The excellent Forum 18 organisation, which supports freedom of religious belief and disbelief in Europe and Asia, reports a recent wave of harrasment of and raids on premises owned by Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses in what is now Russian-controlled Crimea. Officials claim they are merely searching for ‘extremist’ literature and the region’s Prime Minister has announcd a moratorium on searches until 1 January, which so far seems to be holding.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are often singled out for harrassment and even persecution in Russia. Moscow’s relationship with Muslims, however, is more complex and ambiguous. In Crimea, however, the overhwelmingly Muslim Tartar community is the largest ethnic minority in the region, annexed to Russia earlier this year, and one which has been implacably opposed to Moscow rule.
Perhaps the authorities would like to see Crimea’s Tartars follow the region’s gay community in fleeing to Ukraine, and on this subject Prime Minister Aksyonov is considerably less conciliatory than on religious persecution. As Time reports:
“In Crimea we don’t welcome such people, we don’t need them,” he said, referring to homosexuals. If they ever try to stage a pride parade or any other public events, Aksyonov warned that the local police and paramilitary forces would “take three minutes to clarify what [sexual] orientation is right.”
One final aside – if persecution of the [Turkic if not Turkish] Tartars intensifies, might there be repercussions for Moscow:Ankara relations.