See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.
Occupation authorities significantly restricted freedom of expression and subjected dissenting voices including the press to harassment and prosecution. They 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 Expression: The HRMMU noted that occupation authorities placed “excessive limitations on the freedoms of opinion and expression.” Individuals could not publicly criticize the Russian occupation without fear of reprisal. Human rights groups reported 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 the occupation.
During the year human rights monitors observed an increase in prosecutions and convictions for opinions expressed in social media posts, at times for posts that were written before Russia began its occupation of Crimea. For example, on May 4, a court in Sevastopol sentenced Ihor Movenko to two years in a minimum security prison for commenting on a social network that “Crimea is Ukraine.”
There were reports that authorities detained individuals for “abusing” the Russian flag or other symbols of the Russian occupation. For example on July 26, the FSB raided the homes of four Crimean Tatar teenagers in Belogorsk District after the youth allegedly removed the Russian flag from the city hall in the village of Kurskoye and threw it into a pit latrine. During the raids two residents of the homes were detained for interrogation and then released.
Press and Media Freedom: Independent print and broadcast media could not operate freely. Occupation authorities refused to register most independent media outlets, forcing them to close in 2015. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, after the occupation of Crimea began, many local journalists left Crimea or abandoned their profession. With no independent media outlets left in Crimea and professional journalists facing serious risks for reporting from the peninsula, public activists began reporting on developments in Crimea. The HRMMU noted in a September report on Crimea that there was “continued interference in journalistic activity and a lack of independent reporting.”
The small monthly Ukrainian language newsletter Krymsky Teren, published by the Ukrainian Cultural Center, suspended publication on June 30 after members of the center and their publishing house were warned not to engage in “extremist activities” and threatened. In early December the newsletter resumed publication. On August 29, FSB agents searched the apartment of the editor of Krymsky Teren, Olha Pavlenko, whom they claimed had ties to a Ukrainian nationalist organization. After the search authorities interrogated Pavlenko and confiscated and copied her cell phone and computer. On September 2, she left for mainland Ukraine, citing fears for her safety.
Violence and Harassment: There were numerous cases of Russian security forces or police harassing independent media and detaining journalists in connection with their professional activities. For example, the HRMMU’s September report described an interview with an undercover reporter monitoring trials of Crimean Tatars accused of terrorism, who was questioned by police about his journalistic activity. He was “warned” about the consequences of “wandering around” court hearings and released after writing an explanatory note.
There were reports that authorities failed to investigate violence against journalists. For example, on February 1, journalist Evgeniy Gaivoronskiy reported that an unknown assailant had pushed him to the ground and kicked him multiple times in the center of Yalta. Gaivoronskiy had been receiving threats for several months before the attack. According to press reports, Gaivoronskiy had a history of employment at pro-Russian publications, but he had recently come into conflict with a local real estate developer, Dmitriy Tiukayev, because of his critical reporting on Tiukayev’s building projects. Gaivoronskiy reported the attack to police but said they refused to open an investigation.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Following Russia’s occupation of Crimea, journalists overwhelmingly resorted to self-censorship to continue reporting and broadcasting.
There were reports that media outlets were pressured to remove stories that angered powerful political figures. According to press reports on September 23, local Feodosiya newspaper Gorod-24 published a report about a luxury construction project that fit the description of a home being built for Dmitry Kiselyov, head of the government-owned media agency. According to the article’s author, authorities forced the newspaper’s editor to purchase all printed copies of the paper at her own expense and then arranged her firing. Kiselyov filed a complaint with police, claiming the journalist was engaging in an extortion attempt.
Russian occupation authorities banned most Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar-language broadcasts, replacing the content with Russian programming. According to Crimean Human Rights Group media monitoring, during the year occupation authorities began to jam the signal of four previously accessible Ukrainian radio stations by transmitting Russian radio stations at the same frequencies.
Human rights groups reported Russian authorities forbade songs by Ukrainian singers from playing on Crimean radio stations.
Censorship of independent internet sites became more widespread (see Internet Freedom).
National Security: Authorities cited laws protecting national security to justify retaliation against opponents of Russia’s occupation.
The Russian Federal Financial Monitoring Service (RosFinMonitoring) included prominent critics of the occupation on its list of extremists and terrorists. This prevented these individuals from holding bank accounts, using notary services, and conducting other financial transactions. On September 6, RosFinMonitoring added the names of five critics of the occupation to the list, including Larisa Kitaiska, a local businesswoman convicted of extremism for making comments critical of the occupation that authorities deemed “Russophobic.”
Authorities frequently used the threat of “extremism” or “terrorism” as grounds to justify raids, arrests, and prosecutions of individuals in retaliation for their opposition to the occupation. For example on May 21, Russian security forces raided the houses of Crimean Solidarity activists and bloggers Server Mustafayev and Edem Smailov in Bakhchisaray District and detained them. As of late September, both remained in detention and had been charged with participating in the activities of the Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Russia but legal in Ukraine. Human rights monitors believed that the case against them was politically motivated.
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 dissenting opinions. According to media accounts, occupation authorities interrogated residents of Crimea for posting pro-Ukrainian opinions on Facebook or in blogs.
More than 30 Ukrainian online outlets were among the hundreds that Russian federal authorities blocked in Crimea, including several sites that were not on Russian federal internet block list.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
Russian authorities in Crimea engaged in a widespread campaign to suppress the Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian languages. While Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian are official languages in occupied Crimea, authorities continued to reduce instruction in schools and offered the languages only as optional instruction at the end of the school day. The Mejlis reported authorities continued to pressure Crimean Tatars to use the Cyrillic, rather than the Latin, alphabet.
Despite an April 2017 order by the International Court of Justice to ensure access to education in Ukrainian, there was only one Ukrainian school with Ukrainian as a language of instruction and 13 classes offered Ukrainian as a subject in the curriculum. According to occupation authorities, there were 16 Crimean Tatar schools in the peninsula in the 2017-2018 academic year as compared with 52 in the 2014-2015 academic year. The Crimean Tatar Resource Center reported, however, that this number was substantially inflated.