Ukrainian media united in their effort to condemn persecutions of Crimean Tatar civic journalists by signing a joint declaration.
On the opening day of the seventh Lviv Media Forum, on May 30, 2019, a civic journalist Lutfie Zudieva, and a wife of the Crimean political prisoner Mumine Saliyeva were arrested in the occupied Crimea. Lutfie Zudieva spoke at the forum in 2018. Both were later released, with fines imposed. Still, there are hundreds of political prisoners, including civic journalists, remaining in the occupied Crimea and Russia.
On 27 March 2019, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officers raided houses of Crimean Tatars located in the city of Simferopol, Bilohirsky, and Krasnohvardiysky districts in the occupied Crimea. At least 23 Crimean Tatars were detained. They are being accused of organizing and participating in activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir religious organization, declared as a terrorist one by the Russian Federation. At the same time, it legally operates in Ukraine.
Among those detained in March 2019 were human rights defenders and civic journalists Remzi Bekirov, Osman Arifmemetov, and Rustem Sheikhaliev were arrested. For a long time, they have been covering raids, searches, trials, and other violations of human rights on social media in the conditions of an actual information blockade on the part of occupying authorities.
Rustem Sheikhaliev, a civic journalist of Crimean Solidarity, was arrested during a search in his house in the Kamyanka district of Simferopol. On May 24, the Rostov Regional Court ruled to leave Sheikhaliyev in detention.
Remzi Bekirov was arrested by the occupying authorities twice: in February 2017 he was detained for five days for the support of his friend and journalist Marlen Mustafayev, who was arrested in his home. In March-April 2017 he was detained for posts on social media made seven years before.
Osman Arifmemetov was also detained during the search of the house of Marlen Mustafayev - he took pictures of raids and searches conducted by the Russian special police unit OMON.
During the last arrest of Bekirov and Arifmemetov in Rostov-on-Don, they were beaten to the point of loss of consciousness. After which they were taken to a forest where tortures continued. They remain in the remand prison.
In light of the above, we call:
- to immediately stop the persecution of civic journalists, including administrative arrests, charges of criminal nature, confiscation of property and other reprisals and extend to them all the guarantees that are provided to professional journalists;
- to exert pressure on the Russian Federation and the de facto authorities in Crimea to stop the persecution of civic journalists and make sure that they can perform the public watchdog function without interference in their freedom of expression;
- Ukrainian, independent Russian and international media to support civic journalists as colleagues in situations where they are victims of repression and persecution, express their public opinion regarding the unlawful arrest of civic journalists;
- to provide possible assistance in coverage of acts of systematic persecution of civic journalists;
- to provide civil monitoring by professional media, human rights defenders, and the consul of Ukraine of how the processes develop in the annexed Crimea and in Russia, where the detainees are taken; to provide the necessary protection in the remand prisons of those civic journalists who were victims of repression;
- to appeal to international organizations to inform of the fact of systematic persecution of independent media, and civic journalists in order to stop such persecution;
- to guarantee unhampered access to the public space, places of violations, to enable independent, and civic journalists in Crimea to carry out their professional activities;
- to ensure the necessary protection of those civic journalists who have become victims of repressions and support professional activities of civic journalists in Crimea.
Editors, individual media, and other organizations can join:
Declaration signed by:
NGO "Lviv Media Forum"
NGO "Hromadske Television"
School of Journalism, Ukrainian Catholic University
NGO "Crimean House"
NGO "Hromadske Radio"
NGO "Laboratory of Digital Security"
NGO "Media Development Fund"
NGO "Media Detector"
“Skhemy” (Schemes) program team, Radio Liberty
"Nashi Hroshi" (Our Money) program
Tetiana Lebedieva, media expert
Otar Dovzhenko, media expert
Information portal "First Krivorizhsky", editor-in-chief Sofia Skyba
Alla Koshliak, journalist
Online magazine TSUKR
Public organization "Misto Rozumnykh" (City of the Clever)
Darya Gots, Vinnytsia information portal "Vezha"
Kateryna Krolevska, media expert
Olha Surovska, newspaper "Reporter"
Victoria Kushnir (editor of "Fakty Zaporizhzhia")
Yevhen Hlibovytskyi, member of supervisory board of Suspilne TV
All-Ukrainian civic movement "Power of the Law"
"Yurydychna Gazeta" (Legal Newspaper)
"Black Sea" TV and Radio company
Zoya Krasovska, media expert
Charitable Organization "Committee for Medical Aid in Zakarpattya"
Halyna Koynash, Kharkiv Human Rights Group
Independent Media Center
Local media development agency "Abo"
Kateryna Serhatskova, journalist
Danylo Mokryk, journalist
Khrystyna Berdynskykh, journalist
The infringement upon the freedom of information in the occupied Crimea has started simultaneously with the beginning of the military invasion in February 2014. The human rights organizations report more than 450 violations of freedom of the media in Crimea since the occupation. The elements of their politics include a cumbersome media registration process, refusals to register or re-register Crimean media outlets, and blocking of various websites, and social media groups. Independent TV channels, and radio stations in Crimea were put under so much pressure that an absolute majority of such outlets had to leave the peninsula. Under the pretext of “fighting terrorism, extremism, and separatism,” criminal investigations have been launched against journalists; media representatives have been unlawfully detained, interrogated and intimidated by paramilitary groups or the Russian security forces.
