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14.01.2015

Legislating rights abuse in the Crimea

   

A protester against Russian annexation holds a placard reading: Supporters of Putin: With us you won’t speak Russian, you will be SILENT in Russian!   Since annexation there have been serious curbs on freedom of speech and of peaceful assembly

Dozens of laws and normative acts that restrict the rights of people in the Crimea, and five super-dangerous laws.  These were the findings made public by the Crimean Field Mission on Human Rights following close monitoring of the first nine months since Russia annexed the Crimea in March 2014.

At a press conference on Monday, the head of the Field Mission Andrei Yurov explained that while the Crimea according to international law remains a part of Ukraine, it is effectively controlled by another country.  In these conditions international laws are de facto not working, and all Crimeans, whatever their attitude to annexation and whether they remained or were forced into exile, are hostages to this situation.

The worsening in the human rights situation in the Crimea, Yurov says, is also linked to the fact that Russian laws now in force in the Crimea are harsher than Ukrainian laws.  This is particularly evident with legislation on freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

5 particularly dangerous laws

The Russian laws on strengthening liability for ‘extremism’ and separatism;

Increased penalties for double citizenship;

Laws on legalizing the ‘self-defence’ paramilitary formations;

Ukraine’s law ‘On a free economic zone in the Crimea’

Carte Blanche for armed paramilitaries

The bill, voted on in June, ‘On the people’s militia’ effectively legalizes the paramilitary formation euphemistically called ‘Self-Defence’ which has been responsible for abductions, murders, seizure of property, dispersal of peaceful protests as well as attacks on journalists or simply Crimeans showing their opposition to Russian rule.  At the press conference, Olha Skrypnyk noted that the so-called ‘self-defence’ had even received legal entity status in public funding. The law places these paramilitaries under the control of the self-proclaimed prime minister Sergei Aksyonov and the Crimean Council of Ministers.

Skrypnyk pointed out that there has been a significant increase in the number of cases where these paramilitaries take part in seizures of commercial property.

As reported, in October a law was tabled in the Russian State Duma which proposed to waive any liability for these armed paramilitaries up till Jan 2015. 

Fortunately that latter bill did not get through, but it is an indicator of the attempts underway to let armed thugs act with total impunity (see: Legislating murder, abduction and land-grabs in the Crimea).

Russian law on extremism

Russia’s law on extremism, as well as its enormous list of prohibited literature, have been used in the Crimea against Crimean Tatars and all those opposing Russian rule.

Dmitry Makarov noted the dangerously wide interpretation given to the term ‘extremism’, and the fact that both in Russia and the Crimea the targets are rather those the authorities deem dissidents, rather than those actually inciting inter-ethnic enmity.

Anti-extremism legislation has been cited and used without any justification since the peaceful protests against the ban on veteran Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemiliev returning to his homeland, and especially in the offensive against the Mejlis or representative body of the Crimean Tatar People.

The first warning about ‘extremism’ issued to the Mejlis newspaper ‘Avdet’ was for using words like ‘annexation’ and ‘occupation’; the second – for its reporting the Mejlis’ call to boycott the Sept 14 elections.

The head of the Mejlis, Refat Chubarov was issued a warning over supposed ‘extremism’ following the peaceful protest on May 3, when Mustafa Dzhemiliev was prevented from crossing into the Crimea.  At the beginning of July, he was also banned from the Crimea.

There have been frequent searches of homes, mosques and religious schools with the claim being that they are looking for ‘arms, narcotics and extremist literature’  (see Targeting the Crimean Tatar Mejlis as pro-Russian euphoria fades in Crimea and texts below),

The article of the Russian Criminal Code on separatism

This came into force on May 9 and enables imprisonment for up to five years for public ‘calls to separatism’, with this effectively including questioning Russia’s annexation of the Crimea.  Makarov explains that it is not clear as yet whether the statement on facebook that “the Crimea is Ukrainian” could be deemed to fall within the scope of the law.  The law however does provide a clear signal that it could be dangerous to question whether the Crimea ‘belongs’ to Russia.

Provisions on double citizenship

The new regulations on mandatory notification of holding a second citizenship have been deferred until the beginning of 2016 for the Crimea, however Darya Sviridova from the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union warns that this could change at any time.  Failure to notify of a second citizenship carries criminal liability. 

Ukrainian Law on a ‘Free Economic Zone’ and the National Bank Regulation

The Law on making Crimea a free economic zone  came into force on Sept 27 despite being condemned by human rights organizations as discriminating against Crimeans and effectively recognizing the Crimea as Russian. 

The law (and National Bank of Ukraine Resolution No. 810) declares Crimeans to be ‘non-residents’, envisages the establishment of customs control at the administrative border between the Kherson oblast and the Crimea and contracts between mainland Ukraine companies and those in the Crimea are treated as ‘foreign’  (more details here: Legislative Stab in the Back for Crimeans

The moves have already led to many Ukrainian nationals with Crimean registration having bank accounts blocked, and residents of the Crimea being prohibited from carrying out many financial operations.  This is clearly overt discrimination, while the general tenor of both the law and the bank’s resolution are a slap in the face for all Crimeans who, whether as displaced people in mainland Ukraine or as Ukrainians forced to live under Russian rule badly needed support from the Ukrainian government not this.

Halya Coynash   

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