Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov was among 70 detainees from Russia and Ukraine released in a long-awaited prisoner swap—35 from each side. Among those Sentsov was exchanged for is a suspect in thw downing of Flight MH-17 that killed 298 people in 2014.. Last year, Sentsov spent 145 days on a hunger strike, demanding the release of all Ukrainians held in Russia and Russian-annexed Crimea on politically motivated charges. In October 2018, he won the Sakharov Prize, the European Parliament's award for freedom of thought. (HRW, CNN) Human Rights in Ukraine decried the fact that, despite the swap, at least 87 Ukrainian political prisoners remain imprisoned in Russia or occupied Crimea, in addition to at least 225 hostages held by Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region. In light of this reality, the group said the "upbeat noises" in Western media about a "normalization" in Ukrainian-Russian relations "seem at very least premature."
The prime minister of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj, resigned on July 19 after being called in for questioning by a war crimes court in The Hauge. The court is investigating ex-members of the Kosovo Liberation Army for their actions during the war from 1998-9 that led to Kosovo's independence from Serbia. Haradinaj was a guerrilla commander in that war. Haradinaj stated, "The honor of the Prime Minister and the State must be preserved, and I will never stain it. In the Hague I will go as Ramush Haradinaj and will face the defamation, as required by the honor of the Albanian fighter."
Seven Crimean Tatars were detained in Moscow on July 10 while holding a peaceful picket calling for an end to ethnic and religious persecution in Russian-annexed Crimea. Around 20 activists—most in their 50s and 60s, veterans of the Crimean Tatar national movement—gathered in Red Square with placards reading: "Our children are not terrorists"; "The fight against terrorism in Crimea is a fight against dissidents" and "Stop persecution on ethnic and religious lines in Crimea." The picket was held in advance of an appeal hearing for four Crimean Tatars facing "terrorism" charges for their membership in the civil organization Hizb ut-Tahrir. The detained protesters were charged with holding an unauthorized demonstration. One of those arrested is the father of one of the "terrorism" defendants.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe voted June 26 to reinstate the Russian delegation despite criticism over human rights abuses. Russia's voting rights had been stripped in 2014 in response to Moscow's annexation of Crimea. The reinstatement vote was taken after Russia threatened to leave the Council of Europe altogether, which would mean exiting jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights. The Russian delegation was readmitted by a vote of 116-62. The Ukrainian delegation walked out in protest after the vote. A dissident bloc of 30 members attempted to challenge Russia's restoration, and succeeded in having the readmission include amendments calling on Moscow to address certain specific rights abuses. Some critics suggest Russia was readmitted due to the pinch the lack of Russian money was placing on the Council's budget. The readmission came along with passage of a new budget based on renewed Russian financial commitments. (Jurist)
Yevhen Karakashev, a 41-year-old left-wing activist from Yevpatoria in Russian-annexed Crimea, was sentenced to six years in prison by a Russian court on April 19, with the charges based solely on years-old private messages on the social-media network VKontakte. Russia's FSB security agency claimed that the posts fell under Article 205.2 of the Russian criminal code, which imposes penalties for "public calls to carry out terrorist activities, public justification of terrorism or propaganda of terrorism." The sentence was three years less than that demanded by the prosecutor, and also includes limits on Karakashev's online activities for two years after his release. Russia's independent Memorial Human Rights Center stated that there is a strong likelihood "the criminal proceedings against Yevhen Karakashev were initiated in the context of his opposition civic and political activities as a frequent participant in protests in Crimea." They view this as part of a mounting attack on left-wing activists and anti-fascists in Russia since January 2018.
Russia has announced plans for a "rehabilitation center" in the annexed Crimean Peninsula to "re-educate" Muslims considered to be under the influence of "extremist ideology." The move comes less than a week after Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) carried out raids targeting Crimean Tatars thought to be linked to Hizb ut-Tahrir, a pan-Islamist party that is legal in Ukraine. Detained in the raids were 23 civic activists and journalists, all now facing what monitoring group Human Rights in Ukraine calls "fundamentally flawed charges." Human Rights in Ukraine calls it "profoundly disturbing" that the Crimean Muftiate, or Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Crimea, is apparently cooperating in the "rehabilitation center" plan, which was announced this week by Ruslan Balbek, a member of the State Duma's Social and Religious Organizations Committee. Human Rights in Ukraine calls Balbek "one of the first Crimean Tatars to have collaborated with the Russian occupation regime." The plan is moving ahead despite that fact that Russia’s Human Rights Commissioner pledged last month to review the legality of a 2003 court order labeling Hizb ut-Tahrir a terrorist organization. Hizb ut-Tahrir is banned in 13 countries around the world, including countries, including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. It operates legally in the United States and United Kingdom. (More at Moscow Times)
Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) raided the homes of several Crimean Tatars on March 27, officially as part of an investigation of activities linked to Hizb ut-Tahrir, banned as a "terrorist" organization in Russia although operating lawfully in Ukraine. FSB agents carried out at least 25 searches and detained at least 20 people. The searches were conducted in the Crimean capital Simferopol, the nearby village of Strohonivka, and the village of Volodymyrivka in the Bilohirsk district. In Simferopol's Kamyanka district, officers of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs cordoned off the neighborhood and ordered residents who assembled during the operation to disperse. According to reports, residents were not allowed to enter their homes and their lawyers were not permitted to be present during searches.
European governments are complicit in the systematic, unlawful and frequently violent "pushback" or collective expulsion of thousands of asylum-seekers to squalid and unsafe refugee camps in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Amnesty International charges in a new report. Entitled Pushed to the Edge: Violence and Abuse Against Refugees and Migrants along Balkan Route, the report details how, by prioritizing border control over compliance with international law, European governments are not merely turning a blind eye to vicious assaults by the Croatian police, but actually funding such activities. In so doing, they are fueling a growing humanitarian crisis on the edge of the European Union.