UNESCO: An overview of the main trends in violations of the human rights perpetrated in Crimea by the occupying authorities

Photo: InfromNapalm

UCMC herewith presents an excerpt from the UNESCO report of August 8, 2017. The report covers only 6 months (from January to June 2017) of the three and a half years that have passed since the annexation of the Crimea by the Russian Federation.

Part I: The general situation

Based on information received from human rights defenders and other reliable sources, we have to conclude that human rights situation in Crimea, including the rights of minorities, has continued to worsen throughout the period covered by the present information document, reflecting persistent and even growing disrespect of human rights and fundamental freedoms manifested by Russia since the outset of the occupation of the peninsula.

Drastic curtailing of the freedoms of assembly, expression, association, access to information, and religion has had a devastating impact on the rights of all residents of Crimea, especially those who are opposing and resisting occupation. Russia aims at “squeezing out” of the peninsula anyone who publicly condemns Kremlin’s illegal actions, stands for democracy and seeks to preserve one’s own language, religious, ethnic and cultural identity.

The overwhelming majority of Crimean Tatars, the indigenous people of the peninsula, who have rejected the occupation rule and organized civil actions aimed at protecting their rights have been regularly subjected to reprisals by occupying authorities as well as by paramilitary groups in Crimea controlled by the Russian authorities. They face illegal searches, interrogations, detention and forced disappearances as a part of the campaign of intimidation and persecution. For this sake quite often the Russian authorities are resorting to the false accusations based on the Russian legislation on “extremism and terrorism”. Furthermore, in violation of basic legal principles and human rights standards, Russian criminal laws are being applied in Crimea retroactively to persecute civil society activists. All-around war unleashed by the Russian authorities to annihilate Mejlis, historic representative body of the Crimean Tatar people, to silence its leaders and members continues without any respite in brazen defiance to the Order of the International Court of Justice of the 19 April 2017 that stipulated illegality of the ban imposed on the Medjlis activities by the Russian authorities.

Constant pressure on the Crimean Tatar community, including those who are not politically active, gives grounds for the rise among them of the sentiment that the occupying authorities pursue the policy of “hybrid deportation” similar to the tragedy suffered by this people during the Stalin era.

As for the ethnic Ukrainians, they have also become the victims of acute discrimination and political persecution especially when they express pro-Ukrainian views or their Ukrainian identity (speaking in the Ukrainian language, celebrating Ukrainian holidays, or wearing symbols of Ukraine). Human rights activists speak of the systemic repressions targeting all Crimeans who identify themselves with Ukrainian state irrespective of their ethnic origin.

Fake information disseminated by the state or other pro-Russian mass media as well as discourse of Russian public officials based on hateful language are instigating inter-ethnic animosity and intolerance of all sorts. Certain minority representatives and groups are being frequently labeled by the media as ‘disloyal’ to Russia.

At the same time, the occupying authorities have been exerting enormous pressure on independent media in order to suppress any attempt to question the legitimacy of occupation or to disseminate any unbiased information on the human rights situation at the peninsula.

From the very first days of the occupation, the Russian authorities have canceled broadcasting of Ukrainian TV and radio stations in Crimea and launched attacks against independent journalists, local television and radio stations airing dissenting views. “Chernomorskaya” TV and radio station, the Centre of Independent Journalists, key Crimean Tatar television station “ATR”, Mejlis newspaper “Avdet”, and the Crimean News Agency were targeted both by the paramilitary “Crimean selfdefence” and the occupying authorities through assaults against journalists, intimidation, searches and property seizures, arrests, and close-downs. After the annexation of Crimea, the occupying authorities prosecuted independent media, journalists, bloggers, and even ordinary residents who expressed their views in different social networks.

