The occupation authorities subjected Muslim Crimean Tatars to abductions, forced psychiatric hospitalizations, imprisonment, and detentions, according to human rights and international organizations. In May a member of the Bakhchisaray Mejlis disappeared after he was kidnapped by uniformed men. The former deputy head of the Bakhchisaray office of the Mejlis was confined for several weeks in a psychiatric hospital, as were several other Muslims suspected of affiliation with Hizb ut-Tahrir, a Muslim organization banned in Russia. The authorities sentenced several Muslim Crimean Tatars to prison for alleged involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir activities and arrested approximately 35 more during the year. According to the Russian Ministry of Justice, 365 religious communities had met the deadline established by the occupation authorities for reregistration, while OCHCR reported over 1000 communities recognized under Ukrainian law had not done so. In March the occupation authorities designated the Crimean Tatar Mejlis as an “extremist” organization and banned Mejlis symbols. In response to what they said was Russian pressure on the Crimean SAMC, Mejlis representatives and other Crimean Tatar groups operating in the territory controlled by the Ukrainian government established an independent SAMC. Roman Catholic Church leaders reported continued difficulty in staffing their parishes because of the policies of the occupation. The UGCC reported it was only able to operate under the umbrella of the RCC. The UOC-KP reported the occupation authorities had seized more than a third of its churches and made it difficult for the UOC-KP to lease property. Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.
On May 24, a group of uniformed men kidnapped Ervin Ibragimov, a member of the Bakhchisaray Mejlis and of the Coordinating Council of the World Congress of Crimean Tatars, after stopping his car on a road outside Bakhchisaray. Footage from a closed-circuit television camera showed the men forcing Ibragimov into a car and driving off. According to the Crimea Human Rights Group, the men wore uniforms of the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ traffic police. According to the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine on May 25, Ibragimov’s father went to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) in Simferopol to file a complaint and provide the television footage. The FSB officers reportedly refused to file the complaint and told him to send it by mail. Ibragimov had planned to travel to the town of Sudak on May 25 to attend the court hearing of a group of Crimean Tatars charged with holding an unauthorized gathering on May 18 to mark Crimean Tatar Deportation Remembrance Day. On June 1, Ibragimov’s employment record book and passport were found near a bar in Bakhchisaray. Occupation authorities opened an investigation into the case, which remained open at year’s end with no further information on Ibragimov’s whereabouts.
From August to September, according to reports by the media and human rights NGOs, the former deputy head of the Bakhchisaray Mejlis, Ulmi Umerov, was confined to a psychiatric hospital by the occupation authorities following his detention in May.
On December 7, the Foreign Ministry of Ukraine condemned the forced psychiatric examination of Ukrainian citizens, including Vadym Siruk, Mislim Aliyev, Refat Alimov, and Arsen Dzhepparov, all of whom were detained by the occupation authorities on suspicion of involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir, a Muslim organization outlawed in Russia but legal in Ukraine. Siruk and Mislim Aliyev had been arrested in February.
According to media reports, in September the North Caucasus District Military Court sentenced Ruslan Zeytullayev to seven years in prison for his alleged role in organizing a Sevastopol-based group of Hizb ut-Tahrir followers. Ferat Sayfullayev, Rustem Vaitov, and Nuri Primov each received five-year prison terms for their alleged membership in the group. On December 27, Russia’s Supreme Court reportedly overturned Zeytullayev’s verdict and ordered re-examination of his case. The court upheld the prison sentences of Sayfullayev, Vaitov and Primov, who were originally arrested in 2015.
In a December 15 report, Amnesty International estimated at least 19 individuals were under arrest on charges of being members of Hizb ut-Tahrir. The occupation authorities charged the detainees with participation in a “terrorist” group. Amnesty International reported such charges “either appear manifestly unfounded or there are serious doubts regarding the probity of the respective charges, raising serious fair trial concerns.” Civic activists stated any suspected member of the movement could potentially be charged with and convicted of terrorism. .
On February 11, police conducted searches at the homes of Crimean Tatars and arrested Emir-Usein Kuku, Enver Bekirov, for their suspected involvement with the Hizb ut-Tahrir group in Yalta. On December 6, Simferopol’s Kyiv District Court reportedly granted a three month extension of their detention. The court also extended the detention of Teimur Abdullayev, Ayder Saledinov, Rustem Ismailov, Useir Ambullayev, and Emil Dzhemadenov, citing their participation in a Simferopol-based Hizb ut-Tahrir group.
