Chief Prosecutor Natalya Poklonskaya orders suspension of Crimean Tatar Assembly amid crackdown on ethnic minority
Crimea's Chief Prosecutor Natalya Poklonskaya has ordered the the suspension of the Crimean Tatar Assembly, a representative council set up by the peninsula's 300,000-strong ethnic minority.
According to media reports, the prosecutor's order entails the prohibition of the assembly, otherwise known as the Mejlis, from holding public gatherings, using bank accounts or disseminating so-called propaganda.
The suspension, issued on Wednesday, will remain in place until a court rules on whether or not to ban the Mejlis as an "extremist organization."
Amnesty International condemned the suspending of the Mejlis, saying it "demolishes one of the few remaining rights of a minority that Russia must protect instead of persecute."
Crimean Tatars, an ethnic Turkic community indigenous to the peninsula, have mostly opposed Russia's annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine in March 2014 following a local referendum.
The referendum, which was boycotted by the majority of Crimean Tatars, was condemned by the international community as being illegitimate, especially as it was held after the peninsula came under the occupation of armed militants in unmarked green uniforms.
The militants, often referred to in Western media as "little green men," were believed to be Russian soldiers, but Russia claims they were local militiamen.
Prior to the referendum, the largely ethnic Russian-dominated autonomous Crimean parliament declared independence from Ukraine after the country's former pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych fled violent anti-government protests, organised by the pro-EU opposition in the capital Kiev.
Late last year, hundreds of Crimean Tatars teamed up with members of Ukraine's ultra-nationalist Right Sector and blockaded roads between mainland Ukraine and the peninsula in protest against the annexation and breaches of an international embargo.
Since coming under Russian control, rights abuses against the Crimean Tatars in Crimea have come under the spotlight, having forced some 15,000 Crimean Tatars to flee the peninsula.
Both Mejlis head Refat Chubarov and Crimean Tatar community leader Mustafa Dzhemilev were barred from entering Crimea for five years after they were accused by the Russian authorities of disrupting peace in the peninsula. Meanwhile, Mejlis deputy chairman Ahtem Ciygoz was arrested for allegedly organising a "mass disorder" against the Russian authorities.
The Mejlis headquarters was also forcibly shut down.
Furthermore, Crimean Tatars who refused to adopt Russian citizenship and instead opted to keep their Ukrainian nationality have become foreigners in their homeland.
Speaking earlier this month, Dzhemilev said at least 22 people have gone missing in Crimea since the annexation, adding that Russian forces often warn Crimean Tatars who do not cooperate with commands that their children could go missing if they resist.
Crimean Tatars were exiled in their entirety from their homeland by Soviet Russian leader Josef Stalin in 1944 to various parts of central Asia and the Caucasus, with thousands of them dying during the deportations.
At the time, Crimean Tatars accounted for around a third of the peninsula's population.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Crimean Tatars began returning to the peninsula in droves, and today account for 15 percent of its inhabitants.