Is it a crime to speak out against national oppression and genocide? Mustafa Dzhemilev, a Soviet dissident, was recently sentenced to two-and-one-half years imprisonment for just such activities in defense of his people, the Crimean Tatars, a Moslem, Turkic people in the USSR.
When Mustafa was just one year old, in 1944, the entire population of Crimean Tatars were forcibly deported to Central Asia where they have been held ever since. Almost half of the population died during the deportation and the first years of exile. Although the charges against them were formally dropped in 1967, the Tatars have not been allowed to return to the Crimea. Petitions demanding the right to return to their homeland have been signed by over a hundred thousand Tatars and brought to Moscow by elected representatives from each village.
Mustafa has participated in this non-violent struggle since childhood. He was expelled from college for speaking and writing about the history of the Crimean Tatars. He was first arrested in 1966 on the false charge of draft evasion and served one and a half years in a labor camp. In Moscow as an elected representative of the Tatars, he joined with other dissidents to form the Initiative Group for Defense of Human Rights in the USSR and denounced the occupation of Czechoslovakia. He was arrested for “slandering the Soviet state” and spent three years in a strict regime camp. In 1974, he was rearrested for draft evasion and was sentenced to another year in a strict regime camp. When this sentence was about to end, he was again charged with “slandering the Soviet state.” He began a hunger strike to protest against this treatment, but in April 1976 he was sentenced to two-and-one-half years imprisonment. His health is very poor due to the harsh prison conditions and his prolonged hunger strike.
We must condemn this unjust verdict and demand that the Soviet authorities release Mustafa Dzhemilev immediately. Free speech and support for the right of oppressed nationalities are not crimes. They should not be punishable in the Soviet Union, in the United States, or anywhere else. We are soliciting support for Dzhemilev among those who defend prisoners of conscience, democratic rights, and the rights of oppressed nationalities in the West as well as in the East—aiming to organize the kind of mass protest which the Soviet government cannot ignore.
Reza Baraheni, former Iranian political prisoner
Pavel Litvinov, former Soviet dissident
Martin Sostre, former American political prisoner
Those interested should contact: The Mustafa Dzhemilev Defense Committee, Room 414, 853 Broadway, New York, New York 10003.
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Try two months of unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 a month.
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our complete 55+ year archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 a month.