In such conditions, civil activists and other caring people started performing the functions of journalists. Civic journalists are often present during searches, arrests and court hearings to report on and document the human rights violations. They became the only source of dissemination of information both for the local inhabitants, and for the rest of Ukraine, and the international community. Because of this, the occupying authorities unleashed serious resistance to such activities. Among the instruments of pressure they use detentions and searches. In the framework of combatting the freedom of speech, the occupying authorities also actively use the Russian anti-extremist legislation.
Selected cases of attacks on civic journalists in occupied Crimea:
· On February 21, 2017 in Simferopol, the house of a civic journalist and Crimean Tatar activist Marlen Mustafayev was searched, and his electronic equipment (laptop, phone) was confiscated. The de facto court found Mustafayev guilty of violating Article 20.3 of the Administrative Code of the Russian Federation (propaganda or public display of nationalist symbols) and sentenced him to 11 days of administrative arrest. He was charged with this administrative offense under the Russian legislation, despite the fact that his posts on the internet were published at the time when Crimea was still under Ukrainian jurisdiction. Ten more people who witnessed Mustafayev’s detention were also detained, including civic journalists Ruslan Suleymanov, Osman Arifmemetov, and Remzi Bekirov. They were found guilty of violating Article 20.2 of the Administrative Code of the Russian Federation (an unauthorized mass event) and arrested for five days. Their electronic devices were unlawfully confiscated.
· On April 12, 2017 in Bakhchisaray, the house of a Crimean Tatar, activist and civic journalist Seydamet Mustafayev was raided by the so-called Federal National Guard officers. During the search at Mustafayev’s house, officers used physical violence against people who gathered to report on the event. Five civic journalists were detained and later on sentenced to administrative arrest (from three to ten days) and fines. Mustafayev’s laptop was confiscated.
· On July 13, 2017, Nariman Memediminov, a Crimean Tatar activist, civic journalist and media coordinator of the Crimean Solidarity, a public association of relatives of political prisoners, was charged under the above-mentioned Article 20.2 for participating in an unauthorized rally.
· A month later, on August 14, 2017 Artem Osipov, was detained and taken for an interrogation at the police station for filming a one-person picket.
· In October 2017, several other Crimean Tatar activists and civic journalists were detained and charged, including Seyran Saliev, Timur Ibragimov, Amet Suleymanov and Ruslan Belyalov. On November 8, 2017, Belyalov’s house was raided, his phones were seized by the de facto police, and a large amount of money was stolen.
· On October 14, 2017, Ruslan Gostev and Ruslan Suleymanov were detained by the police.
· On November 8, 2017, a search was conducted in the house of Seytumer Seytumerov, an activist, civic journalist and a cameraman of the Crimean Solidarity public association. During the raid, his phones and a laptop were seized. Seytumerov was fined for posting on the social media VKontakte before the annexation of Crimea.
· In July 2018 Gulsum Alieva, daughter of arrested political prisoner Muslim Aliev, was criminally charged with the “incitement to hatred”. The house of the Aliev’s family was searched and Gulsum’s technical devices were seized. Gulsum is a civic journalist. She covers court hearings in proceedings against political prisoners and writes articles on the Crimean Solidarity Facebook page.
· Olha Pavlenko, an activist of the Ukrainian Cultural Centre (UCC) in Crimea, was subjected to interrogations, and the occupying authorities searched her home. The Russian officials suspected Olha of connections with the Right Sector (an organization banned in Russia). Due to such pressure, Olha was forced to leave Crimea in August 2018.