Crimea: three activists disappear after their car is reportedly shot at

Meanwhile, Russia accused of ‘Soviet-era’ blocking of independent media and ‘tightening the screw’ on free expression ahead of Sunday’s Crimea referendum

Amnesty International has expressed concern for the welfare of three activists in the Crimean capital Simferopol in Ukraine who have disappeared after apparently being chased by unknown vehicles and having shots fired at them late on Thursday night.

Two of the activists’ mobile phones have been traced to the vicinity of Simferopol’s military commissariat, which is being guarded by military officers in unmarked uniforms, though the officers deny that they are holding them. 

The three activists - Oleksiy Gritsenko, Natalya Lukyanchenko and Sergiy Suprun - have been in the region since last week. Today the father of Gritsenko (an AutoMaydan activist) confirmed to Amnesty that there has been no contact with any of the three since 11pm last night, following a call from Lukyanchenko to fellow activists to say that that their car was being chased by vehicles and shots had been fired at them. 

Amnesty is calling on the Crimean authorities to immediately locate Gritsenko, Lukyanchenko and Suprun, and secure their immediate and unconditional release. Amnesty is also calling for international human rights monitors to be deployed across Ukraine ahead of Sunday’s referendum that could see the secession of the Crimea region.

Amnesty International Europe and Central Asia Director John Dalhuisen said:

“Reports of the harassment and intimidation of activists and journalists by the de facto military forces operating in Crimea are an extremely worrying development where human rights abuses are already rife.

“We reiterate our calls for both the Crimean authorities and those in de facto military control of the region to allow people to peacefully exercise their human rights without the threat of intimidation or violence.

“Amidst heightened tensions in the country and the now fatal violence between pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian groups, the need for a strong human rights monitoring mission with unimpeded access to all parts of Ukraine, including Crimea, is critical.” 

Amnesty’s call comes after at least one protester was killed amid violent clashes between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian protesters in the eastern city of Donetsk. 

Donetsk violence

While the eyes of the world are on Crimea, human rights violations continue to take place elsewhere in Ukraine. On Thursday night, at least one protester was killed and many more wounded when violence erupted between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian protesters in the eastern industrial city of Donetsk. A participant at Thursday’s rally told Amnesty: “I don’t think the police were ready or willing to protect us. After most of the participants left, we were attacked.” 

Video footage taken in Donetsk on Thursday night shows how a police cordon initially separated the opposing groups until a group of men armed with sticks, metal tubes and knives were allowed to break the cordon and attack the pro-Ukrainian protesters. Amnesty ’s contact reported that police told those being attacked to board a police bus, which essentially made them easy targets, as the bus had no driver and was blocked by two cars. The contact added: “Windows [on the bus] were broken and many of us were injured. There were a couple of dozen policemen near the bus, and hundreds further away, not intervening. The attackers were yelling ‘get on your knees, on your knees!’ I saw one of the activists lying on the ground and bleeding. Three police officers were standing nearby looking at him, and doing nothing for a very long time.”

Russia blocks media, including over Ukraine crisis

Meanwhile, Amnesty has condemned the Russian authorities’ full-scale onslaught on the few remaining independent media in Russia after a number of internet sites were blocked in the country. The blocked sites include Grani.ru, Kasparov.ru, EJ.ru, the blog of the opposition activist Aleksei Navalny on the Moscow Echo radio station website, and the Livejournal.com website which hosts many popular blogs. Meanwhile, another independent outlet, the cable TV channel Dozhd (Rain), was taken off air in some areas in Russia after it proposed a  debate on military decisions made during World War II. 

The sites that have been targeted are those that offered independent information and alternative views, including details of tomorrow’s planned peace demonstration in Moscow over the Russian intervention in Crimea. The moves come in the same week that the editor and the director of the popular Lenta.ru website were sacked following a warning from the Prosecutor’s Office over the publication of an interview with a Ukrainian nationalist.

On 1 February, President Vladimir Putin signed amendments to the country’s Law on Internet Information which allowed the Prosecutor General’s office to block websites that publish calls for activities considered to be unlawful. Holding a public protest - however peaceful and small - without the authorities’ prior permission is among these. The Prosecutor General’s office purportedly ordered the blocking of the sites for making “appeals for illegal activity and participation in mass events, organised in violation of the established order.”

John Dalhuisen added:

“The blocking of these sites is a clear violation of the right to freedom of expression.

“It is an unashamed attack on those who still dare to question the Kremlin-dictated narrative by providing independent, impartial information and offering a platform for free debate. 

“This is reminiscent of the Soviet-era jamming of radio stations. Russia is tightening the screw on freedom of expression ahead of the referendum. It’s a blatant attempt to silence any voices critical of this initiative.”

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