Russian authorities raid Crimean Tatar TV channel

26th January 2015, Comments 0 comments

Masked Russian riot police on Monday raided the office of a television channel for Crimean Tatars, a pro-Ukrainian minority group that opposed Moscow's seizure of the peninsula.

Dozens of armed masked men searched the headquarters of the ATR channel in the regional centre Simferopol, seizing servers and other equipments, the broadcaster said.

"This is the first such raid," deputy general director of the channel, Lilya Budzhurova, told AFP. "They are practically in every room now."

Budzhurova is also a stringer for Agence France-Presse.

The region's Investigative Committee said the raid was to probe the deaths of two Russian nationalist activists who were beaten at a pro-Ukraine rally in February last year outside the local legislative assembly.

That rally came a day before armed men seized the assembly and raised the Russian flag during Moscow's takeover of Crimea.

The Crimean Tatars are a Muslim people native to the Black Sea peninsula. Up to half the population was wiped out when they were deported en masse by Stalin in 1944, and they were only able to return in the 1990s after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Most of the 300,000-strong group oppose Russian rule and boycotted a disputed referendum last March in which voters, most of them from the Russian-speaking majority, chose to split from Ukraine.

The new Russian authorities have detained Tatar activists, evicted them from their assembly and accused ATR, which broadcasts in Russian, Tatar and Ukrainian, of extremism.

The leader of the Crimean Tatar minority's assembly, the Mejlis, Refat Chubarov, claimed the rally was merely being used as an excuse to muzzle the channel.

"Occupation authorities cannot put up with the fact that journalists for whom honour and dignity trump fear are still working on the peninsula," he said on Facebook.

The raid came just days after a former separatist commander in eastern Ukraine said Crimea's local authorities were loyal to Kiev during Moscow's seizure of the peninsula and lawmakers had to be "corralled" into parliament for a vote.

The claims from former separatist defence minister Igor Strelkov contradict an official Kremlin narrative that Russia did not put any pressure on Crimean authorities and that they sided with Moscow of their own free will.

© 2015 AFP

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