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.
The Ukraine Security Service (SBU) appears to be targeting the country's anarchist youth following an attack on a leader of the neo-fascist Right Sector last year. In December, SBU agents carried out searches at the homes of seven anarchists in the cities of Kiev, Brovary, Dnipro and Lviv. SBU officers reportedly forced two anarchists to sign a "cooperation agreement," and one of the activists had her passport confiscated. Those targeted were members of the groups Black Banner and Ecological Initiative. The searches were carried out as part of an investigation into an attack on Right Sector militant Dmytro "Verbych" Ivashchenko, a veteran of the war in Ukraine's eastern Donbass region.
A 24-year-old Crimean Tatar was sentenced Jan. 23 by a court in Russian-annexed Crimea to 10-and-a-half years' imprisonment for supposed involvement in a volunteer force patrolling the border of Crimea and mainland Ukraine to help enforce a blockade. Video evidence introduced in the trial only showed the suspect from behind. Nonetheless, Fevzi Sahandzhy was convicted of being a member of the Asker Battalion—also known as the Noman Çelebicihan Battalion, in honor of the martyred president of the short-lived independent Crimean Republic of 1918. The Battalion began participating in the blockade of Crimea in 2015 to press demands for the release of political prisoners and the restoration of freedom of speech and assembly on the peninsula. (Human Rights in Ukraine, 112 UA, Kiev, Jan. 28)
Numerous media sources are reporting that Vladimir Putin has dispatched a team of private mercenaries to Venezuela to help back up the besieged government of President Nicolás Maduro. Reuters cites claims that some 400 military contractors from the Wagner group have arrived in Caracas. Wagner PMC (Private Military Company) is a Russian firm already contracted by Moscow's Defense Ministry to provide personnel for the wars in Ukraine and in Syria. Moscow Times quotes Yevgeny Shabayev, ataman (commander) of the Khovrino Cossack paramilitary group, as saying that the mercenaries were flown to Havana on two chartered aircraft, where they were transfered to commerical flights to Caracas. Shabayev said Cossacks had been recruited for the force to serve as a kind of Praetorian Guard for Maduro. "Our people are there directly for his protection," he said. The Russian news site Lenta.ru cited Shabayev saying a "military conspiracy had been discovered in Maduro's inner circle, and therefore it was necessary to replace his personal security with loyal people."