Statement by Anton Korynevych, the Permanent Representative of the President of Ukraine in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea,
OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting 2019 Session,
Working session 13 “Tolerance and non – discrimination”
24 September 2019, Warsaw
I would like to draw your attention to considerable deterioration of the situation of fundamental human rights due to the existing regime of occupation in the territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol (Ukraine) which are temporary occupied by the Russian Federation and this leads to harassment and discrimination against the citizens of Ukraine, residing in the temporary occupied territory on national, racial, ethnic and religious grounds.
As of 1 August 2014 there were 2083 religious organizations in the territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, including 1409 registered in accordance with Ukrainian law and 674 Muslim organizations which acted without being registered. During the temporary occupation of Crimea by the Russian Federation the number of religious organizations was nearly halved.
According to the data of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation as of 30 June 2018 there were 750 religious organizations registered in Crimea, including 103 of them in Sevastopol. These figures remained unchanged since 2017. It is worth noting that there were no Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyiv Patriarchate and Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church among the registered ones.
The occupying authorities continue imprisonment and harassment against the indigenous people and members of ethnic minority groups of Crimea with the exerting pressure on individuals opposing the existing political regime and those who do not comply with its requirements or may pose a threat to it.
According to the activists, human rights groups and mass media the Russian authorities continue to harass and intimidate the religious communities of “Jehovah’s Witnesses”, the worshipers of the Crimean Diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Orthodox Church of Ukraine) and the Crimean Tatars – Muslims.
In 2019 the occupying authorities continued to detain and imprison the Crimean Tatars – Muslims, especially under the suspicion of being affiliated with Muslim organization Hizbut-Tahrir. The representatives of NGOs announced 200 arrests, carried out by the Russian law enforcement agencies in the occupied peninsula for the last half of the year. More than half of arrests were related to Crimean Tatars. This is twice the number of arrests in 2018.
In the first half of this year there were 73 illegal house searches, including 55 of them in the houses of the Crimean Tatars, 69 detentions, including 57 of Crimean Tatars, as well as 97 interrogations “conversations”, 59 of which were related to Crimean Tatars. 170 children have been left without parental support (as their parents were afterwards arrested) as the consequence of the mass searches in the houses of the Crimean Tatars in the occupied Crimea.
The illegal actions by the Russian occupying authorities blatantly violate the provisions of international law contained in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as well as a number of OSCE human rights commitments, including freedom from discrimination.
Freedom of consciousness and religion were of grave concern from the beginning of the occupation of Crimea. In March 2019 there were large-scale series of searches and detentions of the Crimean Tatars’ activists by the Russian law enforcement officers. Most of the detainees were the activists of the “The Crimean Solidarity”movement, who helped the relatives of those exposed to political motivated harassment. 25 activists were arrested under the suspicion of terrorism due to allegations of involvement with Hizbut-Tahrir organization which is banned in Russia. Moreover, such practice persisted.
In political cases, the occupying power violated the right to fair trail about 381 times, including 108 times regarding the Crimean Tatars.
In 2019 10 Crimean Tatars received the maximum sentences from 7 to 17 years of imprisonment for the alleged membership in the religious organization Hizbut-Tahrir. And 30 Crimean residents are facing criminal investigations on similar charges now. For instance, on 18 June 2019 five persons in the first Simferopol case of Hizbut-Tahrir were sentenced from 12 to 17 years of imprisonment (Abdulaev Tymur is sentenced to 17 years,Abdulaev Uzeir to 13 years,Dzhemadenov Emil to 12 years, Ismailov Rustem to 14 years, Saledinov Aider to 12 years).
Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyiv Patriarchate (now– Orthodox Church of Ukraine) is one of the religious communities of Crimea, which is facing extremely difficult situation.
After the temporary occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol by the Russian Federation the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate continued to function in Crimea while the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyiv Patriarchate which has now become a part of a new Orthodox Church of Ukraine was outside the law. Before the occupation, there were 49 parishes of the Crimean Diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyiv Patriarchate (nowadays – Orthodox Church of Ukraine), including 25 churches and 20 clergymen all over the peninsula, but now there are only nine parishes and four clergymen left there.
Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyiv Patriarchate refused to register in Crimea in line with the Russian law, as the consequence of that the church was persecuted by the Russian authorities. The occupying authorities tried to complicate and cease the Crimean Diocese activity since 2015 by burdening them with the registration procedures to seize land allotted for church use before the occupation of the peninsula. The religious community was demanded to stop its activity due to Klyment, Archbishop of the Simferopol and Crimea alleged failure to undergo the registration procedures in accordance with the legislation of the Russian Federation.
