Crimea: Three Years Under Occupation

Three years has passed since the Crimean Peninsula has been annexed. Since then, Crimea has changed beyond recognition. Russia, having violated international law, incorporated part of Ukrainian land into its federation, while enforcing intrinsic legislation, including its most aggressive elements.

Using the media, Russia tried to present the annexation of Crimea, as a correction of a historical error, in view of which it was disposed as a return to the status-quo. In Russia, this idea really gained immense popularity. Within Crimea, this idea was supported mostly by former descendants of the Soviet Union and part of the Russian-speaking population.

It is difficult to assess the scope of support in the referendum as it was organized immediately after the occupation and was conducted in isolation from independent international observers with the armed forces present in the polling stations. But Moscow prefers not to highlight the flip side of this “referendum”.

Referendum in traditional Russian style

If we look back to 2014, officially published results of the referendum showed 97 % votes in favor of annexation with a participation rate of 83 %.

The President of Russia’s Council on Civil Society and Human Rights published several reports with further additions and “corrections”. But even the last updated version of Council’s report entitled “Problems of Crimean Residents” states that “in Crimea, according to various indicators, 50-60% voted for unification with Russia with a voter turnout of 30-50%.”  This data has been publicly available on the official website of the Council since 22, April 2014.[1]

By simple mathematical calculations, we can understand that the prospect of more than two million people living in Crimea was decided by 15%-30% voting for the annexation. Crimean Tatars; the indigenous population of Crimea has boycotted it at all.

Of course, we can argue about the scale of fraud in a referendum. But even the data provided by one of the official Russian institutions shows a huge disparity in the rates.  And the truth is that expected support actually was not received. Despite all of these facts the dubious results of 96.7% acclamatory vote announced by Russian and Crimean authorities, was swallowed by the whole world.

Speaking of those who contented with the annexation, they found themselves in a new reality which will be described further.

New reality in Crimea

Since the takeover, the new «government» started a harsh clampdown on dissenters. The incorporation of the peninsula into the federation was not enough for Russia. Today every inhabitant of Crimea is tasked to accept this fact. Those who are not ready to reconcile with the new reality are equaled to terrorists and extremists and become victims of systematic acts of persecution by various agents of the State.

Any insinuations that Crimea is a part of Ukraine are violently repressed. And those who do not agree with the policy of the new government face all possible methods of reprisals. According to the data provided by СrimeaSOS[2], the established regime has forced more than 60 thousand people,[3] 20 thousand of whom are Crimean Tatars[4] to emigrate from the peninsula.

Since 2014, the Crimean courts have imposed 6 sentences with a total term of 38 years; 32 new criminal and politically motivated cases have been fabricated; more than 39 activists and ordinary citizens were detained,10 of them have already been convicted. Based on reports of the Center for Information on Human Rights in Crimea, in the subsequent three years, more than 460 cases of violations of freedom of speech has been recorded. Moreover, in the occupied territory there was 12 case of murder and 17 pro-Ukrainian activists most of whom are Crimean Tatars went missing.[5] However, these are only approximate official figures, which are available from the Ukrainian side. The true number of citizens suffered due to their position is unknown and has a tendency to rise.

According to the international human rights organization Freedom House; Crimea has become a territory with one of the most negative situations of freedom of speech in the world. Along with Iran and Syria, the peninsula received 94 scores out of 100 possible, on the scale where 100 was the worst result.[6]

Political Persecution

The annexation affected the most united pro-Ukrainian center of resistance – Crimean Tatars, numbering about 15% of the population of Crimean Peninsula. Their main representative body, the Mejlis, consisting of 33 members, was endowed with the status of an extremist organization and banned. The acting Chairman of the Mejlis Refat Chubarov and leader of Crimean Tatar People, Mustafa Dzhemilev, as well as several activists, were barred from entry into Crimea. Those activists who decided to continue their endeavor in their homeland ended up in troubles caused by law enforcements.

We will start with Ahtem Chiyhoz, the deputy head of the Mejlis of Crimean Tatar People who has been in the pretrial detention center due to the very first criminal case named “February 26” against Crimean Tatars in the annexed Crimea for the last two years. This case is a political persecution of a member of the Mejlis, who is accused of organizing and participating in mass riots on February 26, 2014 (an event before annexation). He could face from 8 to 15 years of the colony. Other Crimean Tatars are also part of the case. Two of them have already received suspended sentences, over six more have lasted for more than two years at courts.

In August, former deputy chairman of the Mejlis Ilmi Umerov, who openly opposed the annexation of Crimea, was forcibly placed in a psychiatric hospital. Three weeks later, Umerov was released from the hospital, but he was charged under the article of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, which allows the authorities to pursue opponents of the annexation of Crimea. Today, the investigation of his case is over. After acquaintance, the case will be transferred to the prosecutor’s office, and then to the court.

Political dissidents are subjected to pressure, groundless arrest and harassment. Crimean Tatar activist Ervin Ibragimov[7]went missing on 24 May 2016 near his house in Bakhchysarai, a town in central Crimea. Footage from CCTV camera showed a group of men forcing him into a van and driving away. Ervin Ibragimov has not been heard from since and there are serious concerns about his safety. Another several missing persons were later found dead.

