United States Criticizes Russia for Freedom of Speech Clampdown in Crimea

A slew of media outlets in Russia-annexed Crimea have been shut down by authorities, evoking outcry from the United States, who say Moscow is ignoring media freedoms.

Crimea’s sole independent TV channel, ATR, which broadcasts in the Crimean Tatar language, was taken off air due to alleged mistakes in re-registering for its license. However, the move was widely seen as an intentional clampdown on human rights.

“These closures are the latest in a string of actions that undermine freedom of expression in Crimea”, said the U.S. State Department said in a statement, referring to the closures of ATR, the Crimean newspaper Advet, radio station Meydan FM and the QHA news agency.

ATR’s director, Shevket Memetov, told the Guardian that “we showed and talked about everything like it is. We talked about problems as they are”, tying the channel’s shutdown to Russia’s new policy of stifling criticism of its rule.

The State Department statement continued:

“They follow a year-long crusade to silence the Crimean Tatar population and others who oppose Russia’s occupation”

In March 2014, Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine, sparking global condemnation. Under Moscow’s new leadership, the ethnic Tatar population – Muslims who have lived in Crimea for 1,000 years and have their own language and customs – have been subjected to house searches, threats, kidnappings and the most vocal in their criticism have even been deported. Activists have also disappeared, and, in some cases, wound up dead with their body mutilated.

There is a pervasive atmosphere of fear among the Tatars, who are estimated to make up about 13 per cent of Crimea’s population, or about 300,000 people. Weary of Russia – the entire population was expelled in 1944 by Josef Stalin, only to be allowed back in 1988 – they are widely seen as the biggest opponents to Moscow’s rule.

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