Tag Archives: Human Rights in Crimea

On 21 September 2020, the Free Russia Foundation submitted a Communication to the International Criminal Court Prosecutor’s Office (in The Hague, Netherlands) seeking accountability for Crimean and Russian authorities concerning international crimes perpetrated during Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea. The Communication was prepared in cooperation with Global Rights Compliance and Center for Civil Liberties and is based on a focused inquiry conducted over the past year. In our inquiry, we documented crimes as part of a systematic, planned attack by the Russian state against civilians and groups in Crimea in order to discourage them from opposing the illegal occupation of Crimea and to force their departure from the peninsula. Crimes against civilians included unlawful arrests, beatings, torture, enforced disappearances, and other inhumane acts causing severe mental and/or physical pain. In particular, the crimes targeted the Crimean Tatars, a native ethnic group who had only recently returned to their homeland, having previously been forcefully and brutally displaced by the Soviet Union in 1944.

One of the principal coercive acts was the illegal detention and concomitant violence before, during, and after the imprisonment of political prisoners. Most of those detained were arrested by Russian and Crimean authorities on terrorism charges, but it was their legal, pro-Ukrainian advocacy that led to their imprisonment. In addition, trials of those arbitrarily detained were conducted in wholesale disregard of their fair trial rights. For example, some of those illegally imprisoned were denied a speedy trial, access to independent lawyers, and the opportunity to defend themselves against their arrest in a courtroom.

In order to force those illegally detained to confess to crimes they did not commit, Russian and Crimean authorities also perpetrated acts of torture and cruel or degrading treatment, the levying of additional charges against them, even more inhumane prison conditions, denial of communications with their families and threats made against them, enforced disappearances, and even, in at least one case, a mock execution.

Other inhumane acts include “punitive psychiatry” and the denial of adequate prison conditions, including the following: (i) feeding people inedible food or, at times, no food at all; (ii) facing severe overcrowding in prisons; (iii) denial of regular water supply; (iv) threats of assault against them by prison cellmates; and (v) adding pork to food – prohibited for observant Muslims. Further, medical attention was systematically inadequate or denied for many individuals.

Concerning acts of torture, it was perpetrated by different Russian authorities, including the FSB. Allegations include the use of electric shocks in an effort to get an accused to confess. One was beaten in the head, kidneys, arms and legs with an iron pipe. With another, fingers were broken. Still another endured spinal bruises and having a plastic bag placed over his head to the point of unconsciousness. Further, threats of sexual violence against a detained man were made. Murder as well. Hands were broken, teeth were knocked out in still another.

Trials were largely held behind closed doors for illegitimate reasons, and many of the witnesses were secret not only to the public but also to the Accused. Further, credible allegations exist that, at times, there were FSB or other agents in the room, silently instructing witnesses what to say and how the judges should rule. This adds credence to words, according to the Kyiv Post, heard by Arsen Dzhepparov from a senior FSB lieutenant who stated “I will prove by all possible – and impossible – means that [an Accused is] guilty – even if he isn’t guilty”.

Concerning the crime of persecution, nearly all of these deprivations of fundamental rights were carried out with discriminatory intent. Specifically, these groups were targeted due to their political view – namely, by peacefully opposing the illegal occupation of their country. Some were targeted on ethnic grounds or religious grounds on the basis of their Crimean Tatar background.

War crimes, another group of crimes punished at the ICC, were also perpetrated in addition to or in the alternative to the crimes against humanity. This includes the crime of torture, outrages against personal dignity, unlawful confinement, wilfully depriving protected persons of the rights of a fair and regular trial, and the transfer of the occupying power of parts of its population into the territory it occupies or the deportation of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory.

All these crimes had the ultimate objective of the criminal enterprise – the removal of pro-Ukrainian elements out of Crimea and the annexation of Crimea into the Russian Federation without opposition, including the installation of pro-Russian elements, which include the emigration of more than 70,000 Russians, the illegal imposition of Russian law in the occupied territory, forcing Russian nationality on many Crimeans, and the appropriation of public property.

Ultimately, we hope that all the information gathered by the ICC in the context of its preliminary investigation will lead the ICC to investigate mid- to high-level Russian and Crimean officials on this basis. The international community expects responsible global leadership that follows the rule of law and expects it – no matter the situation – to be respected, especially from a state that is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. When this fails to happen, the international community must demand accountability. We hope that an investigation can be opened and responsible officials of the Russian Federation will be investigated. After an investigation that conforms to international best practices, responsible persons should be charged with the systematic perpetration of international crimes.

On October 2, 2019, Nariman Memedeminov, a dual citizen of Ukraine and of the Russian Federation, a resident of Crimea, activist of the Crimean Solidarity movement, and a citizen journalist, was sentenced to two years and six months in a penal colony and banned from administering websites for two years in accordance with Part 1 of Article 205.2 of the Criminal Code (“Public calls for terrorist activities”).

