Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Crimea: Crimean Tatar media will shut down as arbitrary registration deadline expires

Source: Amnesty

All but one of independent Crimean Tatar-language media outlets – including those providing children’s entertainment – will be shut down on 1 April as the midnight deadline expires for re-registration under a Russian law, Amnesty International said.

Despite submitting applications in good time, Crimean Tatar-language publications, websites and broadcast outlets that have been arbitrarily refused re-registration or not heard back from the licencing authorities, will be forced to close. Failure to do so will lead to heavy fines and criminal prosecutions.

“At the stroke of midnight, all but one Crimean Tatar language media outlets, which have come under a sustained assault since the Russian annexation, will fall silent,” said Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia.

“This blatant attack on freedom of expression, dressed-up as an administrative procedure, is a crude attempt to stifle independent media, gag dissenting voices, and intimidate the Crimean Tatar community.”

Whilst all media outlets in Crimea were told to re-register under Russian legislation in April 2014, those broadcasting in the Crimean Tatar language have been repeatedly and arbitrarily denied registration. By contrast, many Russian-language media outlets received licenses soon after applying.

So far, only one Crimean Tatar-language media outlet – the newspaper Yeni Dunya – has successfully re-registered. The rest have fallen foul of the registration authority which has used technicalities and unspecified “irregularities” to delay or deny registration.

The well-established Crimean Tatar-language news agency, QHA, was twice refused re-registration, and has not reapplied. ATR, a TV channel that broadcasts in the Crimean Tatar language, has had three applications for a media licence arbitrarily rejected since October 2014. There has been no response to their fourth application.

Lilya Budzhurova, Deputy Director for Information Policy for ATR told Amnesty International that the channel will pull the plug on their broadcasts at 00:01 on 1 April if a licence is not granted.

“We will be prosecuted according to Russian law. There could be severe consequences, including hefty fines of up to half-a-billion roubles (approximately $90,000), confiscation of equipment, and criminal charges against the management.”

Other Crimean Tatar-language media outlets including the radio station Maydan, the website 15minut.org, the newspaper Avdet and the magazine Yildiz, have not had their applications for re-registration approved and will be forced to shut down once the midnight deadline passes.

Even children’s entertainment has not been spared, with no re-registration granted to the children’s magazine Armantchikh, and the popular children’s television channel, Lale.

“The fact that children’s television channels and magazines are being forced to shut down may sound like a cruel April Fools’ Day joke, but this is certainly no laughing matter,” said Denis Krivosheev.

“Instead it heralds a latest stage in an ongoing clampdown on human rights, including freedom of expression, in Crimea the brunt of which is being felt by the persecuted Crimean Tatar minority.”