Crimea: One year on from annexation; critics harassed, attacked and silenced
Photo: Crimean Tatars attend a memorial ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the deportation of Tatars from Crimea, near a Mosque in Simferopol, on May 18, 2014. © MAX VETROV/AFP/Getty Images
The de facto authorities in Crimea have failed to investigate a series of abductions and torture of their critics, and resorted to an unrelenting campaign of intimidation to silence dissent, said Amnesty International in a briefing published today on the first anniversary of annexation.
Violations of the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association in Crimea highlights how the de facto authorities in Crimea are carrying out a catalogue of human rights abuses against pro-Ukrainian media, campaigning organizations, Crimean Tatars and individuals critical of the regime.
Since Russia annexed Crimea, the de facto authorities are using a vast array of bully-boy tactics to crack down on dissent.
“Since Russia annexed Crimea, the de facto authorities are using a vast array of bully-boy tactics to crack down on dissent; a spate of abductions between March and September have prompted many vocal critics to leave the region. Those remaining face a range of harassment from authorities determined to silence their opponents,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia.
Abductions and torture – no effective investigations
Since annexation, at least seven people have been abducted, whose fate remains unknown. At least one other abducted person has been found dead, with signs of torture.
Amnesty International has documented the disappearances of three Crimean Tatars. Islyam Dzhepparov, 19, and Dzhevdet Islyamov, 23, were pushed into a van by four men in black uni-form on 29 September 2014 and have not been seen since. Reshat Ametov, 39, was abducted while attending a demonstration in March last year. His body was found later with signs of torture. To date, no-one has been held accountable.
Andriy Schekun, the leader of Ukrainian House, an organization promoting Ukrainian language and culture, was abducted by pro-Russian paramilitaries and held for 11 days in a secret location where he was electrocuted in March 2014. Following this ordeal, he was handed over to the Ukrainian military. Again, no-one has been held accountable for his torture. Three other members of the organization went missing in May last year and have not been seen since.
“The de facto Crimean authorities tell us that they are investigating all cases of abduction and torture, but we have yet to see any concrete evidence of this,” said John Dalhuisen.
The de facto authorities are also creating a climate of fear in Crimea, using intimidation and restrictive laws to silence the media and NGOs.
On 26 January 2015, some 30 armed, masked men from a special police unit, accompanied by 10 security officials, raided the offices of the Crimean Tatar TV Channel, ATR, disrupted broadcasting and took away documents dating back to February last year.
Even before the raid, the channel was exercising self-censorship, dropping the use of the words “annexation’’ and “occupation” after several editorial staff received warnings from the authori-ties branding their broadcasts “extremist” and threatening them with criminal prosecution.
Several journalists and bloggers have fled Crimea, fearing persecution. This includes the vocally pro-Ukrainian blogger, Elizaveta Bogutskaya, who was summoned for questioning after officials from the “Center for Combating Extremism” searched her house and took away data for inspection.
Following annexation, the de facto authorities required all media outlets to re-register. QHA, a well-known Crimean Tatar news agency, has been unable to register with no specific explanation as to why its application was unacceptable.
No right to protest or celebrate Crimean Tatar culture
Public protests have effectively been banned in Crimea. Permission for cultural gatherings and demonstrations by Crimean Tatars is more often than not denied and those that are allowed, have to take place in remote locations. This is particularly the case for traditional commemora-tive events.
A number of prominent independent organizations, particularly those working on human rights issues, have ceased to exist. The Mejlis, which represents the Crimean Tatar community, has been denied recognition and its prominent members subjected to a campaign of harassment and persecution.
One year on from Crimea’s annexation, the attitude of its de facto authorities and their Russian masters can be summed up simply – like it or leave or shut up.
“One year on from Crimea’s annexation, the attitude of its de facto authorities and their Russian masters can be summed up simply – like it or leave or shut up,” said John Dalhuisen.
“There is little appetite in the international community to push Russia on restoring Ukraine’s territorial integrity, but it should, at the very least, be putting much more pressure on Russia to respect the rights of all of Crimea’s residents.”