Crimea: One year on from annexation, critics attacked and silenced - New report

The 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 report published today (18 March) on the first anniversary of the territory’s annexation by Russia.

Violations of the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association in Crimea highlights how the authorities in Crimea are carrying out a catalogue of human rights abuses against pro-Ukrainian media, campaigning organisations, Crimean Tatars and individuals critical of the authorities.

John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia, said:

“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.”

Abductions and torture – no effective investigations

Since annexation, at least seven people have been abducted, and their fate remains unknown. At least one other abducted person has been found dead, with signs of torture.

Amnesty 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 uniform on 29 September and have not been seen since. Reshat Ametov, 39, was abducted while attending a demonstration last March. His body was later found with clear signs of torture. To date, no-one has been held accountable for his killing.

Meanwhile, also last March, Andriy Schekun, the leader of Ukrainian House, an organisation promoting Ukrainian language and culture, was abducted by pro-Russian paramilitaries and held for 11 days in a secret location where he was subjected to electric shocks. 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 organisation went missing in May last year and have not been seen since.

John Dalhuisen said:

“The 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.”

Media crackdown

The authorities are also creating a climate of fear in Crimea, using intimidation and restrictive laws to silence the media and NGOs. On 26 January, some 30 armed, masked men from a special police unit, accompanied by ten 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 authorities branding their broadcasts “extremist” and threatening them with criminal prosecution.

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.

Several journalists and bloggers have fled Crimea, fearing persecution. These include 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. 

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 commemorative events. 

A number of prominent independent organisations, 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.

John Dalhuisen said:

“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.

“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.”

View latest press releases