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Crimea in 2017: sixteen political prisoners, 46 arrests, and 286 detentions more – report by Crimean Tatar Resource Center

Kyiv, January 31, 2018.

A Crimean Tatar NGO summarizes the human rights violations on the annexed peninsula throughout 2017. A special focus of repressions is on Crimean Tatars, the human rights defenders claim.

Four deaths, 16 political prisoners, 16 persons missing, 286 detentions, 340 interrogations, 62 searches, 46 arrests, and 104 fines – this is the summary of the year 2017 for the Crimeans not loyal to the occupational authorities as reported based on the monitoring results of the Crimean Tatar Resource Center. “A conclusion that comes from this data is that the occupational authorities continue repressive actions. […] In contrast to the last year we see their actions being more systematic – the repressions are no longer linked to certain dates that are important to the Crimean Tatar people and Ukrainians,” said Eskender Bariev, member of Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people and Chairman of the Board of the Crimean Tatar Resource Center at a press-briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center.

The highest number of detentions and interrogations took place in April and October 2017 (74 and 56 detentions as well as 74 and 61 interrogations respectively), the highest number of searches were recorded in October-November (12 and 19 respectively). February and October saw the peak of arrests with 12 and 10 cases respectively. The persons detained in October were charged with the involvement in the organizations “Hizb ut-Tahrir” and “Tablighi Jamaat”. Subject to searches became activists and citizen journalists who were live streaming the violations on the part of the occupational authorities, protests outside of the courts etc.

Out of the four deceased persons, two died under unclear circumstances, deaths of another two persons came as an indirect result of the actions by Russian law enforcement. Vitaliy Arsenyuk, missionary of Jehova’s Witnesses that was arrested by the occupational authorities, died on June 27 after the court hearing. The veteran of the Crimean Tatar national movement Vedzhie Kashka died on November 27 as she was being detained by the Russian Federation law enforcement. Mudessir Isayev and Enver Avush were found dead in March 2017. “We list them as the victims but keep investigating the circumstances. I think it will be telling to see whether the occupational authorities will investigate these cases or not and whether those responsible will be identified,” Eskander Bariev said.

Out of the 16 political prisoners arrested last year, 15 were Crimean Tatars. Four were charged with involvement in the religious organization “Tablighi Jamaat”, six – with the membership in “Hizb ut-Tahrir” organization. Four were arrested in the so-called “Vedzhie Kashka case” for alleged racketeering, one more in the case of the so-called “Ukrainian subversives”. One more person was sentenced to a year and three months in prison for his posts on social media.

Five hundred and fifteen violations of the right to a fair trial and of the right to counsel were registered. “In Crimea, we can see the purposeful actions to keep Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian activists under arrest. Pretrial detention terms are being unlawfully prolonged for the activists in a systematic manner, claims of appeal are being rejected, friends and family are not being let attend the court hearings. There were also cases when lawyers’ activities were hampered,” said Elvir Sagirman, communications manager at Crimean Tatar Resource Center.

The overall amount of fines imposed on the activists exceeds 5 million rubles (approx. $89,000). The biggest fine – 3,5 million rubles (approx. $62,000), was imposed on Redvan Suleimanov, one of the suspects in the “Ukrainian subversives” case. Zarema Umerova was fined 300.000 rubles (approx. $5,000) for her comments on the social media. However, the majority of the fines amounted to 10-20 thousand rubles (approx. $178-355).

The absolute majority of citizens subject to repressions are Crimean Tatars. “Three of the four victims in 2017 are Crimean Tatars, out of the 16 persons that went missing throughout the entire period of the occupation, 12 are Crimean Tatars. Out of the 286 detained last year, 248 were Crimean Tatars; out of the 340 persons called for interrogation 286 were representatives of the Crimea’s indigenous people,” Eskender Bariev quoted some figures. Out of the 62 searches, 61 were held in the houses of Crimean Tatars.

Forty-three cases when the freedom of assembly was violated were registered. Some of the cases concern the events set to commemorate the birthday of Taras Shevchenko and the anniversary of the deportation of Crimean Tatars. The majority of the cases took place in October (at least 35 participants of one-person protests against the repressions). Other violations include the transfer of Ukrainian citizens arrested in Crimea to Russia as well as drafting Crimeans to the Russian Federation’s Armed Forces in violation of the Article #51 of the Geneva Conventions. In 2017, 5,000 Crimeans were drafted into the Russian army.

Refat Chubarov, Ukrainian MP and Chairman of Mejlis, said that Mejlis representatives regularly speak up about the repressions in Crimea in the international arena. “There is an opinion saying that in order to encourage Putin to take a seat at the negotiations table, some actions, a compromise, need to be taken towards him. Our position is that any compromises with Putin before Russia leaves the occupied Ukrainian territories will mean encouraging the aggressor to proceed further with repressions,” the Mejlis head emphasized.

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