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Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The EU + Ukraine: London meeting organised

London will have an opportunity June 10 to hear and question a prominent Ukrainian journalist on the European Union and Ukraine.

Co-founder of Hromadske International and and 2016 fellow at FCO's International Leaders Programme Maxim Eristavi will be discussing if we are prepared for Ukraine’s arriving into Europe “whether Europeans want that or not.” Eristavi will debunk popular misconceptions about Ukraine and Eastern Europe and expose the shortcomings of European policy towards this region.

Ukraine has become an issue in the EU Referendum campaign as a number of leading ‘Brexiters’, such as Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, have claimed that the Union is somehow responsible for the war in that Eastern European country. The latter is also a popular narrative used by ruling elites in Russia.

When Johnson's remarks hit the headlines last month I got so angry at the rubbish I was seeing on social media about Ukraine that I did a tweet series and Storified it.

This event provides an opportunity to hear from someone who was there during Ukraine's 'Revolution of Dignity', as Eristavi documented in 'What happened on the Maidan in Kiev?' (video after the jump).

Eristavi on the Maidan
The event is at 7pm, June 10 at the London Ukrainian Club, 154 Holland Park Ave, London W11 4UH.

You don't need to register - just turn up!

Google Maps:,-0.2108675,15z *NOTE* The nearest underground station, Holland Park, is closed at the moment. Use Shepherd’s Bush or Notting Hill Gate.

Maxim Eristavi biography

Civil rights advocate, media professional and writer. Co-founder of Hromadske International.

One of the most famous English-speaking journalists and civil rights advocates working and based in Eastern Europe, Ukraine, He specializes in new media expertise, politics, breaking news coverage and civil rights advocacy.

Featured as contributor to:

BBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera America, HuffPost TV, CTV, ITN News, the Daily Beast, Fusion, CJR Magazine, Reuters, Politico, The New Republic and Foreign Policy.

Essential Twitter source for Ukraine, according to Mashable, Bild, CTV and The New York Times.

He is the only openly gay journalist in Ukraine and has been an outspoken voice in raising civil rights issues of the region abroad. In October 2015 he was featured among 10 most prominent LGBTI people in Ukraine during the first ever queer project at the country's biggest modern art center, The Pinchuk Art Center.

Eristavi is a 2015 Poynter fellow at Yale University with a focus on informational wars and pan-regional LGBTI civil rights movements. He is also a 2016 Fellow at International Leadership Program, UK's Foreign & Commonwealth Office and a 2016-2017 fellow at Millennium Leadership Program, Atlantic Council.

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Sunday, 15 May 2016

Jamala's win must lead to support for Crimean Tatars

It was clear even during the semi-finals of Eurovision that the presence of Ukraine's Jamala and her song about the genocide of the Crimean Tatars by the USSR had already drawn attention to the plight of her people - I saw a number of tweets saying as much. Her stunning and unexpected victory will undoubtedly lead to much more.

What Jamala's win will also lead to is an already bad situation for the Tatars in Crimea getting even worse, as the lawyer for the kidnapped and imprisoned by Russia Ukrainian soldier Nadiya Savchenko, Mark Feygin, pointed out - only now the world will hopefully be paying more attention. This will also hopefully include the world's Muslims, as she is the third Muslim to win - something which was noted by many on social media, if not by the press.

What the repression must lead to is some concrete action rather than, as explained below, not just more weasel words. This means, as I have argued before, targeted sanctions as (through listening to their wining) it is clear that this is the only language which the Kremlin truly understands.

Reblogged with permission.


By Halya Colnash.

Russian pro-Kremlin channels have been in overdrive since Jamala’s victory for Ukraine in Eurovision, however their lies, including the claim that her song remembering the genocidal Deportation of 1944 was about people “leaving for a better life”, began much earlier. The gutter-level campaign to undermine her message and her victory was probably to be expected. Russia has a lot to conceal, and not first and foremost about the Deportation, but about its repression and terror against the Crimean Tatar people now.

Imprisoned Crimean Tatar leader Akhtem Chiygoz earlier welcomed Jamala’s participation in the competition, saying that “the world will hear our pain”. Let’s hope that the world will, and that they begin directly addressing the repression, including the insane trial against Chiygoz and other Crimean Tatars.