The worshipers and clergymen of the Crimean Diocese were the subject of harassment, the perish premises were taken over and the Sunday schools, established by the Crimean Diocese with the education, provided in Ukrainian language, were closed down by the occupying authorities.
The historical, cultural and religious heritage of the Crimean Diocese of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine was threatened with destruction.
In addition, the places of worship of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine were closed, including the limitation of access to premises, located in the military units in the peninsula. In June 2014 the subjects of restrictions were the church of St.Petro, St. Pavlo and St. Mykolai in Sevastopol City, the church of Protection of the Holy Virgin in the village of Perevalne in Simferopol district. Legal recourse for returning the premises was ineffective.
Even more problematic is the situation with the Cathedral of St.Volodymyr and Olga in Simferopol. Since February 2019 “the ministry of property of Crimea” demands to vacate premises of the Cathedral, and in the middle of June it initiated the reconstruction of the building without the agreement of diocesan. In accordance with the decision of the so-called “court” dated 28 June 2019, Cathedral building should be transferred to usage of the so-called “ministry of property” of Crimea. Crimean Diocese also had to pay the court fees of 12 thousand rubles (near 5 thousand hrivnyas).
On 24 July 2019 Klyment, the Archbishop of the Crimean Diocese informed that the property of the Cathedral of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine in Simferopol after the decision of the so-called “court” on transference of the Cathedral into the usage of the “ministry of property” of Crimea was “destructed and ruined”.
At least half a hundred of worshipers appealed to the UN Human Rights Committee on Russian authorities’ harassment. On 6 September 2019 the UN Human Rights Committee demanded the Russian authorities not to prevent the use of Cathedral building in Simferopol by the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
On 18 September 2019 the Russian occupying authorities gave the Crimean Diocese five days to leave the building of the Cathedral.
The members of religious community “Jehovah’s Witnesses”, recognized as the extremist organization in Russia are subjected to persecution on religious ground. This religious organization was found to be illegal by the decision of Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, which states that that group violated the law of the country on countering extremism.
In June 2017 all 22 congregations in Crimea were deprived of registration that subsequently violated the right of freedom of belief of more than 8 thousands believers. As the consequence of a ban, the believers were oppressedin the temporary occupied territory of Crimea. In 2018, the article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (organization of activity of the religious organization, recognized as extremist) started to be applied against the members of the religious community “Jehovah’s Witnesses” in Crimea.
In November 2018, the occupying authorities searched the houses of the members of the community “Jehovah’s Witnesses” in Dzhankoi, followed by the first criminal proceedings against the“Jehovah’s Witnesses”. On 21 March 2019 it was publicly reported on its website about 6 searches in the believers’ houses by the Russian law enforcement officers in Yalta and Alushta. During the searches, the computers and other electronic devices, including Bibles were confiscated. The criminal proceedings were instituted against the members of the community in line with the article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (organization of activity of the religious organization, recognized as extremist).
In June 2019 the Russian law enforcement officers carried out 9 searches in the houses of “Jehovah’s Witnesses” and confiscated religious literature, computers and electronic records.
“Jehovah’s Witnesses” were said to be connected with Kerch mass killing on 17 October 2018, in which 21 individuals lost their lives and more than 40 persons were injured. According to the occupying authorities, one of the college students was suspected in mass shooting and his body was found dead later inside the college.The behavior of the suspected killerdid not refer to his religious belief but it was mentioned about the beliefs of the killer’s mother in at least ten publications of the Russian media.
After the tragedy, the video cliptitled“The Kerch killer was surrounded by the adherents of the totalitarian sects” was posted at one of the Russian websites, which provides information on the impact of pseudo religious education. In such a way, the Russian authorities used a case of mass killing in Kerch to incite hatred against the followers of this religious organization. Such behavior is unacceptable in a free and democratic society.Crimea is part of the territory of Ukraine. The activity of the“Jehovah’s Witnesses” is legal in the territory of Ukraine, but the followers of this religious movement are subjected to harassment in the occupied peninsula.
Such actions of the occupying authorities pose a threat to life and health of the people, belonging to this religious movement in Crimea. Persecution of the residents of Crimea in accordance with the Russian criminal law blatantly violates the rules of international humanitarian law.
Dear colleagues, the overall picture shows that human rights instruments and mechanisms do not work in the occupied peninsula.We recommend the OSCE ODIHR to monitor the situation with the freedom of consciousness and religion, including the activity of the religious organizations in the occupied Crimea. We also recommend OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine to monitor the security and humanitarian situation in the temporary occupied territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol.