Crimean Tatars fear Russia will silence outspoken TV station

Russia has refused to renew licence of ATR station ahead of today’s deadline

Shevket Memetov in front of the Crimean Tatar flag in his office at ATR television station, where he is editor-in-chief. Photograph: Dan McLaughlin

Shevket Memetov in front of the Crimean Tatar flag in his office at ATR television station, where he is editor-in-chief. Photograph: Dan McLaughlin

 

“We are living through a nightmare,” Shevket Memetov said in the cramped, book-lined office he uses as chief editor at the world’s only Crimean-Tatar television station.

“They want to scare us into silence. But we are gaining more and more viewers because we are the only ones who show what’s really going on in Crimea.”

Mr Memetov was defiant, but admitted his channel, ATR, might be forced to close if Russia refused to renew its licence by today’s deadline.

The station is not only a bastion of Crimean-Tatar language and culture, but the only channel on the Black Sea peninsula that also broadcasts in Ukrainian and Russian and dares to challenge Moscow’s line on events in the region.

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 subsequent annexation of the peninsula.

Rising pressure

“They want us to say that the authorities are good. They want us to be loyal to Russia. They say we are listening to the Crimean Tatars and helping like Ukraine never did,” Mr Memetov said.

“If they did what they promised, it would be great. But all we feel is pressure. We are not picking a fight with the authorities, but they are fighting against us.”

Josef Stalin exiled the entire Crimean Tatar community to Siberia and Central Asia in 1944 for allegedly collaborating with Nazi invaders, and they were allowed to return and resettle legally only after the Soviet Union’s collapse.

“We waited so long to get home and make Crimea better,” said Mr Memetov.

“And now we have this. It’s not living, it’s just surviving.”

Offices searched

Journalists say the search was part of an intimidation campaign against Crimean Tatars, which has seen several activists abducted and arrested, and at least one killed.

“This practice of intrusion of free and independent media cannot be tolerated,” Dunja Mijatovic, media freedom chief of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, said after the raid.

“It is crucial for the Crimean Tatars to be able to receive and obtain information and news from ATR,” she added, while a senior US official recently spoke of a “reign of terror” in the region.

Russia flatly rejects such a description, and very many Crimeans are happy to be ruled by Moscow. The region’s authorities have made no attempt to disguise their dissatisfaction with ATR, however, and the broadcaster says local leader Sergei Aksyonov views it as an “enemy channel”.

He accused ATR of intentionally spoiling its licence applications to stoke tension over the issue, but insisted Crimean Tatar media would survive, even if ATR did not.

“It’s stupid to stir up the population with statements about how Crimea will one day return to Ukraine,” he said.

“That will never happen, the majority of the population clearly doesn’t want it.”