As the world marks Human Rights Day on December 10, Crimeans will have spent more than a year and a half under Russia’s occupation, a period during which the human rights situation on the peninsula has drastically deteriorated.
Russia occupied Crimea in March 2014 after a sham referendum that violated the Ukrainian constitution and international law. Since then, Russian occupation authorities have targeted dissenters for prosecution and harassment and cracked down on the independent media that would otherwise report such abuses to the world, according to Crimean journalist Andrii Klymenko.
Shortly after the occupation, Russian authorities gave media outlets in Crimea one year to obtain new Russian media licenses. Media outlets that did not hold a Russian license by the deadline faced fines, equipment confiscation and criminal charges.
Of the over 3,000 media outlets that existed in Crimea before the occupation, less than 300 were granted licenses, and 11 of 12 independent, Tatar-language media outlets were denied licenses and shut down on April 1, 2015.
All those opposing Russia’s takeover of Crimea — mainly ethnic Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars — “have been subjected to increasing pressure on and control of the peaceful expression of both their culture and their political views,” said Astrid Thors, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s high commissioner on national minorities.
Authorities have opened dozens of criminal cases against opponents of the occupation, resulting in pretrial detentions that have lasted for months and long prison terms. For instance, prominent Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov and activist Oleksandr Kolchenko are serving 20- and 10-year sentences, respectively. The two were taken hostage on Ukrainian territory, transported to and imprisoned in Russia, and forced to take Russian citizenship. They reported abuses by Russian authorities, who restricted their access to lawyers, family and others during their pretrial detention.
Prominent Tatar leaders have been banned from Crimea, including Mustafa Dzhemilev, the leading member of the Crimean Tatars’ Mejlis representative body, and Refat Chubarov. Both leaders, who are also members of Ukraine’s parliament, were branded as extremist by occupation authorities.
In the months after Russia’s occupation, several Crimean Tatar activists were reported missing. At least one — Reshat Ametov — has since been found dead, and his body showed signs of torture. “Crimean authorities have a duty to thoroughly investigate this case and punish those responsible, whoever they are,” said Rachel Denber of Human Rights Watch.
Russian authorities have conducted raids on Crimean Tatars’ homes, schools and mosques and have closed the headquarters of the Tatar representative council, according to Daniel Baer, U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Baer and others in the international community remind the world that sanctions related to Crimea will remain in place as long as Russia’s occupation continues. Russia must “end all human rights abuses against the people living in Crimea,” Baer said. “We also call on Russia to end its occupation of the Crimean peninsula without further delay.”