Human rights are suppressed and the activities of political opposition are restrained in Crimea and the occupied Donbas. These territories are "not free" according to the latest “Freedom in the World 2020” report, an annual report produced by the international human rights organization Freedom House.
The eastern Donbas, a territory not currently under the control of the Ukrainian authorities, was included in the report for the first time. The territory took fifth place on the level of freedom (the higher the number the better the level of freedom, and vice versa — ed.).
Russia-annexed Crimea took eighth place in the rating as it did in the previous year.
According to the report, people are deprived of the right to freely profess their religion in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics” and in the annexed Crimea. For instance, the religious organization Jehovah's Witnesses was recognized as “extremist” both in the non-government-controlled Donbas and in the occupied Crimea in 2018. Their properties were seized.
Baptists, members of the Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, the Greek Catholic Church and some Muslim communities are also persecuted.
"According to reports, a significant number of religious minorities, including Roman Catholics and Jews, have left the territories of the separatist territories since 2014," the report said.
Interestingly, the eastern Donbas scored negatively on political rights. According to methodology, “it is possible for a country or territory’s total political rights score to be less than zero (between –1 and –4) if it receives mostly or all zeros for each of the 10 political rights questions and it receives a sufficiently large negative score for the political rights discretionary question.”
The eastern Donbas received a “-1/0” for the question “Is the government or occupying power deliberately changing the ethnic composition of a country or territory so as to destroy a culture or tip the political balance in favor of another group?”
The report expands: “Professing Ukrainian identity in the separatist-controlled areas of Donbas is considered dangerous, and most residents who identified as Ukrainian have left since 2014.”
In the so-called "people’s republics" political life is controlled by the security services, which is why there is no political opposition in these territories.
Russian-controlled authorities in annexed Crimea forbid Ukrainian political parties from participating in elections. According to experts, this hinders the coming to power of real political opposition.
By way of contrast, the situation with freedom in government-controlled Ukraine has improved, but the country remains “partly free” at 62, whilst Russia got 20 (“not free”) with Belarus sitting just above it at 19.