2018 Human Rights Reports: Ukraine (Crimea)

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Report
March 13, 2019

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In February 2014 Russian forces entered Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and occupied it militarily. In March 2014 Russia announced the peninsula had become part of the Russian Federation following a sham referendum that violated Ukraine’s constitution. The UN General Assembly’s Resolution 68/262 on the “Territorial Integrity of Ukraine” of March 27, 2014, and Resolution 73/263 on the “Situation of Human Rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol (Ukraine)”of December 22, 2018, called on states and international organizations not to recognize any change in Crimea’s status and affirmed the commitment of the United Nations to recognize Crimea as part of Ukraine. In April 2014 Ukraine’s legislature (Verkhovna Rada) adopted a law attributing responsibility for human rights violations in Crimea to the Russian Federation as the occupying state. The United States does not recognize the attempted “annexation” of Crimea by the Russian Federation. Russian law has been applied in Ukraine’s Crimea since the Russian occupation and purported “annexation” of the peninsula. For detailed information on the laws and practices of the Russian Federation, see the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARYShare    

A local authority installed by the Russian government and led by Sergey Aksyonov as “prime minister” of the “state council of the republic of Crimea” administers occupied Crimea. The “state council” is responsible for day-to-day administration and other functions of governing. In 2016 Russia’s nationwide parliamentary elections included seats allocated for purportedly annexed Crimea, a move widely condemned by the international community and that contravened the Ukrainian constitution.

Russian authorities maintained control over Russian military and security forces deployed in Crimea. Russian security services continued to consolidate control over Crimea and restrict human rights. Occupation authorities imposed and disproportionately applied repressive Russian Federation laws on the Ukrainian territory of Crimea.

Human rights issues included: disappearances; torture, including punitive psychiatric incarceration; mistreatment of persons in detention as punishment or to extort confessions; harsh prison conditions and removing prisoners to Russia; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners; pervasive interference with privacy; severe restrictions on freedom of expression and the media, including closing outlets and violence against journalists; restrictions on the internet, including blocking websites; gross and widespread suppression of freedom of assembly; severe restriction of freedom of association, including barring the Crimean Tatar Mejlis; restriction of freedom of movement and on participation in the political process; systemic corruption; and systemic discrimination against Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians.

Russian-installed authorities took few steps to investigate or prosecute officials or individuals who committed human rights abuses, creating an atmosphere of impunity and lawlessness. Occupation and local “self-defense” forces often did not wear insignia and committed abuses with impunity.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:Share    

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

Russian occupation authorities did not adequately investigate cases of abductions and killings of Crimean residents from 2014 and 2015. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 12 Crimean residents who had disappeared during the occupation were later found dead. Occupation authorities did not investigate other suspicious deaths and disappearances, occasionally categorizing them as suicide. Human rights observers reported that families frequently did not challenge findings in such cases due to fear of retaliation.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of abductions and disappearances by occupation authorities. For example, according to the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU), a Kharkiv resident disappeared at the Russian Federation-controlled side of the administrative boundary on April 11. The Federal Security Service (FSB) initially detained the victim without charge. Documents reviewed by the HRMMU indicated further formalized detention of the victim for 12 days, allegedly for committing an administrative offense. On the day when he was supposed to be released, he disappeared again. Despite efforts of relatives and human rights defenders to inquire about the whereabouts of the victim, the law enforcement and penitentiary institutions in Crimea failed to provide any information.

According to September data by the HRMMU, from 2014 to June 30, 2018, 42 persons were victims of enforced disappearances. The victims (38 men and four women) include 27 ethnic Ukrainians, nine Crimean Tatars, four Tajiks, one person of mixed Tatar-Russian origins, and one Uzbek. Twenty-seven were released after being illegally detained for periods lasting from a few hours to two weeks; 12 were missing and feared dead by their relatives; two were held in custody; and one was found dead. According to the HRMMU, in none of these cases have the perpetrators been brought to justice. Russian occupation authorities did not adequately investigate the deaths and disappearances. Human rights groups reported that police often refused to register reports of disappearances and intimidated and threatened with detention those who tried to report a disappearance. Ukrainian government and human rights groups believed Russian security forces kidnapped the individuals for opposing Russia’s occupation to instill fear in the population and prevent dissent.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

There were widespread reports Russian authorities in Crimea tortured and otherwise abused residents who opposed the occupation. Human rights monitors reported that Russian occupying forces subjected Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians in particular to physical abuse. For example, on June 28, members of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) searched Crimean Tatar activist Akhtem Mustafayev’s house and detained him. FSB officers put a plastic bag over his head and brought him to the basement of an unknown building. Unknown men beat him, forced him to his knees with his hands cuffed behind his back, and threatened that no one would ever find him. He was reportedly tortured for four hours and immediately fled for mainland Ukraine after being released.