Another serious obstacle for the activities of independent media was deliberately created by the introduction of the requirement of mandatory re-registration of the media operators on the peninsula. This means that all the rest should have ceased their activities as non-compliant to the rules of registration procedure according to the decision of Russian authorities, otherwise their activities may be subject to an intervention by court. The accreditation was issued only to journalists that have the passports of the Russian Federation. Moreover, the occupying authorities usually do not explain the grounds for refusals in re-registration, referring to the legislative regulations on the protection of privacy and personal data. The safety of media and individual journalists that have not received approval from the occupying authorities is not guaranteed at all.

Оn February 13 the websites of such media outlets as “Censor.Net”, “Ukrayinska Pravda”, “Hromadske Radio”, “Krym.Realii”, “15 minutes”, “ATR” were blocked in Crimea. On February 14 the Crimean so-called “public prosecutor’s office” submitted to the court another 48 claims for blocking these sites, which allegedly contain “prohibited information”. By refusing in registration to popular Crimean Tatar media television channels and radio stations, newspapers and Internet sites, the occupying authorities have not only restricted media freedom and access to information but also deprived the Crimean Tatar community of indispensable sources of objective information.

Ukrainians of Crimea can only watch Ukrainian TV channels via satellite. There is one 13-minute television programme in Ukrainian shown twice a week on the Crimean TV run by local authorities. The only Ukrainian language newspaper, “Krymska Svitlytsia”, funded by the government of Ukraine, was closed.

There is not a single radio station in Crimea that is free to conduct broadcasting in the same media format as before the annexation of the peninsula. The similar situation persists in the sphere of the printed media. No Ukrainian newspapers or magazines are being allowed to Crimea. At the same time, the Russian state-owned or pro-governmental media have problems neither with re-registration nor with access to the public.

The severe limitations introduced into the conditions of operation of media as well as gross violations of the rights of journalists, their harassment, and illegal arrests have become a regular practice of Russian authorities on the Crimean Peninsula. Damaging and confiscation of equipment, use of force and unlawful detention by the “Crimean self-defense”, illegal dismissals, interrogations by the FSB agents in connection with fabricated accusations of “extremism”, prohibition of entry to Crimea, unfounded prosecution, arrests of property and other measures are widely applied to journalists. Many of them have been forced to cease their professional activities or flee the peninsula to avoid negative consequences.

The actions of the law enforcement units in reprisals against Crimean Tatar, Ukrainian activists, and independent journalists are characterized by brutality and unparalleled scope of continuous surveillance, which creates an atmosphere of constant tension in Crimean society.

Under such circumstances, dissemination of Ukrainian information products on the Crimean Peninsula is possible only through satellite platforms and public resources on the Internet. At the same time, the existing internet network equipment on the peninsula is being entirely substituted by the communications facilities provided and controlled by Russia. In particular, the occupying power has implemented a project of construction of a fiber-optic communication line through the Kerch Strait, replacing the connection provided by the mainland Ukraine and creating all the technical preconditions for exercising an unlimited control over the content of internet communications. Thus, the content of Crimean internet network is not only subject to severe limitations but also is being physically filtered due to cutting access of any unwanted web-resources to the peninsula.

Part II: The timeline of repressive acts perpetrated by the occupying authorities against ethnic minorities and independent media in Crimea in the course of January-June 2017