Concern has recently been expressed that Chiygoz, who is the Deputy Head of the Crimean Mejlis [representative assembly] could face further charges following Russia’s banning of the Mejlis. This would be legal nihilism at its worst, but so too are the charges under which Chiygoz, Mustafa Degermendzhy and Ali Asanov have been in detention for over a year.

The arrest on May 12 of Ilmi Umerov, another top official of the Mejlis, on ‘extremism’ charges have only exacerbated such fears. Vissarion Aseyev from the Crimean Human Rights Group, had predicted that “the ban of the Mejlis would provide the de facto authorities with a basis for a new wave of administrative and criminal prosecutions of Crimeans, and Crimean Tatars in the first instance”. This has now happened with Umerov accused of - wait for it - “public calls to action encroaching on Russia’s territorial integrity”, through statements opposing Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

The leader of the Crimean Tatars, Mustafa Jemilev meets Jamala in Stockholm before her win
Aseyev believes that the court ruling declaring the Mejlis ‘extremist’ may be used to add ‘extremism’ charges to those the men are already facing. This would mean, for example, that Chiygoz would also be accused of ‘organizing an extremist society’ under Article 282.1 § of Russia’s Criminal Code, with this carrying a sentence of up to 8 years’ imprisonment. Five other men: Ali Asanov; Mustafa Degermendzhy; Eskender Emirovaliev; Eskender Kantemirov and Arsen Yunusov could face up to 4 years for ‘taking part in an extremist organization’. Similar predictions were made recently by Nikolai Polozov, the lawyer representing Chiygoz. Both were speaking before the adoption in its first reading of a terrifyingly repressive package of laws in Russia which would increase all such sentences.

The criminalization of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis has so far resulted in protest from all democratic countries but no threats of further sanctions. This is presumably what Russia expected, as it might from the reaction to the criminal charges against Chiygoz and the others.

A recent UNHHR monitoring mission report confined itself to recommending only that the de facto authorities and Russia “ensure due process and fair trial rights for Crimean Tatars detained in relation to the February 2014 demonstration”.

The Council of Europe’s report by Ambassador GĂ©rard Stoudmann was released the same day that the de facto prosecutor announced that she was ‘suspending’ the Mejlis without a court ruling. The report mentions only that they visited Chiygoz at his request, and that Chiygoz “questioned the lawfulness of his arrest”.

There are undoubtedly cases where it is appropriate to await a court ruling before offering any comment. This is categorically not one of them, as the authors of the reports must have been aware.

From a demonstration held today in Ankara, Turkey
They mention, after all, that the men are charged over alleged ‘mass disturbances’ on Feb 26, 2014, yet do not point out that this makes any prosecution illegal under Russia’s own legislation. Chiygoz and the other Ukrainian nationals are charged under Russian legislation over a pre-annexation demonstration in Ukrainian Crimea over which Russia has no jurisdiction.

According to Russia’s Criminal Code (Article 12 § 3), a criminal prosecution can only be initiated against foreign nationals who committed an offence on the territory of another country if “the crime was directed against the interests of the Russian Federation or a citizen of the Russian Federation.”

It is deeply frustrating that international observers from the UN and Council of Europe should be ignoring this. The Council of Europe also claimed that there was no evidence of any particular persecution of Crimean Tatars. Just this case alone is typical in targeting only Crimean Tatars.

The reasons for questioning the lawfulness of Russia’s actions over this case are legion, and are not ignored by the Russian Memorial Human Rights Centre. In their statement on Feb 15, 2016, they point to the clear lack of jurisdiction and dismiss the formal excuse presented that two of the alleged ‘victims’ are Russian nationals. Neither sought medical treatment at the time, and Memorial says that in their case, as in those of over half the ‘victims’, there are doubts over whether the alleged injuries were genuinely sustained. Memorial specifically notes that the political motivation is demonstrated by the fact that only Crimean Tatars have been targeted.

This prosecution is already a record-breaker in lawlessness. Novaya Gazeta reported in late February 2015, a month after Chiygoz’s arrest, that the Russian Investigative Committee had been short of ‘victims’ and witnesses, and on February 2, 4 days after Chiygoz’s arrest and 11 months after the events, invited Simferopol residents to come forward “even in the absence of bodily injuries”.

If new charges are brought against the men, it can only be by backdating over two years a court ruling issued in April 2016. Western countries need to come up with more than surreal demands that the men “receive a fair trial”?

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