Occupation authorities demonstrated a pattern of using punitive psychiatric incarceration as a means of pressuring detained individuals. On June 28, occupation authorities committed Crimean Tatar journalist Nariman Memedinov to a psychiatric hospital for a mental health evaluation that human rights advocates believed to be a punitive measure in retaliation for his vocal opposition to the occupation. Memedinov had previously been arrested on March 22 on terrorism charges that were widely considered to be politically motivated. The charges were based on videos he posted on YouTube in 2013 in which authorities alleged he recruited people to join Hizb ut-Tahrir, a group that is banned in Russia but legal in Ukraine. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, as of early October, 17 Crimean Tatar defendants had been subjected to psychiatric evaluation and confinement against their will without apparent medical need since the beginning of the occupation (see section 1.d.).

Human rights monitors reported that occupation authorities also threatened individuals with violence or imprisonment if they did not testify in court against individuals authorities believed were opposed to the occupation.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions reportedly remained harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding and poor conditions.

Physical Conditions: The HRMMU reported that detainees were often held in conditions amounting to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, and that health care in prisons deteriorated after the occupation began.

According to the Crimean Human Rights group, 31 Crimean prisoners had been transferred to the Russian Federation since occupation began in 2014. One factor in the transfers was the lack of specialized penitentiary facilities in Crimea, requiring the transfer of juveniles, persons sentenced to life imprisonment, and prisoners suffering from serious physical and mental illnesses.

According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, at least four persons, including two Crimean Tatars, died under suspicious circumstances in the Simferopol pretrial detention center in April. On April 6, Server Bilialov and Oleg Goncharov were allegedly found hanged. On April 12, Dmitriy Shaposhnik was found hanged in a punishment cell. On April 13, Islam Iskerov was found with his throat slit in an isolation cell. The Federal Penitentiary Service Department of Russia officially confirmed three of the deaths; occupation authorities, however, did not open an investigation.

There were reports of physical abuse by prison guards. For example, on July 20, more than 70 convicts at the Kerch Penal Colony Number Two filed a complaint with prison authorities alleging systematic severe beatings and other forms of abuse at the facility. The occupation authorities’ appointed “human rights ombudsman,” Lyudmila Lubina, who was generally not considered to provide independent oversight of government actions, called the treatment of prisoners at the colony “barbaric.”

In June Crimean Tatar detainee Izmail Ramazanov filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights alleging inhuman conditions at the Simferopol pretrial detention center, citing overcrowding, cells covered in mold, the housing of prisoners with tuberculosis with healthy prisoners, and poor ventilation and sanitation. The HRMMU reported that detainees in the facility had to sleep in shifts due to overcrowding.

Prison authorities reportedly retaliated against detainees who refused Russian Federation citizenship by placing them in smaller cells or in solitary confinement.

Independent Monitoring: Occupation authorities did not permit monitoring of prison or detention center conditions by independent nongovernmental observers or international organizations. Occupation authorities permitted the “human rights ombudsman,” Lyudmila Lubina, to visit prisoners, but human rights activists regarded Lubina as representing the interests of occupation authorities and not an independent actor.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Role of the Police and Security Apparatus

Russian government agencies, including the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the FSB, the Federal Investigative Committee, and the Office of the Prosecutor General applied and enforced Russian law in Crimea. The FSB also conducted security, counterintelligence, and counterterrorism activities and combatted organized crime and corruption. A “national police force” operated under the aegis of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs.

