Friday, March 14, 2014

Ukraine Crisis: Human Rights Abuses Escalate in "Lawless" Crimea

Numerous reports of rights abuses have emerged in Crimea since thousands of Russian soldiers invaded the Ukrainian autonomous region.

- Many journalists in Crimea have been detained, threatened and had equipment seized, said the group Reporters Without Borders in a March 7 statement titled "Freedom of Information in Dire State in Crimea."

"We are alarmed by the steady escalation in violations of journalists' rights in Crimea, which is turning into a lawless region controlled by armed bands whose anonymity reinforces their impunity," the group noted in a follow-up statement March 10.

"The frequency of deliberate attacks on journalists and the scale of the censorship suggest a desire to turn the region into a black hole for news and information."

Since those statements, French TV documentary maker David Geoffrion, working for France's Canal+ network, was arrested by pro-Russian gunmen on March 13, Reuters reported.

Activists Detained, Missing

- Andriy Shekun, leader of the EuroMaidan-Crimea pro-democracy group, was detained on March 9 by a pro-Russia defense militia in Simferopol, Crimea, along with a fellow activist, Anatoli Kowalski (see this and this news item). The militia seizing the men was linked with Russian Unity, the party of Crimea's self-proclaimed prime minister Sergei Aksyonov.

Both men are still missing. The police in Simferopol say they are not in their custody, reports in this March 9 Ukrainian-language item.

- Also on March 9, pro-Russia militia detained two groups of Ukrainian journalists and activists while trying to enter Crimea, this item reports. They were held two nights, beaten and robbed, this Ukrainska Pravda account says.

Marchers Beaten

- Pro-Russia activists attacked and beat people attending a Ukrainian rally to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko, the BBC reported March 10. Some of the Russian-speaking attackers wielded whips and threatened BBC journalists at the scene.

- Crimea's new pro-Russia government (read more about how it came to power here) has ordered nearly all Ukrainian TV channels off the air in the territory, replacing some with Russian ones, Ukrainian-language reported March 9.

Tatar Minority Afraid, Many Flee

- Crimea's Tatar minority, which is strongly opposed to the takeover of the region by Russian troops, say they fear being out at night or walking in city centres, which are patrolled by armed pro-Russia gangs.

"I don't even go to Simferopol any more," said one Tatar man in this Kyiv Post story.

"If they see me, as a Crimean Tatar man, they will attack me."

Tatar leaders have called for a boycott of Sunday's referendum on whether Crimea should join Russia, which Ukraine and the G-7 countries say they won't recognize and call illegal.

Soviet leader Joseph Stalin deported the Tatar people from Crimea to the Far East and Siberia after World War II on the pretext that some Tatars collaborated with Nazi Germany. Half of the Tatar population died in the forced deportations.

Many Tatars have since trickled back to their homeland. But now, many fear they could be deported again, this Kyiv Post story says.

The story says 150 to 200 Tatar families have left Crimea to seek refuge in western Ukraine since Russian troops invaded at the end of February.

International Observers Kept Out

- Pro-Russia gunmen have prevented international observers from entering Crimea to investigate the rights situation.

UN envoy Robert Serry was confronted by armed gunmen, threatened and forced to leave Crimea while on a fact-finding mission.

Meanwhile, observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe were turned back on three consecutive days from entering Crimea.

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