Russia fakes popular referendum to justify annexing Crimea then bans all peaceful protest
In the first week after Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014, a protester was seen holding a banner with the words: ‘Supporters of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin! Under Putin, you won’t speak Russian, you will be SILENT in Russian!’ It took courage then to protest because of the armed paramilitaries who abducted, tortured and almost certainly killed some activists. Within almost no time, such a protest had become inconceivable for another reason, with Russia using its repressive legislation against peaceful assembly and obedient officials to come down hard on any protests or peaceful gatherings. In a recent interview, Russian lawyer Nikolai Polozov reported that even those who earlier supported Russia’s annexation of Crimea are now disillusioned. The promised prosperity has not eventuated, and you can’t even come out onto the streets to protest anymore
Monitoring carried out by the Crimean Human Rights Group has found that from April 2014 to September 2018, there were 12 criminal prosecutions for peaceful assembly, and an incredible 353 administrative prosecutions. Russia has even prosecuted for events that took place before annexation over which it has no jurisdiction.
The first wave of repression and criminal prosecutions came over the so-called ‘3 May case’.
After initially denying that veteran Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev had been banned from entering his homeland, Russian proved it was lying by enforcing the ban on 2 May 2014. The Crimean Tatar Mejlis [representative assembly] called on Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians to travel to Armyansk on the border with mainland Ukraine to greet Dzhemilev who would be coming from Kyiv. Around five thousand people came to meet him, to find themselves confronted by large contingents of Russian FSB, riot police and soldiers. Dzhemilev and other Mejlis leaders decided that he would return to Kyiv, rather than risk bloodshed.
Despite understandable outrage over the Russian occupiers’ behaviour, there was no violence that day. This did not stop the occupation regime from launching waves of armed searches, and making some arrests. Four sentences (on criminal charges) were eventually passed, with three suspended prison sentences and one a fine of 40 thousand roubles. Some of the men had been held in detention for a while before being released.
The Mejlis received a first warning in connection with that protest that it could be banned for ‘extremism’.
The second wave was almost openly an attack on the Mejlis, for its unwavering opposition to Russian occupation and on Crimean Tatars in general.
The illegality and legal nihilism of the so-called ’26 February 2014 case’ are clear from the name. Not only had the demonstration that day not been, as was claimed, a ‘mass riot’, but it had taken place the day before Russian soldiers seized control in Crimea and unequivocally on Ukrainian territory and under Ukrainian law. It is likely, in fact, that the prosecutions were revenge for the fact that the Mejlis’s initiative that day and the demonstration prevented Russia from using local collaborators to ‘change Crimea’s status’ without Russia so obviously demonstrating who was behind this.
Akhtem Chiygoz, Deputy Head of the Mejlis, was arrested on 29 January 2015 and held in detention until 25 October 2017 when, after a grotesque ‘trial’ and 8-year sentence, he was part of an exchange, probably for two Russian state-sponsored killers held in Turkey).
Two other men – Ali Asanov and Mustafa Degermendzhy – were imprisoned for almost two years, and then under house arrest for a long time. They, and three other men, received suspended sentences, as had two other Crimean Tatars.
The second ban was even more shocking. The occupation authorities announced just days before the seventieth anniversary of the 1944 Deportation of the Crimean Tatar people (18 May, 2014) that all public gatherings, including the traditional remembrance gathering in the centre of Simferopol were banned.
On 18 May, OMON riot police and soldiers stopped any Crimean Tatars from reaching the square in the centre of Simferopol, but they did not try to physically prevent the prayer gatherings outside Simferopol and Bakhchysarai. Russia did, however, use military helicopters flying overhead as an act of gratuitous intimidation.
On both that anniversary in subsequent years, and on Crimean Tatar Flag day (26 June), there have been detentions and administrative prosecutions for entirely fictitious infringements ‘of the procedure for holding public events’.
On 18 May 2017, 76-year-old Server Karametov was detained by two police officers while holding a legal solitary picket with photos of victims of the Deportation. The elderly man was taken to a police station and held there for several hours, without being allowed to see a lawyer On August 8 that year, the elderly man was detained by police officers outside the de facto High Court where the trial was underway Chiygoz. Although this was a legal single-person picket, the officers told him to go, with one of the men seizing the placard he was holding. He tried to object, saying that his protest. He was manhandled into the police car and over two gruellingly long days in the police station and then ‘court’, was jailed for ten days and fined 10 thousand roubles.
There has in general been a noticeable deterioration in the situation since early 2017, with people seized and imprisoned, after flawed ‘court hearings’, merely for coming out onto the streets and standing near where an armed search is taking place. This is clearly an effort to intimidate Crimean Tatars from showing solidarity and also streaming or reporting such searches and arrests on the Internet.
There have also been a huge number of administrative prosecutions of the over 100 people who took part in solitary pickets against political persecution in Crimea on 14 October 2017. Each of the pickets was totally legal, even by Russian standards, yet obliging ‘judges’ in occupied Crimea still convicted most of the people for fictitious infringements of the rules on holding a meeting, and fined them 10 or 15 thousand roubles.
The Crimean Human Rights Group reports that Crimean ‘judges’ have passed 367 rulings on administrative liability, with 334 imposing a total of almost four million roubles (3,942,500). There have been 22 cases where people were sentenced to terms of administrative arrest, and 11 where they were ordered to do community work.
Since these are overt miscarriages of justice, it is important to record those involved in passing such rulings. Many of them are Ukrainian citizens, who violated their oath after annexation and now work for the Russian occupation regime. The following have been most active in passing such rulings.
The most cases of administrative arrest
Iryna Kagitina, ‘judge’ from the Kievsky District Court in Simferopol, a Ukrainian citizen, passed four sentences jailing people for five days
Record-breakers in criminal cases
Serhiy Demenok, Central District Court in Simferopol, a Ukrainian citizen passed five sentences in the 26 February case
Larisa Likhacheva, Armyansk District Court, a Ukrainian citizen, passed three sentences
Three ‘judges’ of the Russian-controlled High Court Viktor Ivanovych Zinkov (presiding), Igor Igorevich Kryuchkov and Alexei Viktorovich Kozyrev sentenced Akhtem Chiygoz to eight years’ imprisonment on totally lawless charges
Zinkov and Kryuchkov are both Ukrainian citizens
Other High Court ‘judges in administrative cases
Yekateryna Tymoshenko, Ukrainian citizen 28 rulings
Vladimir Agin, Russian citizenship 33 rulings
Regional court judges
Iryna Shevchenko, Ukrainian citizen 22 rulings
Serhiy Proskurin, Ukrainian citizen 21 rulings
Herman Atamanayuk, Ukrainian citizen 16 rulings (Atamanyuk was also responsible for the most draconian fine (150 thousand roubles)