In addition to abuses committed by Russian forces, “self-defense forces”--largely consisting of former Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs officers allegedly linked to local organized crime--reportedly continued to operate and commit abuses. These forces often acted with impunity in intimidating perceived occupation opponents and were involved in extrajudicial detentions and arbitrary confiscation of property. The HRMMU cited the FSB as the most common perpetrator of abuses in recent years, while Crimean “self-defense forces” committed most abuses in the earlier years of the occupation.

According to human rights groups, there was total impunity for human rights abuses committed by both Russian occupation authorities and Crimean “self-defense forces.”

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

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.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrests continued to occur as a means of instilling fear, stifling opposition, and inflicting punishment on those who opposed the occupation. According to the HRMMU, in many cases victims were neither charged nor tried but were detained as a form of extrajudicial punishment or harassment. Detention under such circumstances usually lasted from several hours to several days, in which victims were often held incommunicado and sometimes subjected to abuse during interrogations. The HRMMU noted the prevalence of members of the Crimean Tatar community among those apprehended during police raids. Detainees were typically taken to a police station, photographed, fingerprinted, and made to provide DNA samples before being released. For example on January 25, authorities raided Crimean Tatar homes in several cities. During the raids, they arrested two Crimean Tatar activists, Enver Krosh and Ebazer Islyamov, and charged them with “propagating extremist symbols and organizations,” charges rights groups described as baseless.

There were reports that authorities arbitrarily arrested the family members of known dissidents to exert pressure on them. For example, on July 19, representatives of the FSB searched the house of the Aliev family. Their target was the daughter of Muslim Aliev, a political prisoner. The FSB brought her to the Investigative Committee in Alushta for interrogation and released her after a couple of hours.

On November 25, Russian authorities fired on and seized three Ukrainian naval ships and 24 crew attempting legally to transit the Kerch Strait. The crewmembers were brought to Kerch Prison, Crimea and then Lefortovo detention center in Moscow, where they subsequently asserted their rights to detainee status under the Geneva Convention of 1949. Russia treated them instead as criminals; a Simferopol “court” sentenced them to two months’ detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Under the Russian occupation regime, the “judiciary” was neither independent nor impartial. Judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys were subject to political directives from occupation authorities, and the outcomes of trials appeared predetermined by government interference. The HRMMU documented 39 cases between September 2017 and June where due process and fair trial guarantees were disregarded by Crimea occupation authorities, including judges, prosecutors, investigators, police, and FSB officers.

Trial Procedures

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 interfered with defendants’ ability to access an attorney. For example on May 4, FSB officers detained five crewmen of a Ukrainian fishing boat near the coast of Crimea for a month and a half under inhuman conditions at the FSB border control facility in Balaklava. During their detention, the men did not have access to a Ukrainian consul or lawyers. FSB officers psychologically pressured and intimidated the men during interrogations. The crew did not have access to lawyers. The vessel’s captain, Viktor Novitsky, was charged with “illegal extraction of marine biological resources in the exclusive economic zone of the Russian federation.” No charges were filed against the other members of the crew. On September 30, they were released and left Crimea.

According to the HRMMU defendants facing terrorism or extremism-related charges were often pressured into dismissing their privately hired lawyers in exchange for promised leniency. For example the HRMMU’s September report on Crimea described three Crimean Tatar defendants who cancelled a contract with their lawyers after being prompted to do so by FSB officers and warned, through their family members, that having “pro-Ukrainian” lawyers would damage their defense.

Occupation authorities retroactively applied Russian Federation laws to actions that took place before the occupation began. The HRMMU documented at least 10 such cases since September 2017, including sentences imposed for years-old social media posts and for taking part in protest actions that occurred before the occupation began.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

Human Rights advocates estimated there were more than 60 political prisoners in occupied Crimea; the Crimean Tatar Mejlis organization claimed that by the end of the year Russia held 96 Ukrainian citizen political prisoners, of whom 63 were Crimean Tatar. Charges of extremism, terrorism, or violation of territorial integrity were particularly applied to opponents of the occupation, such as Crimean Tatars, independent journalists, and individuals expressing dissent on social media. The HRMMU noted that justifications underpinning the arrests of alleged members of “terrorist” or “extremist” groups often provided little evidence that the suspect posed an actual threat to society by planning or undertaking concrete actions.

Russian occupation authorities also transferred Crimean cases to Russia’s legal system and changed the venue of prosecution for some detainees.

