The arrest and detention of a large group of Crimean Tatars, including several journalists, who assembled peacefully in Simferopol last Tuesday to witness the release from detention of human rights lawyer Edem Semedlyaev, is the latest link in a chain of reprisals and harassment directed at members of this community. It reinforces the pattern of persecution targeting Crimean Tatar human rights defenders, activists, leaders, and journalists, as well as many ordinary members of this group, described to me through numerous and consistent testimonies by members of the Crimean Tatar community and reputable human rights organisations.
In addition to arbitrary arrests and detentions, this clearly discernible pattern is exemplified by abusive raids on their homes and mosques; criminal proceedings devoid of fair trial guarantees; and extremely severe sentences, including long prison terms, imposed in recent years on Crimean Tatar activists like Osman Arifmetetov, Edem Bekirov, Aider Dzhapparov, Timur Ibragimov, Rustem Ismailov, Suleyman Kadyrov, Emir-Usein Kuku, Server Mustafaev, Enver Omerov, Riza Omerov, Erfan Osmanov, Seyran Saliev, Ruslan Suleymanov, and dozens of others. Many of those detained or imprisoned on the basis of abusive counterterrorism or extremism charges continue to be held in maximum security prisons or distant penal colonies, often located outside Crimea; many are reportedly subjected to ill-treatment and deprived of adequate access to their families and defence counsels. Some of them, like Servet Gaziev, Gafar Dzhemilev or Murat Zekharia, suffered particular hardship resulting from inadequate access to proper healthcare despite their advanced age or poor health.
This alarming trend is further demonstrated by the criminal convictions imposed on Crimean Tatar leaders, like Refat Chubarov, Chairman of the Mejlis, convicted and sentenced in absentia in June this year; or Deputy Chairmen of the Mejlis, Ahmet Chiygoz and Ilmi Umerov, convicted and sentenced in September 2017 and later expelled from the peninsula. Another Deputy Chairman of the Mejlis, Nariman Dzhelyal, was arrested and detained in early September, while former Mejlis Chairman Mustafa Dzhemilev is also currently facing a criminal trial in absentia, in addition to a ban on entering Crimea until 2034, when he will be over 90 years old.
Those who, like Edem Semedlyaev and his fellow human rights lawyers, courageously defend the rights of Crimean Tatars, have been subjected to reprisals, including arbitrary arrest and detention, administrative and judicial harassment, searches, surveillance, and threats. In addition, all but a handful of independent Crimean Tatar media outlets were forced to cease their activities in Crimea while those who stayed on continue to experience censorship and pressure.
As I persevere in my efforts to obtain access to Crimea to carry out independent and impartial monitoring as required by my mandate, I call for the rights of Crimean Tatars to be respected. The persecution of Crimean Tatars must stop. Those in charge of law and order should respect and protect every Crimean Tatar’s rights and freedoms under the European Convention on Human Rights, including freedom from torture or inhuman or degrading treatment; the right to liberty and security; the right to a fair trial; freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; and freedoms of expression, assembly, and association.
In particular, an immediate end must be put to arbitrary arrests, searches, detention and criminal prosecutions based on the misuse of counterterrorism, extremism or other spurious charges. All those who have been convicted or detained on the basis of such abusive legal proceedings should be exonerated and released immediately. Legal counsels defending Crimean Tatars must be allowed to work free from intimidation or hindrance, and Crimean Tatar media outlets, journalists, activists, and bloggers should be allowed to carry out their activities without restrictions or harassment.