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Russian Officials Impound Crimean Tatars' Assembly

Bailiffs Impound Crimean Tatar Assembly
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WATCH: Bailiffs Impound Crimean Tatar Assembly

Russian authorities have impounded the building of the Crimean Tatars' Mejlis, increasing pressure on the minority group after it largely boycotted recent local elections.

Some 15 members of Russia's Federal Bailiffs Service arrived at the Mejlis -- the Crimean Tatars' self-governing body -- on September 18 and requested that all people leave it.

They said the order was in accordance with a Simferopol court ruling that all property and bank accounts of the Qirim (Crimea) Foundation -- including the Mejlis building -- be seized.

But the chairman of the Crimean Tatar Qurultay (Congress), Zair Smeldyaev, told reporters near the Mejlis on September 18 that nobody can order an eviction of the building until a September 22 scheduled court hearing on the eviction has been held.

The court bailiffs then issued a 50,000 ruble ($1,300) fine to the Qirim Foundation's chairman, Riza Shevkiev, for failure to evict people from the building and ordered him to fully vacate the Mejlis by midnight.

Mejlis members and employees remain in the building.

On September 17, the bailiffs had warned Shevkiev that the building must be vacated by September 18.

That visit was made a day after masked, armed men and police officers raided the Mejlis and confiscated protocols of some of the Mejlis's sessions, several religious books, computers, and personal belongings of longtime Crimean Tatar leader and Ukrainian lawmaker Mustafa Dzhemilev.

Dzhemilev is a well-known Soviet-era human rights activist who served six jail sentences in Soviet prison camps from 1966 to 1986.

Earlier this year, Russian authorities barred Dzhemilev and the chairman of the Mejlis, Refat Chubarov, from entering Crimea, saying their activities "incite interethnic hatred."

On September 15, three masked, armed men removed a Ukrainian flag from the Mejlis building.

In May, the United Nations voiced concern about "serious problems" of harassment and persecution of Crimean Tatars since the region was annexed by Russia in March, an action not recognized by Kyiv, Western countries, and the UN General Assembly.

Crimean Tatars, known as an indigenous nation of the peninsula, were deported by Soviet authorities to Central Asia in 1944.

Many of the 200,000 deportees died on their way into exile.

The majority of Crimean Tatars returned from Central Asia to Crimea right before and after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

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