Russian de-facto authorities systematically violate the rights of religious communities in Crimea through persecutions, searches, fines, court rulings and hate speech – activists

Human rights activists in Crimea report systematic pressure upon the religious communities on the peninsula other than the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Russian de-facto authorities in occupied Crimea systematically violate the rights of representatives of all religious confessions except for the Moscow Patriarchate (of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church). The forms of discrimination that are used most frequently include persecution, searches, fines, court sentences and hate speech in the media. The occupational authorities in Crimea use religious persecution as a tool to collect personal data. These are the findings of the report “The freedom of religion and belief in Crimea” presented at a press-briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center. “It all looks like the Russian authorities, by all means, aim at getting rid of all the confessions that are not subordinated to the Kremlin,” emphasized Oleksandr Sedov, analyst of the Crimean Human Rights Group, co-author of the report.

Russian de-facto authorities are applying different discrimination methods to the representatives of different religious confessions. Muslims are being persecuted for the distribution of the so-called extremist literature or membership in the religious organizations that are recognized extremist or terrorist in the Russian Federation. “People are being fined or even sentenced to life in prison. We have analyzed the rulings of the Russian courts that served to recognize the organizations being extremist. We have not found a single fact that would confirm that the organization is extremist or terrorist,” Oleksandr Sedov said. So far 25 persons have been sentenced in Crimea for their membership in such organizations. “Now permanent fear prevails on the peninsula, people are constantly expecting searches aimed to find extremist literature or charge them with terrorism,” added Alim Aliyev, civic activist and co-founder of CrimeaSOS initiative.

The so-called “Yarovaya package of laws” is being applied to the protestants limiting their missionary work. [“Yarovaya law” or “Yarovaya package of laws” is a set of bills in force in Russia since July 2016 that includes new police and counterterrorism measures that directly echo the sweeping powers wielded by the KGB to stifle dissent and repress opposition activists throughout the Soviet era – RFERL]. Twenty-three such court decisions were registered in Crimea. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate is also being persecuted on the peninsula as they refused to get registered in Crimea as required by the Russian law. “Systematic pressure is being exercised upon the priests [of the Kyiv Patriarchate]. They are being constantly interrogated. In fact, there are just four practicing priests of the Kyiv Patriarchate left in Crimea,” said Andriy Shchekun, general director of the Ukrainian state-owned “National publishing house for newspapers and magazines”.

“It is also evident that the Moscow Patriarchate is not facing any limitations at all. There are examples when either Muslims or the Kyiv Patriarchate are trying to hold the events of the same scale [as the Moscow Patriarchate does], but they can’t and they are persecuted for that. It is a blatant violation of the convention against the discrimination (the UN Convention against All Forms of Religious Discrimination). These are the facts that will be also used in Ukraine’s arguments voiced in international courts,” added Olha Skrypnyk, head of the board at the Crimean Human Rights Group, co-author of the report.

Ukrainian central authorities take no action in defending the religious communities in Crimea. “Throughout the entire [annexation] period the Department on religion and national minorities of the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine has made three-four statements asserting concern, and they did it surrendering to the pressure by the civil society. I would like to see the Minister of Culture and all other civil servants starting to resolve these issues and to bring them to their logical conclusion,” Andriy Shchekun said.