Russia outlaws CrimeaSOS as ‘undesirable’ for reporting its violations in occupied Crimea
Russia’s Prosecutor General has declared CrimeaSOS ‘undesirable’ in Russia and occupied Crimea. The statement on 27 March claimed that this important human rights NGO “poses a threat to the Russian Federation’s constitutional order and security”. With true cynicism, the Russian authorities assert that CrimeaSOS’s aims, and specifically the deoccupation of Crimea, “are aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.” This extraordinary claim, and accompanying criminal charges, emerged shortly after Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea and have been used to imprison or otherwise persecute Ukrainian or Russian citizens who, like the international community, call Crimea illegally occupied. The other reason for targeting CrimeaSOS is, undoubtedly, its important work in highlighting political persecution and other rights violations under Russian occupation.
, Head of the CrimeaSOS Board, he and colleagues only learned of the new move from media sources. Over nine years of activities aimed at defending human rights in occupied Crimea, they had anticipated that this would happen, Tilnenko explains, with it always, essentially, a question of time.
Tilnenko stresses that the Russian Prosecutor General’s move will have no impact whatsoever on mainland Ukraine “and other civilized countries.” He does, however, warn readers and friends remaining on Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory to be extra careful so as to not end up the target of repression.
Russia came up with the term ‘undesirable’ back in 2015, with the Crimean Human Rights Field Mission on its initial ‘hit list’. In May 2022, Russia placed the Crimean Human Rights Group on its list of ‘undesirables’, with the Prosecutor General’s Office citing the same grounds as those now cited against CrimeaSOS.
According to Russian legislation, Tilnenko says, the term is used to label foreign or international NGOs whose activities are claimed to pose a threat to Russia’s constitutional order, its defence capacity and security. Those who cooperate with such an NGO, or who circulate its information, can end up prosecuted on administrative or criminal charges.
In commenting on the new move to , prominent lawyer Nikolai Polozov warned that civic activists and journalists in occupied Crimea could end up labelled ‘foreign agents’ for working with Crimea SOS. Polozov noted that there are different normative restrictions with respect to so-called ‘foreign agents’ and those labelled as ‘undesirable’ organizations. That, however, will be no problem if the occupation authorities find it politically expedient to use the development as a pretext for further persecution. Polozov explained that Article 20.33 of Russia’s criminal code punishes for participation in the work of an NGO labelled ‘undesirable’ through a fine of up to 15 thousand roubles, According to Article 284.1 of the same code, if a person has already been prosecuted twice in the space of a year, they can face a draconian fine of up to half a million roubles, or a person’s entire salary or other income for up to three years. Other possible punishments extend even to a term of imprisonment of up to six years.
CrimeaSOS is one of the human rights initiatives that arose after Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea and that have provided vital information about Russia’s human rights violations and repression on occupied territory.