In 2013, Mededeminov published videos of events hosted by the Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami (an organization that was legally operating in Ukraine but banned in the Russian Federation) on his YouTube channel. Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Nariman Memedeminov

On June 2, 2020, Free Russia Foundation hosted a congressional discussion on the Fate of Crimean Tatars in the Aftermath of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine. Continue reading The Fate of Crimean Tatars in the Aftermath of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

The Crimean Tatars are a Muslim ethnic minority indigenous to the Crimean Peninsula. They have been among the most vocal critics of the Russian occupation of Crimea, and as a result, the Russian authorities have relentlessly persecuted them.

Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: Prosecution of Crimean Tatars

The Crimean Tatars are “a Muslim ethnic minority indigenous to the Crimean Peninsula.” They have been among the most vocal critics of the Russian occupation of Crimea, and as a result, the Russian authorities have “relentlessly persecuted” them.

Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Emir-Usein Kuku

Continue reading Free Russia Foundation Statement Against Persecution of Human Rights Defenders in Occupied Crimea

Oleg Sentsov, a Ukrainian filmmaker imprisoned by Russian forces in 2014, is on the verge of death. More than one hundred days ago, he began a hunger strike to demand that Russian President Vladimir Putin free sixty-four Ukrainian political prisoners being held in Russia.  Since then, Sentsov has lost almost 70 pounds and suffered cardiac complications. In early August, he confided to his lawyer that “the end was near” and this week he told his cousin that his limbs are going numb. Unless the international community takes urgent action, his uncompromising commitment to freedom will soon kill him.

Policy makers and human rights activists face an all-too-common decision: Do we raise our voices loudly and in unison now, when it can potentially spare one life, or honor yet another opponent of tyranny with a street name following his death? We’ve got enough streets named after dead democrats and courageous freedom fighters. Let’s make an uproar now if only to say we shed a light on those unfairly held in Russia’s modern gulag.

Sentsov’s trouble began soon after Russia illegally annexed Crimea. He was arrested on May 10, 2014, by Russian FSB security forces for peacefully protesting the illegal Russian takeover of Crimea. From his home in the Crimean city of Simferopol, he was jailed and held incommunicado for three weeks. During this time, prison authorities physically abused him, including by suffocation, and threatened him with torture, rape, and murder in an attempt to get him to “confess” to terrorism.  The Russian authorities proceeded to strip him of his Ukrainian citizenship—a blatant violation of international law—and tried him in a military tribunal in Moscow as a Russian citizen. Despite a lack of evidence—including from the main witness against him who retracted his testimony after admitting it had been made under torture—Sentsov was convicted of terrorism and sentenced to twenty years in prison.

​Sentsov’s case is far from unique. Convicting political opponents on manufactured charges and bogus evidence is one of the hallmarks of Putin’s regime, and there are more than 183 political opponents currently imprisoned in Russia. In an attempt to wear them down, they are regularly subjected to torture; inhumane transport, including month-long transits in cramped trains with little access to water and sanitation; and imprisonment in “gulag-like” prison colonies.

​So far, Putin has managed to repress dissent, and Sentsov’s ongoing struggle is an attempt to change this. Sentsov hopes to force Putin to answer for the numerous Ukrainian activists he has imprisoned. Selflessly, Sentsov has not even demanded his own release; rather, he will only end the hunger strike if all other Ukrainian political prisoners are released, and he is willing to obtain his own freedom through death should Putin choose to ignore his demands.

​Unfortunately, Putin appears ready to let Sentsov die. Perhaps Sentsov’s case is a matter of pride. As a Ukrainian prisoner from Crimea, releasing Sentsov to the Ukrainian authorities might undermine Russia’s claim over Crimea. Or perhaps Putin simply wants to show the world that nothing, not even the death of an innocent man, can make him change.

Whatever the case, we must not let Putin have his way. It is time for the international community to stand in solidarity with all of Russia’s political prisoners and take concerted actions to hold Putin accountable. Sentsov’s life depends on it. If we don’t, it’s a defeat for those who believe in human rights and a victory to those who traffic in tyranny.

As an urgent first step, if Sentsov is to be saved, the world must unequivocally call for his immediate release.  As Sentsov’s situation has grown increasingly precarious, a handful of organizations and world leaders, including Amnesty International and French President Emmanuel Macron, have already done so. But to get Putin to listen, we need the United States and other countries and organizations that value democracy and human rights to prioritize Sentsov’s case.

Second, Russia must face serious and tangible consequences. Putin has repeatedly demonstrated that he does not act out of compassion or shame, so we must force him to do what is right. The United States should lead the charge by using all the tools in its arsenal—including significantly expanding sanctions—to force Putin to meet our demands for freedom.

Finally, we must not lose sight of what is at stake. Sentsov may be fighting to free Ukrainian political prisoners specifically, but this fight transcends national boundaries. It is a timeless and universal fight for freedom and justice—the very values that our society is built on. Sentsov has not weeks, but fleeting days left.  And if he dies, so does a part of our humanity.

This article originally appeared on the Atlantic Council’s website

The main photo: Barbed wire and placards with images of Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov are seen after a rally demanding the release of Sentsov, who was jailed on terrorism charges and is currently on hunger strike in Russian jail, in front of the Russian embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo

On May 14, 2018, Oleg Sentsov went on an indefinite hunger strike, demanding the release of 64 Ukrainian political prisoners held by Russia in pre-trial detention centers and penal colonies. Today marks the 16th day of his hunger strike.

