow for a community that has gone through a year of upheaval since Russia took over the peninsula.
"People are awfully depressed," she said, adding that some 150-200 activists gathered in front of the channel's offices Tuesday night in a show of support.
Since their annexation of Crimea the new Russian authorities have detained Tatar activists, evicted them from their local assembly and accused ATR, which broadcasts in Russian, Tatar and Ukrainian, of extremism.
"These are trying times for us," Sevgil Musayeva-Borovyk, a Crimean Tatar who edits Kiev-based online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda, wrote on Facebook.
Musayeva-Borovyk said ATR was "the only Crimean Tatar channel which spoke about the culture and history of our people, which broadcast in our native language that unites us."
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.
The United States's top diplomat for Europe, Victoria Nuland, this month condemned what she called a "reign of terror" by the Moscow-loyal authorities in Crimea.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe has slammed pressure on the channel as "intrusion" against media.
The Kremlin has denied any discrimination against the Tatars.
© 2015 AFP