During the three years of the new regime, an investigation into a number of enforced disappearances has not progressed in any manner. Impunity for kidnappings, even recorded on video and the presence of other evidence confirms their politically motivated nature also contribute to an atmosphere of fear and animosity in Crimea against all those who are pro-Ukrainian, including the Crimean Tatars.

Hunting for Crimean Muslims

Along with the ban on the Mejlis, the authorities began to persecute prominent activists with the only purpose of eliminating residual sources of disagreement with the annexation of the peninsula. These persecutions are mostly based on Russian legislation, whose obsessive goal under the Caucasian scenario remains the fight against terrorism and extremism. Regularly more and more people are indicted for supposed membership in Islamic organization Hizb-ut-Tahrir banned by Russian legislation (Article 205.5 of the RF Criminal Code).[8] Thus, “participation” in this organization is punished by the imprisonment for a term from five to seven years. During the investigation, The Federal Security Service often put pressure on witnesses or defendants, intimidating them and forcing them to sign documents that run counter to reality.

For instance, the criminal prosecution carried out against the human rights activist and local civil servant Emir-Usein Kuku. Oppression against him started in 2014 after the representatives of the FSB unsuccessfully tried to recruit him as a secret informer. Earlier, in October 2014 Emir-Usein decided to join the Crimean Contact Group on Human Rights, which was created by relatives of missing people in order to interact with the authorities and monitor the progress of official investigations.

The informal leader of the local Muslim community, Muslim Aliyev was also arrested. The ground of persecution was his critics of the activities of the Crimean Muftiyat; which in the opinion of the majority of the Crimean Tatars traded its loyalty with the occupation authorities. Conflicts provoked criminal prosecution against him over participation in terrorist organization along with Emir-Usein Kuku.

Harassment of lawyers

Lawyers defending the interests of Crimean Tatars and pro-Ukrainian activists also are at risk. Crimean Tatar Human Rights lawyer Emil Kurbedinov has been regularly facing criminal investigations on absurd charges. The lawyer himself associates this with his activities and numerous speeches at public venues, the last of which was in the European Parliament, where he spoke about the situation in Crimea and the circumstances of some criminal cases and the situation of human rights. Similar actions were previously taken against the lawyer Nikolai Polozov, against whom several pre-investigation checks have already been conducted.

Conclusion

The annexation of Crimea entered the modern world history as an unprecedented story. This is definitely an exclusive case in 21st century when in a time of peace one state occupied and annexed a part of a territory of another state, thereby infringing all existing international and intergovernmental agreements. Russia established the control over the territory, that caused large-scale and systematic violations of basic human rights. These actions of Russian authorities became a threat to peace and safety in the world, and led to establishment of occupation regime in Crimea. Whatever Russia does in the fundamental political questions relating to Crimea’s annexation, Russia remains bounded by the full range of international human rights law.

During the year of Russian control, the situation on human rights has been worsened very much. Murders, tortures, kidnappings, repressions against Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian activists, fabricated criminal cases, unlawful searches and restriction of religious freedom have become a result of three years of annexation. The attempt of the new authorities to ban the Mejlis effected every person staying in Crimea.

All the facts mentioned above may worsen inter-ethnic relations and conflicts on the occupied peninsula. In this respect, there is a pressing need to ensure regular and unbiased monitoring of the human rights situation in Crimea through an international presence.


[1] Bobrov, Eugeniy. 2014. Problems Of The Inhabitants Of Crimea [Проблемы Жителей Крыма]. Presidential Council for Civil Society Institutions Development and Human Rights. http://president-sovet.ru/members/blogs/bobrov_e_a/problemy-zhiteley-kryma-/.

[2] CrimeaSOS is a non-governmental organization, implementing partner of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine (UNHCR) in programs related to the protection of Internally displaced people (IDP). Organization provides emergency assistance and an expert organization that coordinates social movements and initiatives on IDPs.

[3] “Three Years of Annexation. [Три Года Аннексии]”. 2017. Freecrimea.Com.Ua.

[4] “About 20 Thousand Crimean Tatars Left The Peninsula – Dzhemilev [Около 20 Тысяч Крымских Татар Оставили Полуостров – Джемилев]”. 2017. Human Rights Information Center. https://ru.krymr.com/a/news/28333377.html.

[5] CrimeaSOS. 2017. Rough Human Rights Violations In The Crimea In 2016. Infographics [Грубые Нарушения Прав Человека В Крыму За 2016 Год. Инфографика]. Analytical Reports On The Crimea. Kyiv. http://krymsos.com/ru/reports/analitichni-zviti-po-krimu/grubi-porushennya-prav-lyudini-v-krimu-za-2016-rik/.

[6] Freedom House. 2017. Crimea: Freedom Of Press. Freedom In The World. Freedom House. https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2016/crimea.

[7] Ervin Ibragimov, a member of the regional Mejlis of Bakhchisaray and the executive committee of the World Congress of the Crimean Tatars

[8] Hizb ut-Tahrir (Arabic: حزب التحرير‎‎ Ḥizb at-Taḥrīr; Party of Liberation) is an international, pan-Islamic political organization, which describes its “ideology as Islam”, and its aim as the re-establishment of “the Islamic Khilafah (Caliphate)” or Islamic state.