Over the occupation of Crimea, Ukrainian human rights activists have recorded at least 370 cases of persecution of journalists on the peninsula, including 100 cases over the first month of the seizure. In fact, the first thing the Russian Federation did during Crimea’s occupation was to seize the information space to impose total censorship, to broadcast the idea of the “Russian world” and, first and foremost, to silence those who resisted the occupiers. Unfortunately, the persecution of media representatives from around the world continues today.
Journalists on the lists of extremists
To date, the criminal proceedings of the Ukrainian Prosecutor’s Office of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea contain numerous pieces of evidence of illegal criminal prosecution of journalists and their families, illegal searches, detentions, and extremist activity charges.
“Ukrainian and foreign media workers and bloggers have suffered serious violations of their rights and, unfortunately, this trend has been ongoing on the peninsula throughout the occupation,” said Darya Svyrydova, the First Deputy Head of the Mission of the President of Ukraine in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.
For example, the Russian Federation put a number of media representatives, in particular those from the Centre for Investigative Journalism and the Radio Liberty’s project “Crimea.Realities,” on the list of extremists. A France Press correspondent received a warning from the so-called “Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Crimea” for “extremist views” after she had criticised the illegal detention of Crimean Tatars on her social media account.
The state policy of the Russian Federation aims to destroy any manifestations of freedom of speech in the occupied territory, and this applies not only to the media workers but also all those who disseminate information contrary to the views of the occupying power and the so-called law and order on the Crimean peninsula. Moreover, the criminal legislation of the Russian Federation was expanded to cover the territory of Crimea, inter alia, in order to establish censorship and suppress the civic opposition to the occupying power.
“As a result of such illegal actions, the number of media outlets on the peninsula has dropped by almost 13 times: from 3,000 outlets (as of early 2014) to 232 (as of spring 2015). These criminal actions of the occupying power and its occupation administration have the elements of the crime of persecution under Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court,” commented Oleksandr Pavlichenko, the Executive Director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union.
Responsibility for crimes
The highest international body in the field of criminal justice – the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) – has acknowledged that war crimes and crimes against humanity are taking place in the occupied territories of Ukraine.
“We are currently awaiting the opening of a full-fledged investigation into three major groups of crimes: those committed during hostilities, during detentions and in Crimea. We continue to record and collect evidence of violations of international humanitarian law committed by the Russian Federation. As promised by Deputy Prosecutor General Gunduz Mamedov, who coordinates the investigation of crimes committed during the armed conflict, we have collected and submit facts of violations of journalists’ rights in the temporarily occupied Crimea. There is also a prospect of submitting to the ICC the reports on destruction of cultural property on the peninsula,” said Olha Koriniak, the Deputy Head of the Department of the Prosecutor General’s Office
A new report by UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay on the situation in the occupied Crimea in the areas of education, science, culture, dissemination of information and functioning of the media also indicates the continued persecution of free journalism in Crimea.
“There are specific facts of gross violations of human rights and freedoms, especially of Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars, fundamental principles and norms of the Organisation, in particular in ensuring enforcement of educational and cultural rights, obstruction of free dissemination of information and media activities, numerous cases of persecution, repression and illegal arrests of journalists,” reads the report.
The Prosecutor’s Office of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, jointly with the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, is currently preparing another report to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court on the persecution of journalists in the occupied Crimea.