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As Russian Law Comes To Crimea, Local Tatars Brace For 'Extremism' Accusations

Lenur Islyamov (center) at the shooting of the film "Haytarma," on the 1944 deportation of Crimean Tatars, in Bakhchasaray in 2012.
Lenur Islyamov (center) at the shooting of the film "Haytarma," on the 1944 deportation of Crimean Tatars, in Bakhchasaray in 2012.
Russian-language media have launched a blistering attack against Crimean Tatar businessman Lenur Islyamov, owner of the independent ATR television channel in the Crimean capital, Simferopol.

In a recent example, the website lambasted Islyamov for destabilizing "the sociopolitical and interethnic situation in Crimea" and besmirching the Red Army by financing an award-winning 2013 film about the 1944 deportation of the Crimean Tatars.

The article also compared ATR to the independent Russian channel Dozhd TV, which lost its cable and satellite providers earlier this year after it broadcast a controversial poll about the Leningrad blockade during World War II.

"If in the entire universe there is a television channel that can be compared with the scandal-engulfed Dozhd TV in terms of the amount of concentrated Russophobia, than it is, without doubt, Simferopol's ATR," wrote on March 19.

Other stories in the Russian-language media have described Islyamov as a "national traitor," an "extremist," and a representative of Al-Qaeda.

It is a scenario that Tatars -- and Muslims in general -- in Russia already know well, says Aidar Muzhdabayev, a Crimean Tatar journalist and blogger who lives in Moscow.

"This scenario is well tested with regard to people connected with Islam," Muzhdabayev says. "In Tatarstan there have been cases where people were declared extremists. As soon as Russian authorities take full control over Crimea, the same accusations will be made -- if you a Tatar you might be labeled an extremist of any kind. "
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Muzhdabayev adds that Islyamov has been targeted first because of ATR's success and independence.

"Lenur [Islyamov] has done a lot -- especially in recent years -- for the development of the Tatar language and culture," Muzhdabayev says. "He created the ATR television channel and made it the most watchable channel in Crimea, including among Russians and the entire population of Crimea."
An ethnic Tartar piles wood in his garden in Belogorsk, near the Crimean capital, Simferopol.
An ethnic Tartar piles wood in his garden in Belogorsk, near the Crimean capital, Simferopol.

The media assault on Islyamov is part of a broader trend, analysts and Tatar activists say.

Relations between Crimea's Tatar and ethnic-Russian communities have been strained ever since Tatars began returning to the peninsula in the late 1980s. Crimean Tatars have overwhelmingly rejected the peninsula's disputed referendum on joining Russia.

Despite overtures from the new Russian-dominated governments in Crimea and Sevastopol -- including promises that Crimean Tatars would be given 20 percent of positions in legislative and executive organs, that Crimean Tatar would be an official language on the peninsula, and that a new program of repatriation would be established -- Tatars remain skeptical and wary.

None of the current members of the Crimean government are Crimean Tatars. Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Temirgaliyev is a Kazan Tatar from Russia's Tatarstan republic. His father is the leader of the pro-Moscow Idel Association of Volga Tatars.

The Crimean Tatar kurultai, or political council, will meet on March 29 to discuss the position of Tatars in Crimea and questions such as whether they should apply for Russian passports.

Among the charges leveled against ATR in the Russian-media attacks is that it broadcasts interviews with representatives the Islamic group Hizb-ut Tahrir. That group -- which boasts about 10,000 members in Crimea -- is legal in Ukraine but outlawed as extremist in Russia.


In an interview on March 19, Temirgaliyev confirmed that Hizb-ut Tahrir will be shut down. "Under Russian law, we will have to restrict the activity of that organization. What form that will take -- whether it will be a direct ban or a demand that it legalize itself under more control -- will be decided in the near future."

Two days before the disputed referendum in Crimea, the Ukrainian branch of Hizb-ut Tahrir issued a statement warning of "provocations."

"We foresee the possibility of provocations taking place, whether they are attacks on the security forces or citizens by unknown assailants, that will then be falsely blamed on Hizb ut Tahrir to justify the presence of Russia in the Crimea," the statement said "We categorically deny all of this in advance, and if and when this takes place, we hold those who occupied the Crimea responsible."

On March 17, a Crimean Tatar named Ivan Selentsov was arrested while distributing Russian-language Korans in Simferopol.

His lawyer, Emil Kurbedinov, tells RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service that Selentsov has been held in a detention center for alcoholics ever since, under accusation of "petty hooliganism."

Kurbedinov, however, says he believes the Crimean authorities suspect Selentsov of extremism.

"During the period of the referendum, there was some sort of oral order regarding Muslims," Kurbedinov says. "He was distributing Korans. He was stopped at a checkpoint [while driving into the city] and they asked him about his beard and accused him of being a Wahhabi. Perhaps because of that they wrote down his license-plate number. Now his car is missing and we can't find it."

Muslims 'First To Be Detained'

Again, this is a familiar scenario for Tatars in Russia. Rais Gimadiyev lives in the Tatarstan city of Chelny Naberezhnye. In 2012, he was arrested and fined for allegedly having links to terrorist organizations.

He says that in the run-up to the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi last month, his home was searched. His computer was seized and never returned.

"Whenever there is a terrorist attack in Russia, Muslims are first to get detained," Gimadiyev says. "They search mosques and homes without any explanation. Later, after torturing people, they make Muslims sign statements [of guilt]."

Lawyer Kurbedinov fears this is exactly what is happening to his client, Selentsov, who has been held without charge since March 17.

Gimadiyev says that accusations of extremism in Crimea -- such as those leveled against ATR television owner Islyamov -- are a provocation.

"Until now, the situation [in Crimea] has been calm," Gimadiyev says. "The same people live there now. Their views haven't changed. They act the same way. There have been no attacks or conflicts. If anything happens now -- it means Russia is involved in that."
RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service contributed to this report.

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