On July 5, an occupation “court” in Crimea sentenced Ukrainian activist Volodymyr Balukh to five years in a penal colony and imposed a fine of 10,000 rubles ($170). The five-year sentence was the combination of a previous three year, five month sentence imposed on him in January for supposed “weapons possession,” plus additional time for allegedly “disrupting the activities of a detention center.” The January conviction resulted from a retrial after his October 2017 conviction on the same charges was overturned. Both charges were seen as retaliation for Balukh’s pro-Ukrainian views, which he displayed by hanging a plaque and Ukrainian flag in the courtyard of his house. The FSB initially detained Balukh in 2016, claiming it found ammunition and explosives in the attic of his house. Human rights defenders asserted that the material was planted. Balukh had been repeatedly threatened by authorities to remove pro-Ukrainian symbols or face prosecution. On March 19, Balukh went on a hunger strike, during which prison authorities denied him a medical examination, despite indications that his health was deteriorating. He ended his hunger strike on October 9, after being notified that he was to be transferred to the Russian Federation to serve his sentence.

On July 13, the “supreme court” of Crimea convicted Ukrainian citizen Yevhen Panov of plotting sabotage against Crimea’s military facilities and critical infrastructure. He was sentenced to eight years in a high-security penal colony. Occupation authorities arrested Panov in August 2016. According to human rights groups, the case against Panov bore signs of political motivation, including indications that Panov had been subjected to electric shocks and other forms of torture in an attempt to coerce his confession and a lack of other evidence against him.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

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 and others engaged in electronic surveillance, entered residences and other premises without warrants, and harassed relatives and neighbors of perceived opposition figures.

Russian occupation authorities routinely conducted raids on homes to intimidate the local population, particularly Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians, ostensibly on the grounds of searching for weapons, drugs, or “extremist literature.” The HRMMU documented 38 such searches between January and June; 30 of these concerned properties of Crimean Tatars.

Human rights groups reported that Russian authorities had widespread authority to tap telephones and read electronic communications and had established a network of informants to report on suspicious activities. According to Mejlis members, Russian authorities had invited hundreds of Crimean Tatars to “interviews” where authorities played back the interviewees’ telephone conversations and read their email aloud. Authorities reportedly encouraged state employees to inform on their colleagues who might oppose the occupation. According to human rights advocates, eavesdropping and visits by security personnel created an environment in which persons were afraid to voice any opinion contrary to the occupation authorities, even in private.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:Share    

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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.

Internet Freedom

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.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

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.

Individuals opposing the occupation reported widespread harassment and intimidation by occupation authorities to suppress their ability to assemble peacefully. For example, the press reported on October 11 that authorities in Armyansk had issued a warning to a local resident, Yekaterina Pivovar, not to violate laws governing public protests. Pivovar had allegedly been planning to organize a group of local mothers to assemble outside city hall to demand a meeting with local officials. The mothers were concerned about the impact of toxic sulfur dioxide gas being released since late August from a nearby titanium plant on the health of their children.

A 2017 regulation limits the places in Crimea where public events may be held to 366 listed locations. The HRMMU noted that the “regulation” restricted freedom of assembly to a shrinking number of “specially designated spaces,” an unnecessary move that appeared “designed to dissuade the exercise of the right of freedom of assembly.”

Authorities fined individuals for conducting single-person pickets, the only type of protest that is supposed to be permitted without official permission under the legal system that Russia has imposed on occupied Crimea. According to the HRMMU, between December 2017 and March, occupation “courts” fined 80 Muslim men, who had conducted single-person pickets in October 2017 to protest the arrests of other Muslim men, mostly Crimean Tatars, for alleged membership in terrorist or extremist organizations.

There were reports of occupation authorities using coercive methods to provide for participation at rallies in support of the “government.” Students, teachers and civil servants were forced to attend a commemoration event on the day of deportation of the Crimean Tatars organized by Crimean-occupation authorities in Simferopol on May 18.

There were reports that occupation authorities charged and fined individuals for allegedly violating public assembly rules in retaliation for gathering to witness security force raids on homes.

