Occupation authorities significantly restricted freedom of speech and press. Occupation authorities refused to register independent print and broadcast media outlets, forcing them to cease operations. Threats and harassment against international and Ukrainian journalists were common.
Freedom of Speech and Expression: Individuals could not publicly criticize the Russian occupation without fear of reprisal. Human rights groups reported that the FSB engaged in widespread surveillance of social media, telephones, and electronic communication and routinely summoned individuals for “discussions” for voicing or posting opposition to Russian occupation.
On April 21, occupation authorities detained Emir-Usein Kuku, a member of the Contact Group on Human Rights, and seized his laptop and mobile phone, allegedly on suspicion that he was involved in inciting ethnic hatred.
Occupying authorities considered the Ukrainian flag and other Ukrainian symbols to be illegal and arrested and harassed anyone publicly displaying these symbols. On August 24, Ukrainian Independence Day, occupation authorities arrested three men in Kerch for flying a Ukrainian flag and wearing T-shirts with Ukrainian symbols on them. The court sentenced one of the men to 15 days in jail for “disrupting public order.” On the same day in Sevastopol, police arrested a small group of Ukrainian activists for laying flowers at a monument to Ukrainian writer Taras Shevchenko.
Press and Media Freedoms: Independent print and broadcast media could not operate freely. Occupation authorities refused to register most independent media outlets, forcing them to close during the year.
In 2014 occupation authorities required all Crimean media organizations to register with the Russian state media regulator Roskomnadzor by January 1. Occupation authorities extended that deadline to April 1. The authorities subsequently refused to issue licenses to independent news organizations or those that published articles opposing Russia’s occupation of Crimea.
In February, Roskomnadzor refused to issue a license to QHA Crimean News Agency, which ceased operations in Crimea on April 1 and moved to Kyiv. Roskomnadzor also refused to register the Tatar language outlets 15 Minut and Avdet.
On April 1, the Crimean Tatar television station ATR stopped transmitting after occupation authorities refused to issue it a license. ATR submitted four applications between October 2014 and April, but occupation authorities refused it each time due to “lack of documents,” despite the fact that an experienced Moscow law firm prepared its last two applications. The occupation “prime minister,” Sergei Aksyonov stated ATR was an “enemy element” that had no role to play in Russian-occupied Crimea. AI and other human rights groups condemned Russia’s decision to close ATR.
On April 29, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) appealed to Russian president Vladimir Putin to improve press freedom, criticizing raids, and detentions, while noting that, of the 3,121 press organizations registered in Ukraine, only 232 had obtained registration from Roskomnadzor. In particular, the CPJ criticized occupation authorities for singling out Crimean Tatar publications for closure.
On March 2, Russian occupying authorities warned Nariman Dzhelyal, first deputy head of the Mejlis, not to organize any protest against ATR’s closing. On March 31, occupation authorities detained eight students after creating a video supporting ATR. On April 15, occupation authorities fined two of them the equivalent of $200 (14,800 rubles) for participating in an unsanctioned public event.
Occupation authorities took steps to replace independent, Tatar-language media with state-controlled alternatives. On September 22, the Millet television station began broadcasting in the Crimean Tatar language. The occupation authorities closely controlled its content. Millet received approximately 177 million rubles ($2.4 million) in Russian government funding and does not report on issues such as disappearances of Crimean Tatars.
Violence and Harassment: There were numerous cases of Russian security forces or police harassing independent media and detaining journals in connection with their professional activities. On January 26, armed members of the Russian security services raided the headquarters of ATR, and demanded that it surrender any footage it had of the February 2014 protests. During a seven-hour search, the security services seized hard drives, video footage, and data. The occupation authorities threatened to arrest and fine individuals who gathered to protest the search.
On March 13, police detained independent journalist Natalya Kokorina for six hours and searched the home of the mother of Anna Andrievska, who wrote an article about the Crimea Battalion in December 2014. Both were independent journalists affiliated with the Center for Investigative Journalism. In separate incidents police also detained independent journalist Anna Shaidurova and former ATR Television cameraman Eskender Nebiyev.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Following Russia’s occupation of Crimea, journalists resorted to self-censorship to continue reporting and broadcasting. Russian occupation authorities banned most Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar-language broadcast programming, replacing the content with Russian programming.
In September occupation authorities directed media outlets not to mention the word “Mejlis” in reporting and not make any mention of its leader Refat Chubarov or former leader Mustafa Jemilev. The Russian-installed “prosecutor general” of Crimea ordered media outlets “to stop using the name or parts of the name of nonexistent organizations in news, articles, and interviews.”
National Security: Occupation authorities used national security laws to restrict the work of journalists critical of the Russian occupation.
Russian occupation authorities restricted free expression on the internet by imposing repressive laws of the Russian Federation on Crimea (see section 2.a. of the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia). Security services routinely monitored and controlled internet activity to suppress contrary opinions. According to media accounts, Russian occupation forces interrogated residents of Crimea for posting pro-Ukrainian opinions on Facebook or on blogs. On April 11, occupation authorities detained former ATR cameraman Amet Umerov and searched his house for allegedly posting remarks critical of the Russian occupation leadership on a social network. The search came days after Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media regulator, was granted broad powers to search correspondence on social networking and e-mail systems.
On April 4, during a daylong raid and search of houses in Zhuravki for alleged extremist materials, occupation authorities reportedly cut the town off from internet, telephone, and electrical services.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
Russian authorities in Crimea engaged in a widespread campaign to suppress the Crimean Tatar language. While Crimean Tatar is an official language, occupation authorities dramatically reduced instruction in schools, and the language was offered only as an optional language at the end of the school day. Occupation authorities closed the Crimean Tatar school in Bakhchysarai. Additionally, there were reports of authorities pressuring Crimean Tatars to use the Cyrillic, as opposed to the Latin, alphabet.
After the Russian occupation, authorities pressured teachers and parents to discourage Ukrainian language education. In 2014 authorities closed the Ukrainian Philology Department at the V.I. Vernadsky University, creating a shortage of teachers and discouraging Ukrainian instruction. Prior to the occupation, 8.2 percent of Crimean children received instruction in Ukrainian in seven Ukrainian language schools and 165 bilingual Ukrainian and Russian schools. During the year only 1.2 percent of Crimean residents received Ukrainian language instruction and only two Ukrainian language schools remained open. In 2013 some 12,694 students received instruction in Ukrainian; during the year only 949 did. Occupation authorities expunged courses on the history and literature of Ukraine from educational materials in Crimea, and punished teachers found using Ukrainian materials and dismissed some.
Occupation authorities imposed Russian laws regarding “banned” books and materials and reportedly removed Ukrainian language material from libraries in Crimea. In January occupation authorities fined the director of the Feodosia library 2,000 rubles (approximately $27) because the library contained 12 books about the Holomodor (a man-made famine that occurred in Ukraine in the 1930s), which were deemed to be “extremist materials” because of its supposedly anti-Russian content.
In September occupation authorities threatened Vladimir Kazarin, chair of the Russian and Foreign Literature Department at the Tauride Tauris Academy, with dismissal after he stated that “the arrival of Russia absolutely devastated the educational field of Crimea” at a conference in Prague.