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Russia Denies License to Tatar-Language TV Station in Crimea

Crimean Tatars hold ATR TV station flags during a support rally in Simferopol, Crimea, March 31, 2015.

Crimea's independent Tatar-language television station ATR went off the air Wednesday after Russian authorities refused to give it a broadcasting license.

Following Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine last year, ATR, like other local media outlets, had to reregister by March 31 of this year to continue operating in Crimea. Only one Tatar-language media outlet, the newspaper Yeni Dunya, was able to register.

ATR served Crimean Tatars who number some 300,000 of the Black Sea peninsula's roughly 2 million people. In 1944, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin deported the entire Crimean Tatar population. They began returning to Crimea in large numbers following the fall of the Soviet Union.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko condemned the move against ATR.

"They can shut down the channel, but they can never curb the desire of the Crimean Tatar nation for truth and freedom," he said Wednesday via Twitter.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's representative on freedom of the media, Dunja Mijatovic, said Crimean Tatar media outlets had been refused registration for "subjective reasons," adding that this was further "proof that the politically selective censorship of free and independent voices in Crimea is continuing.”

Amnesty International said in a statement just before the registration deadline expired that Crimean Tatar-language media had been "repeatedly and arbitrarily denied registration.”

“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,” the London-based human rights group said.

ATR continues to broadcast in Ukraine. However, the station's owner, Lenur Islyamov, said being off the air in Crimea, which Tatars consider their homeland, is “akin to deportation."

The ATR TV channel was a rare critical voice in Crimea following Russia's annexation and continued on that path before it was taken off the air.

Erfan Quddusov, an activist with the Tatar National Assembly, which represents the Crimean Tatar community, told VOA’s Uzbek service on Wednesday that ATR and other Tatar-language media outlets “were helping us to preserve and develop our own language, culture and traditions."

VOA's Uzbek service contributed to this report.

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