Freedom of Association

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 broadly restricted freedom of association for individuals that opposed the occupation. For example, there were numerous reports of authorities taking steps to harass, intimidate, arrest, and imprison members of the human rights group Crimean Solidarity, an unregistered movement of friends and family of victims of repression by occupation authorities. Two of the group’s leaders, Emir-Usain Kuku and Server Mustafayev, remained in pretrial detention as of November on charges of allegedly belonging to the Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir. Human rights monitors believed the cases against both men to be politically motivated and without basis. On January 27, law enforcement officers in Sudak disrupted a Crimean Solidarity civic group meeting attended by 150 persons. Law enforcement officers allegedly searched for drugs and weapons and questioned and photographed participants at the gathering. On October 27, in Simferopol, officials from the “prosecutor general’s office” accompanied by a contingent of armed men in masks and uniformed police raided another Crimean Solidarity meeting. The officials issued formal warnings to three members of the group, whom authorities claimed were poised to violate “counterterrorism and counterextremism” legislation by purportedly planning to hold a series of single-person pickets. On October 28, occupation authorities blocked the group’s website.

The Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people remained banned for purported “extremism” despite an order by the International ?ourt of Justice requiring that Russian authorities “refrain from maintaining or imposing limitations on the ability of the Crimean Tatar community to conserve its representative institutions, including the Mejlis.” On October 29, occupation authorities announced plans to “nationalize” the Mejlis building in Simferopol, which they had seized in 2014, by transferring it to a Muslim organization that supported the occupation. Following the 2016 ban on the Crimean Tatar Mejlis as an “extremist organization,” occupation authorities banned gatherings by Mejlis members and prosecuted individuals for discussing the Mejlis on social media (see section 6).

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

Russian occupation authorities did not respect rights related to freedom of movement and travel.

In-country Movement: Occupation authorities maintained a state border at the administrative boundary between mainland Ukraine and Crimea. According to the HRMMU, this border and the absence of public transportation between Crimea and mainland Ukraine continued to undermine freedom of movement to and from the peninsula, affecting mainly the elderly, people with limited mobility, and young children.

There were reports occupation authorities selectively detained and at times abused persons attempting to enter or leave Crimea. According to human rights groups, Russian authorities routinely detained adult men at the administrative boundary for additional questioning, threatened to seize passports and documents, seized telephones and memory cards, and questioned them for hours. For example, according to the HRMMU, on March 8, the FSB detained a Crimean Tatar man for 12 hours and subjected him to physical violence in order to force him to testify against Crimean Tatar acquaintances suspected of being members of “radical” Muslim groups.

Occupation authorities prohibited entry into Crimea by Mustafa Jemilev and Refat Chubarov, members of the Verkhovna Rada, and the former and current chairmen of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, respectively; by Crimean Tatar activist Sinaver Kadyrov; and by Ismet Yuksel, general director of the Crimean News Agency, on the pretext that they would incite radicalism.

According to the HRMMU, Ukrainian legislation restricts access to Crimea to three designated crossing points and imposes sanctions, including long-term entry bans, in case of noncompliance. Crimean residents lacking Ukrainian passports, who only possess Russian-issued Crimean travel documents not recognized by Ukrainian authorities, often faced difficulties when crossing into mainland Ukraine.

Citizenship: Russian occupation authorities required all residents of Crimea to be Russian citizens. Those who refused Russian citizenship could be subjected to arbitrary expulsion. Multiple citizens of Ukraine were deported from Crimea for violating the Russian Federation’s immigration rules. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, during the first four years of Russia’s occupation, over 2,000 Ukrainians were prosecuted for not having Russian documents and 336 persons have been deported.

On February 13, the Yevpatoria city court ruled against 23 citizens of Ukraine. They were fined 5,000 Russian rubles ($76) each and administratively expelled to mainland Ukraine for working without a labor license.

Residents of Crimea who chose not to adopt Russian citizenship were considered foreigners. In some cases, they could obtain a residency permit. Persons holding a residency permit without Russian citizenship, however, were deprived of key rights and could not own agricultural land, vote or run for office, register a religious congregation, or reregister a private vehicle. Authorities denied those who refused Russian citizenship access to government employment, education, and health care, as well as the ability to open bank accounts and buy insurance, among other limitations.

According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, Russian authorities prosecuted private employers who continued to employ Ukrainians. Fines could be imposed on employers for every recorded case of employing a Ukrainian citizen without a labor license. Fines in such cases amounted to several million dollars.