  • 25 January, law enforcement officers of Crimea illegally searched the office of the Internet resource “News of Sevastopol” (sevnews.info), seized office equipment (computers, laptops, tablets, and telephones) and interrogated its employees. In particular, Alexander Karluk, website administrator, was summoned to the “Investigation Committee of Sevastopol”, where he was detained for interrogation for more than 9 hours. Due to this forceful interference of the occupying authorities, the operation of the site was suspended. The management of the Internet resource links the actions of the security forces with the publication of harsh criticism of the activities of the afore-mentioned “Investigation Committee in Sevastopol” at their website.
  • 26 January, FSB of Russia detained Crimean lawyer Emile Kurbedinov in his apartment, raided his office, and seized all office equipment. Emil was a defendant in a notorious so-called “Hizb ut-Tahrir case”, as well as in cases connected with demonstrations of the Crimean population on 26 February 2014 against the Russian occupation. In May 2017 Emile Kurbedinov received the annual Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk.
  • Since February till May, several illegal raids have been conducted in the houses of the Crimean Tatars, in particular Marlen Mustafayev, Nadir Mambetshayev, Tofiq Abdulhaziyev, Riza Izetov, Seydamet Mustafayev, Riza Muzhdabayev, Ilver Ametov, Yusuf Toroz. Four inhabitants of Bakhchisarai were subjected to prosecution in ungrounded charges of organizing unauthorized mass events. During the same period, Crimean Tatar activists Ilmi Umerov, Muslim Aliyev, Arsen Dzhepparov, Refat Alimov, Amir-Useyin Cooku have undergone a forced psychiatric examination.
  • 22 February, 10 Crimean Tatars who used their phones to broadcast streaming of raids in the house of human rights activist, Marlen Mustafayev, were arrested and detained.
  • 9 March, following the politically motivated decision of the “administration of the city of Simferopol”, a peaceful rally on the occasion of the commemoration of the memory of the prominent Ukrainian XIX century poet and artist Taras Shevchenko whose 200th birthday anniversary was officially celebrated by UNESCO in 2014, was banned. The formal pretext for the cancellation of the event was the “inconsistency of the application with the current legislation of the Russian Federation”.
  • 13 March, Deputy Head of Mejlis Nariman Dzhelalov was called for interrogation to the Center for Countering Extremism.
  • 15 March, plain-cloth FSB officers detained Emil Mukhtemerov, a Crimean Tatar activist, and subjected him to threats in an attempt to force him to witness against other activists in trumped-up “Hizb ut-Tahrir” participation case. This attempt failed, and E. Mukhtemerov was released in the evening of the same day.
  • 20 March, armed FSB officers searched the house of parents of Veldar Shukurdzhiyev, a coordinator of the Ukrainian Cultural Center of Crimea (who himself was forced to leave Crimea around a year ago under threat of illegal detention and physical damage). This illegal search was carried out under the false pretext of clause 2 of Art. 205 of the Criminal Code of Russian Federation (act of terrorism).
  • Since March, L. Kuzmin, M. Batrak, G. Balaban and O. Popova, the activists of the Ukrainian Cultural Center of Crimea have been summoned on many occasions for questioning to the “FSB regional department for Crimea and in the city of Sevastopol” (located in Simferopol) “to provide evidence of the activities of pro-Ukrainian activists in the territory of the occupied Crimea”.
  • 20 March, in Yevpatoria a group of unidentified persons has set on fire the service car of S. Ovsyannikov, the journalist of the local socio-political edition “Evpatoria Health Center”. The editorial board links these unlawful actions to a series of journalistic investigations into corruption activities of representatives of the “city authorities” and occupation forces that were carried out lately by S. Ovsyannikov.
  • 29 March, unknown persons in masks kidnapped Crimean Tatar activist Bilyal Adilov near the building of Supreme Court of Crimea. Later it turned out that Adilov was detained in the trumped-up criminal case under art. 318 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (use of violence or threats against a representative of authorities). On 31 March 2017, Adilov was released on a recognizance not to leave the place.
  • 6 April, Russian special police unit (OMON) conducted the raid in the central market of Simferopol: about 60 Crimean Tatars were detained. The detainees were photographed, their fingerprints and DNA samples collected in the absolute absence of any legal grounds for such actions.