The press reported the authorities in Bakhchysarai, on May 12, conducted searches and arrested Crimea Tatars Zevri Abseitov, Remzi Memetov, Rustem Abiltarov, and Enver Mamutov for their suspected affiliation with Hizb ut-Tahrir.
On October 12, Chairman of the Central Election Commission of the Kurultai (parliament) of the Crimean People Zair Smedlyaev was quoted in the press as reporting FSB forces had raided the homes of Crimean Tatars, some of whom had returned from the Hajj. The FSB detained Ayder Saledinov, together with Teymur Abdullayev, Uzair Abdullayev, Emil Dzhemadenov, and Rustem Ismailov, reportedly on suspicion of involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir. All remained in custody at year’s end facing potential prison sentences of up to 10 years.
In February the OHCHR, based on information from the Ministry of Justice of Russia, reported 365 religious communities operating in Crimea had reregistered by the January 1 deadline set by the occupation law enforcement. Over 1,000 religious communities recognized under Ukrainian law had not reregistered. The OHCHR stated stringent legal requirements under Russian legislation had either prevented or discouraged reregistration of many religious communities. Many members of religious minorities, especially Crimean Tatars, Greek Catholics, and members of the UOC-KP, had reportedly refused Russian citizenship and were unable under occupation law to register a religious community.
The International Federation for Human Rights and the Ukrainian Helsinki Union for Human Rights condemned what they reported was the persecution of Crimean Tatar Muslims following the Russian authorities’ March 3 designation of the Mejlis as an “extremist organization” and the subsequent ban on Mejlis symbols. According to other human rights groups, authorities had labeled the Mejlis as an extremist organization in order to restrict the rights of Crimean Tatars.
Mejlis leaders stated continued Russian pressure on the SAMC meant it no longer represented the views of its worshipers. On November 19, delegates representing the Mejlis and other Crimean Tatar organizations based in the Ukrainian government-controlled territory held the Congress of Crimean Tatar Religious Organizations in Kyiv, voting unanimously to create an independent SAMC. The congress elected Aider Rustemov as its leader.
Human rights groups reported imams at Crimean Tatar mosques, most of which remained unregistered, continued to have to inform occupation authorities each time they transferred from one mosque to another.
According to RCC representatives, the RCC continued to operate in the territory but as a diocese directly under the authority of the Vatican. The RCC continued to have difficulty in staffing parishes, as many of its priests were Polish or Ukrainian, and authorities continued to require them to register as foreign residents, which allowed the priests to stay in the territory for only 90 days at a time and then required them to stay out of Crimea for 90 days before returning. At the beginning of the year, seven RCC priests reportedly remained on the peninsula.
The UGCC reported it remained unable to operate as an independent church and could only operate as a pastoral district of the RCC.
The media quoted a report by Mufti Said Ismagilov, leader of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Ukraine, saying armed representatives of the occupation authorities had claimed to have found “extremist literature” at a mosque on Mokrousov Street in Simferopol during raids in January and September, but had actually brought the literature to the site in an attempt to fabricate a criminal case against local Muslims.
According to the OHCHR, the UOC-KP’s refusal to cooperate with the de facto Crimean authorities had led to the seizure and closure of its churches. According to the UOC-KP, only nine of the original 15 UOC-KP churches located in the region remained functioning at the end of the year.
In a February 9 interview with Chornomorska TV, Archbishop Klyment, head of the Crimean Diocese of the UOC-KP, said the Russian authorities had handed over part of the UOC-KP diocesan administration office in Simferopol to a private company, contrary to earlier promises to allow the UOC-KP to retain its presence in the region. He expressed concern the Russian authorities might ban the UOC-KP from the peninsula.
The UOC-KP leadership stated Russian occupation authorities continued to raise rents artificially and to prevent the Church from leasing property. After authorities repeatedly ignored a UOC-KP request to reduce the increased rent for the UOC-KP cathedral building in Simferopol, the occupation-run appellate court in Sevastopol, on June 14, reportedly sanctioned the eviction of the UOC-KP from the cathedral, and ordered the UOC-KP to pay a fine of 500,000 Russian rubles ($8,100).
According to the All-Ukraine Union of Pentecostal Churches, on December 2, occupation authorities in Bakhchysarai warned the local Pentecostal congregation, Voice of Hope, to stop using its church building located on Rakytsky Street, citing alleged violations of construction standards. The church building was located opposite a newly built office of a unit of the FSB. The authorities also demanded the congregation remove from the church’s front entrance a banner with the Biblical quote “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.”