Four years earlier, in May 2014, the Russian Federal Security Service arrested the Ukrainian film director Sentsov along with dozens of others. Russian officials claimed that all of the detained activists, including Oleg Sentsov, were Russian citizens.

Sentsov was accused of setting the United Russia party office on fire as well as of participating in the activities of a Ukrainian nationalist organization the Right Sector banned in Russia for extremism. In 2015, Sentsov, who is a resident of Crimea, was sentenced to 20 years in prison.  In 2016, he was sent to the Russian Arctic region of Yakutia, and in October of 2017 transferred to a maximum security penal colony in the city of Labytnangi in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District. This “Polar Bear” colony was established to hold especially violent and dangerous criminals.  Its prisoners are forced to work in 12-hour shifts, in violation of the Russian labor law. The hard labor manual projects usually include making chicken-wire, cinder blocks, barb wire and other construction materials. At least two of the colony’s executives have been under criminal investigation for corruption and abuse of authority. Among violations continuously reported by prisoners is physical abuse and torture.

Sentsov’s story is just one of the many reported and documented instances of horrific violations of human rights unleashed on the inhabitants of the Crimean Peninsula in the aftermath of its invasion and annexation by Russia. Since 2014, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), has received hundreds of such complaints, and while their biggest spike was in 2014, the number is growing again.

In 2014, 21 people were abducted in Crimea by the Russian proxies. More than 10 persons abducted between 2014-2016 are still missing. Other crimes reported in Crimea are arbitrary arrests and detention, most for political purposes of neutralizing and intimidating opposition and dissent.  Russia has labeled extremist and abolished the regional ethnic legislative body of the indigenous Crimean Tatars, the Mejlis.

The Russian annexation of 2014 has plunged the entire peninsula into a new reality of totalitarian repression.  With the Russian military, however, came Russian business. The position of the E.U., U.S., and Canada toward such ventures has been clear from the start. Sanctions have been introduced against a number of Russian individuals and companies operating in Crimea. Western businesses are explicitly banned from association with those on the sanctions list. They are also banned from investing in Crimea, or any of the related energy, transport, tourism projects.

On November 18, 2015, Colliers International signed a Federal contract with Russia’s Vnesheconombank worth 2.3 million rubles ($36,800) to provide marketing research services for the repurposing of historic buildings in St. Petersburg for a hotel complex developed by the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group. This deal was signed against the backdrop of two students detained by the FSB in Crimea on November 19, 2015, for reportedly vandalizing billboards with portraits of Putin. Around the same time, on November 24, 2015, the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court has sent two other Crimean residents, Oleg Sentsov and Olexander Kolchenko, to prison for 20 and 10 years respectively.

On November 11, 2016, Colliers International signed another state contract worth 1,18 million rubles ($18,430), this time with the Simferopol International Airport of Crimea. The contract was to perform analysis of the economic feasibility of establishing an office center in the new terminal of the airport. The new terminal opened in April 2018.

Colliers International performed this contract as Russian forces conducted mass raids and unwarranted searches of the homes of Crimean Tatars (on November 17, 2016) and detained their community leaders.  These searches have been documented and publicized by IlmiUmerov, Deputy Chair of the Tatar Mejlis. On November 14, 2016, persons who presented themselves as agents of the Russian FSB and officials from the Crimean Prosecutor Office, yet failed to produce a legal warrant, cut off electrical power, and raided and searched the Khan Dzhami mosque in Evpatoria. The imam of that mosque was accused of storing and distributing literature banned in Russia. Subsequently, he became the target of a smear campaign carried out in the local press.

On August 15, 2017, Colliers International, signed yet another state contract with Vnesheconombank, this time to provide business management consulting services. The contract was worth 2.95 million rubles ($ 50.000). This happened a day after several Crimean residents, including Lilya Gemeji, had been arrested in Simferopol for solitary pickets in support of the arrested Server Karametov. A week later, on August 24, 2017, two Ukrainian Cultural Center associates Halyna Baloban and Olena Popova were detained and searched by police at the Simferopol train station. The two were suspected of engaging in the illegal activity of celebrating the independence of Ukraine.

Now, just what type of companies are the Collier International, LLC, and its partners? Two companies are registered in Russia under the name of Colliers International LLC, — one in Moscow with registration number INN 7728150075, and another in St. Petersburg, registered under INN 7825453815. Both are owned by Cyprus Checot Holdings Ltd and are part of the Canadian Colliers International, which operates over 500 offices worldwide and specializes in commercial real estate services.

The Rossiya Bank which operates the airport in Simferopol has been on the list of entities sanctioned by Canada and the E.U. since March 2014. The Russian state-owned Vnesheconombank has been on the sanctions list since July 2014.

An attempt by the Municipal Scanner to contact a Colliers International office in Moscow and clarify its corporate position on violation of the E.U. and Canadian sanctions law has yielded no response.