Seven years ago, Russian Special Operations Forces with no badges yet equipped with Russian weapons took over a part of Ukrainian sovereign territory — the Crimean peninsula. International organizations recognized the fact of occupation and condemned Russia’s actions.
In the years that followed, Russian occupation authorities in Crimea established a highly repressive regime. Punitive measures fall upon Crimean Tatars, the Peninsula’s indigenous people professing Islam who put up the primary resistance against Russian occupation back in 2014, ethnic Ukrainians, activists, journalists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other groups who either disagree with the occupation or show any form of dissent.
They suffer from continuous raids on their homes, offices, and places of worship. Their leaders are expelled from Crimea, their media agencies are shut down, and their peaceful organizations are outlawed. Often, imprisonment is the price of peaceful disagreement.
“In Russia, there is no freedom of speech, only Putin’s propaganda. Those who disagree with the government or have a dissenting opinion face administrative and criminal cases which enforcement officers frame through fabricated evidence plucked from the air. And government-controlled courts rubber-stamp innumerable wrongful verdicts. It is up to prosecutors’ taste and imagination what [alleged] charges to press, be it extremism or calls for riots. That is why independent journalists and bloggers speaking up their minds and criticizing the government are constantly at risk of being fined or imprisoned. Persecution of opponents is intrinsic to Russian internal policy, and Crimea is no exception,” Crimean journalist Oleksiy Nazimov told in an interview with Krym.Realii, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Crimean desk launched after Russian occupation.
Indeed, Russia’s neo-Soviet prosecution machine is equipped with a number of tools to incarcerate innocent people on trumped-up charges.
This system kills two birds with one stone:
- On the one hand, as the bulk of Russia’s repressions consist of framing the Crimean Tatars, who are ethnic Muslims, as Islamic terrorists, they galvanize support of the non-Muslim population for the occupation authorities and smear the main peaceful resistance to the occupation as terrorist;
- On the other hand, it stifles all other opponents of Russia’s occupation of Crimea and sends them a clear-cut message that activism will not be tolerated.