While the international community’s main focus is on large-scale war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Russian military in the war zone in Ukraine, gross human rights violations in the occupied Crimea remain virtually unnoticed.
On May 26-27, Russian security forces detained four lawyers who have been helping victims of human rights abuses in Crimea since the first days of Russian occupation: Edem Semedliayev, Nazim Sheikhmambetov, Ayder Azamatov, and Emine Avamileva.
On May 26, Konstantin Urazov and Ruslan Shambazov, officers of the Center for Combating Extremism (Center E) in occupied Crimea, detained Edem Semedliayev. The reason was that an unknown person tagged Semedliayev on a Facebook publication condemning the Russian army’s atrocities in Ukraine. Semedliayev was charged under an article on defamation of the Russian army (Article 20.3.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses), which was adopted after the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine and began to be used in the occupied Crimea in violation of international humanitarian law. Later, “judge” Viktor Krapko found Edem Semedliayev guilty and fined him 75,000 rubles. Remarkably, Semedliayev was previously detained in the fall of 2021 on politically motivated charges of administrative offenses and stayed under administrative arrest for 12 days. The same Ruslan Shambazov took part in his prosecution.
Immediately after the court hearing, Center E officers detained Nazim Sheikhmambetov who defends Edem Semedliayev’s interests. Sheikhmbametov was charged with allegedly organizing a mass simultaneous stay of citizens in a public place, which led to a violation of public order (Article 20.2.2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses of the Russian Federation). The events in which Sheikhmambetov is accused took place in October 2021, when about 20 people gathered near the occupation police station to support the arbitrarily detained persons. The “court” sentenced Sheikhmambetov to 8 days of administrative arrest.
On May 27, occupation police detained lawyers Ayder Azamatov and Emine Avamileva, who defend Nazim Sheikhmambetov. They are charged with the same administrative offense as Sheikhmambetov. They could face up to 15 days in jail on these charges.
Arbitrary detentions of lawyers indicate that Russia has moved to a new round of reprisals in occupied Crimea. From now on, the occupiers persecute not only for expression, peaceful assemblies, religious activities, civic activism, journalism, anti-war rhetoric, or any disagreement with Russia’s actions in Crimea, they also persecute lawyers who provide professional assistance to victims of political repression.
Intimidation, pressure and harassment of lawyers for their professional activities are unacceptable. This practice runs counter to international standards and national legislation that provides guarantees for legal professionals. Arbitrary detention of lawyers grossly violates the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, adopted by the VIII UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime (1990), which guarantee the defenders unhindered exercise of their powers (without intimidation, inappropriate interference and punishment for professional activities).
New forms of political reprisals in the occupied Crimea and mass atrocities by Russian troops on mainland Ukraine could have been avoided if the international community had reacted more decisively to Russia’s occupation of Crimea and invasion of Donbas in 2014.
Given Russia’s long-standing disregard for virtually all international law norms, the only way to end arbitrariness and release political prisoners, prevent new war crimes, crimes against humanity, and gross human rights abuses in Crimea is to de-occupy the peninsula through existing diplomatic, sanctions and legal measures, including the right to individual self-defense under Art. 51 of the UN Charter.
In this regard, we call on foreign governments and international organizations, including members of the International Crimea Platform, to:
- Express a strong consolidated protest against the arbitrary detention of lawyers in the occupied Crimea
- Impose personal sanctions on those involved in gross human rights violations in the occupied Crimea, including Russian FSB, Center E, judges, and other categories of occupation administration staff and Russian officials
- Provide comprehensive support to victims of political reprisals in Crimea and their families
- Continue to monitor and document human rights violations, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in the occupied Crimea and include them in regular reports on the human rights situation in Ukraine
- Assist the Government of Ukraine in investigating war crimes, crimes against humanity, and gross human rights violations in the occupied Crimea
- Increase diplomatic, sanctions, and other types of pressure on the Russian Federation to prevent new atrocities in Crimea and mainland Ukraine, as well as to accelerate the de-occupation of all territories of Ukraine
Crimean Human Rights Group
Center for Civil Liberties
Human Rights Centre ZMINA