In some cases, authorities compelled Crimean residents to surrender their Ukrainian passports, complicating international travel, because many countries did not recognize passports issued by Russian occupation authorities.

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)

Approximately 27,600 residents of Crimea registered as IDPs on the mainland, according to the Ministry of Social Policy. The Mejlis and local NGOs, such as Krym SOS, believed the actual number could be as high as 100,000, as most IDPs remained unregistered. Many individuals fled due to fear that occupation authorities would target them for abuse because of their work as political activists or journalists. Muslims, Greek Catholics, and Evangelical Christians who left Crimea said they feared discrimination due to their religious beliefs.

Crimean Tatars, who made up the largest number of IDPs, said they were concerned about pressure on their community, including an increasing number of arbitrary searches of their homes, surveillance, and discrimination. In addition, many professionals left Crimea because Russian occupation authorities required them to apply for Russian professional licenses and adopt Russian procedures in their work.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political ProcessShare    

Recent Elections: Russian occupation authorities prevented residents from voting in Ukrainian national and local elections since Crimea’s occupation began in 2014.

On March 18, the Russian Federation held presidential election and included the territory of occupied Crimea. The Crimea Human Rights Group recorded incidents in which occupation authorities coerced residents into voting in the elections, including through threats of dismissals and wage cuts.

HRMMU reported pressure on public sector employees to vote in order to ensure high turnout. Some voters stated their employers required them to photograph themselves at the polling station as evidence of their participation. For example the Crimean Human Rights Group reported that in the Krasnoperekopsk district three days before the election, teachers were instructed to report to the principal that they and their family members voted. On voting day, teachers received phone calls from the principal threatening termination of employment if they did not vote.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in GovernmentShare    

Corruption: There were multiple reports during the year of systemic rampant corruption among Crimean “officeholders,” including through embezzlement of Russian state funds allocated to support the occupation. For example on October 17, Russian police in Moscow arrested Vitaliy Nakhlupin, the “deputy prime minister” of Crimea, and charged him with taking unspecified bribes, reported by media to be related to the construction of the Kerch bridge and other road construction projects.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human RightsShare    

Most independent human rights organizations ceased activities in Crimea following Russia’s occupation. Occupation authorities refused to cooperate with independent human rights NGOs, ignored their views, and harassed human rights monitors and threatened them with fines and imprisonment.

Russia continued to deny access to the peninsula to international human rights monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in PersonsShare    

Children

Birth Registration: Under both Ukrainian law and laws imposed by Russian occupation authorities, either birthplace or parentage determines citizenship. Russia’s occupation and purported annexation of Crimea complicated the question of citizenship for children born after February 2014, since it was difficult for parents to register a child as a citizen with Ukrainian authorities. Registration in Ukraine required a hospital certificate, which is retained when a birth certificate is issued. Under the occupation regime, new parents could only obtain a Russian birth certificate and did not have access to a hospital certificate. In 2016 the Ukrainian government instituted a process whereby births in Crimea could be recognized with documents issued by occupation authorities.

Institutionalized Children: There were reports Russian authorities continued to permit kidnapping of orphans in Crimea and transporting them across the border into Russia for adoption. Ukraine’s government did not know the whereabouts of the children.

Anti-Semitism

According to Jewish groups, an estimated 10-15,000 Jews lived in Crimea, primarily in Simferopol. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Since the beginning of Russia’s occupation, authorities singled out Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians for discrimination, abuse, deprivation of civil liberties and religious and economic rights, and violence, including killings and abductions (also see sections 1.a.-1.d., 1.f., 2.a., 2.b., and 2.d.).

There were reports that government officials openly advocated discrimination and violence against Crimean Tatars. Occupation authorities harassed Crimean Tatars for speaking their language in public and forbade speaking it in the workplace. There were reports teachers prohibited schoolchildren from speaking Crimean Tatar to one another. Crimean Tatars were prohibited from celebrating their national holidays and commemorating victims of previous abuses. For example on May 17, occupation authority law enforcement officers detained 14 persons who had gathered for an event commemorating victims of the Crimean Tatar deportation from Simferopol in 1944.

Occupation authorities also restricted the use of Crimean Tatar flags and symbols.