  • 13 April, searches were conducted in the houses of Crimean Tatar activists Seydamet Mustafayev and Midat Muzhdabaev. In the course of this operation occupying authorities deployed a significant number of law enforcement officers who used disproportionate physical force and shot in the air. As a result, one of the citizens living in the adjacent apartment was wounded and hospitalized. Seydamet Mustafayev was groundlessly sentenced to 17 days of arrest, Midat Muzhdabaev – to 3 days. Four Crimean Tatars who witnessed and recorded mentioned searches were arrested for the terms from 2 to 7 days, another one was fined for 10 000 rubles.
  • 26 April, the North Caucasian District Military Court has sentenced Ruslan Zeytullayev, a defendant in a fabricated case against Crimean Tatar activists who were falsely accused of terrorist activities (a notorious so-called Hizb ut-Tahrir case), to 12 years of imprisonment. Ruslan Zeytullaev carried out a 22-day hunger strike in protest against this unjust trial. The so-called Prosecutor’s Office of occupying authorities demanded on appeal to make the sentence of Ruslan Zeitullayev even harsher – up to 17 years in jail. R. Zeytullaev was not provided with qualified medical treatment which has put his life and health at risk. Arsen Dzheparov – another defendant in the same “Hizb utTahrir case”, who needed an urgent surgical intervention, was denied medical treatment in the pre-trial detention center in Simferopol.
  • In May and June, Akhtem Chiygoz, Deputy Head of the Mejlis, and journalist Mykola Semena, while awaiting the trials on the trumped-up charges, were further held in custody. – During the same period the terms of Illegal arrests of the “saboteurs” Oleksii Bessarabov, Dmytro Shtyblikov and Volodymyr Dudka, as well as the “Bakhchisarai four”, falsely accused of allegedly having links with the “Hizb ut-Tahrir”, have been prolonged. Meanwhile, the Russian authorities refused to initiate a criminal investigation into the facts of torture against other Crimean activists interrogated in a trumped-up case of “sabotage” – Evhen Panov and Andrii Zakhtei.
  • 8 May, searches were conducted at the house of Ilver Ametov, the head of Mejlis of the Sudak district. The searches were also conducted at Yusuf Toroz`s house, in the village of Morskoye – the settlement of compact residence of the Crimean Tatars. The road from Sudak to Morske, including the settlement itself, was blocked by the Russian special police unit (SOBR). The searches were conducted by a dozen of armed and masked security officers. The law-enforcers have beaten and eventually abducted Ametov`s son, Amet and Toroz`s son, Server. Amet Ametov was released later, while Server Thoroz was taken to the Krasnodar District of Russia. His whereabouts and the possible charges remain unknown.
  • 18 May, on the day of the deportation of Crimean Tatars, occupation authorities tried to prevent the Crimean Tatars from commemorating the victims of repression. The so-called prosecutor’s office of the occupied Crimea sent mass warnings to Crimean Tatar activists as to the “unacceptability of violation of the law” and “extremist activities” during the commemorative events. On 18 May, along with dozens of arrests of the participants of peaceful rallies, police blocked access to commemorative sites of the victims of deportation. It should be noted that people and vehicles with the Crimean Tatar national flag were detained, though according to the legislation of the Russian Federation, the national flag of Crimean Tatars is not a forbidden symbol. Five drivers of the cars bearing the Crimean Tatar flags faced fines of up to RUR 10 000. In addition, after the ceremonies, some demonstrators were illegally detained by police.
  • 19 May, the occupying authorities banned a peaceful demonstration in Simferopol against persecutions on political and religious grounds using a regular pretext of “its application not being in conformity with current legal requirements of the Russian legislation”.
  • 23 May, Rustem Mennanov, the Crimean Tatar activist, was falsely charged with having committed an administrative offense on the grounds that he wrote the post on the occasion of Mustafa Dzhemilev’s birthday, where the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people was indirectly mentioned. Apart from the total absence in the mentioned message of any elements of law violation, the absurdity and illegality of this charge are exacerbated by the fact that, according to international law, the very ban of the Mejlis is illegal.
  • As of the end of June, several important media websites remain blocked in Crimea: Krym.Realii, Investigator.com.ua, Censor.net, Blackseanews.net, 15minut.org, QHA, pravda.com.ua. These facts prove once again that the Russian occupying authorities in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol (Ukraine) are conducting a policy of repression and intimidation,  whose primary victims are human rights defenders and independent journalists, Crimean Tatars’ and Ukrainian activists. However, we are conscious of the fact that this list is far from being exhaustive: much more human rights violations remain unrecorded due to the absence of a permanent independent monitoring of the human rights situation on the peninsula.