Ukraine vows to save Crimean-Tatar TV silenced by Russia

EU denounces Russian ‘persecution and intimidation’ of Crimean Tatars

Ukraine president Petro Poroshenko has ordered officials to “create conditions to allow the ATR channel to work in Ukraine”. Photograph: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Ukraine president Petro Poroshenko has ordered officials to “create conditions to allow the ATR channel to work in Ukraine”. Photograph: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

 

Ukraine has pledged to re-establish Crimean-Tatar media on the country’s “mainland” after they were shut down by Russian authorities, which now control the annexed peninsula, in an alleged crackdown condemned by the European Union.

The ATR television broadcaster and several other Crimean-Tatar outlets, including a children’s channel and radio stations, went off-air after Wednesday’s deadline for receiving a new operating licence from Russia’s media regulator.

Russian officials four times rejected ATR’s application for a new licence, saying the forms contained bureaucratic errors, but the channel, Crimean-Tatar activists and western states accused Moscow of silencing a critical media voice.

Unlike Crimea’s ethnic-Russian majority, most of its 240,000 Tatars supported last year’s pro-western revolution in Ukraine and opposed Moscow’s military occupation and annexation of the region.

Dared to criticise

ATR was the only channel to broadcast in the Crimean-Tatar, Ukrainian and Russian languages, and the only major media voice in the region that dared to criticise the Kremlin and its local appointees.

Station journalists said the closure of ATR highlighted the growing pressure exerted on Crimean Tatars, including police raids of homes and offices, arbitrary arrests and abductions. At least one activist has died in suspicious circumstances.

Local media yesterday reported large-scale searches of Crimean-Tatar properties by the Russian security services.

“After searches of the Crimean Tatar ATR TV premises and attacks on its journalists in the past weeks, ATR TV has been taken off air,” the EU’s foreign policy service said in a statement.

“This constitutes a blatant violation of the right to freedom of expression and is part of a wider pattern of persecution and intimidation of the Crimean Tatar community,” the statement said.

“The Crimean people deserve unimpeded access to the plurality of media. We call for an immediate reestablishment of ATR’s broadcasting rights and full respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms of all inhabitants.”

Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, said “you can turn off a television station, but you can’t stop the Crimean-Tatar people’s desire for freedom and truth.”

He announced that he had ordered officials to “create conditions to allow the ATR channel to work in Ukraine.”

Turkey, which has close historical and cultural ties with the Crimean Tatars, also urged Moscow to restore ATR’s right to broadcast and condemned its closure, along with groups including Amnesty International and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Crimean-Tatar leaders say they fear Russia is intent on driving their people from their homeland, from which they were exiled in 1944 by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

They were allowed to return legally only after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and regard ATR as a bastion of their language and culture.

Russia denies cracking down on the Crimean Tatars, and officials have accused ATR of intentionally spoiling its licence applications to stir up trouble around the issue.

“Even back when Crimea was part of Ukraine, this channel could be described as Russophobic and anti-Russian,” said one pro-Kremlin senator.