Occupation authorities placed restrictions on the Spiritual Administration of Crimean Muslims, which was closely associated with Crimean Tatars. According to human rights groups, Russian security services routinely monitored prayers at mosques for any mention that Crimea remained part of Ukraine. Russian security forces also monitored mosques for anti-Russian sentiment and as a means of recruiting police informants.

In April 2017 the International Court of Justice ruled, in response to Ukraine’s January 17 request for provisional measures concerning the Application of the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism and of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, that the Russian Federation must refrain from maintaining or imposing limitations on the ability of the Crimean Tatar community to conserve its representative institutions, including the Mejlis. Nevertheless, Russian occupation authorities continued to ban the Mejlis and impose restrictions on Crimean Tatars.

Russian occupation authorities also targeted ethnic Ukrainians. By the end of 2014, Ukrainian as a language of instruction was removed from university-level education in Crimea. According to the HRMMU, in the 2017-2018 academic year instruction in Ukrainian was provided in one Ukrainian school and there were 13 available Ukrainian language classes in Russian schools that were attended by 318 children. In April 2017 the International Court of Justice ruled on provisional measures in proceedings brought by Ukraine against the Russian Federation, concluding unanimously that the Russian Federation must “ensure the availability of education in the Ukrainian language.”

Occupation authorities have not permitted churches linked to ethnic Ukrainians, in particular the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP) and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, to register under Russian law. Occupation authorities harassed and intimidated members of the churches and used court proceedings to force the UOC-KP in particular to leave properties it had rented for years. As of June 30, the number of registered religious organizations in Crimea decreased by 45 percent in comparison with preoccupation period.

Russian occupation authorities targeted businesses and properties belonging to ethnic Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars for expropriation and seizure. On April 26, Crimean Tatar philanthropist and businessman Resul Velilyaev, an owner of a leading food wholesale company and retail network, was arrested and transferred to Lefortovo prison in Moscow on the pretext that some of his food products had exceeded their shelf-life dates. Observers believed his arrest was connected to his support for Crimean Tatar cultural heritage projects. In late September, a Moscow court extended his arrest until December 28.

Russian occupation authorities prohibited Crimean Tatars affiliated with the Mejlis from registering businesses or properties as a matter of policy.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Human rights groups and local LGBTI activists reported that most LGBTI individuals fled Crimea after the Russian occupation began. Those who remained live in fear of verbal and physical abuse due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

According to HRMMU, NGOs working on access to healthcare among vulnerable groups, have found it impossible to advocate for better access to healthcare for LGBTI persons because of fear of retaliation by occupation authorities.

Russian occupation authorities prohibited any LGBTI group from holding public events in Crimea. According to HRMMU, LGBTI residents of Crimea faced difficulties with finding a safe environment for gatherings because of the overall hostile attitude towards the manifestation of LGBTI identity. In May a gay-friendly hotel closed due to continuous and unwarranted inspections, accusations of extremism, harassment by authorities, and an organized campaign of telephone threats by “city residents.” LGBTI individuals faced increasing restrictions on their right to assemble peacefully, because occupation authorities enforced a Russian law that criminalizes the so-called propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors (see section 6 of the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia).

Section 7. Worker RightsShare    

Russian occupation authorities announced the labor laws of Ukraine would no longer be in effect after the start of 2016 and that only the laws of the Russian Federation would apply.

Russian occupation authorities imposed the labor laws and regulations of the Russian Federation on Crimean workers, limited worker rights, and created barriers to freedom of association, collective bargaining, and the ability to strike. Trade unions are formally protected under Russian law, but limited in practice. As in both Ukraine and Russia, employers were often able to engage in antiunion discrimination and violate collective bargaining rights. The pro-Russian authorities threatened to nationalize property owned by Ukrainian labor unions in Crimea. Ukrainians who did not accept Russian citizenship faced job discrimination in all sectors of the economy. Only holders of Russian national identification cards were allowed to work in “government” and municipal positions. Labor activists believed that unions were threatened in Crimea to accept “government” policy without question and faced considerable restrictions on advocating for their members.

Although no official data were available, experts estimated there was growing participation in the underground economy in Crimea.


IN THIS SECTION: Ukraine | Crimea (ABOVE)