The Russian occupation authorities in Crimea summoned journalist Mykola Semena for questioning and had his home searched. Searches have also taken place at homes of journalists and human rights activists Ruslana Liumanova and Leniara Abibulaieva, although rumors have it that more journalists have been interrogated and have had their homes searched. It follows so-called “Crimean prosecutor” Natalia Poklonska’s announcement that all those who doubt the validity of the “referendum” held in March 2014 will be prosecuted under charges of “separatism” from now on. This means that the occupying power has officially recognized mere words and expressions of one’s civic position as a criminal offense. Semena faces a prison term of up to 5 years.
“So far, we know the names of three people who had their homes searched and were taken for questioning,” head of the Crimean Human Rights Group Olha Skrypnyk commented for The Day. “However, local journalists reported that there have been more people targeted in that way. These searches and arrests are part of a criminal investigation into a ‘crime’ described by Article 280.1 of Russia’s Criminal Code, which is a purely political article, the so-called ‘separatist’ one, which was introduced to the Code in May 2014 because of the events in Crimea. Its only purpose is to attack anyone who disagrees with the position of the Kremlin. Previously, there were criminal investigations under the article. However, today’s situation is complicated by the fact that previous cases, also targeting journalists, dealt with those who had left the region, like Anna Andriievska or Andrii Klymenko. But these people who have been targeted lately, they are in Crimea and they really are now in great danger because it is a political article, it has no legal definition, there are no clear limits to it. Therefore, the prosecutor may subjectively interpret this article and treat any utterance as an expression of separatism. As we understand it, Poklonska does not have any evidence that these contributions to the Krym. Realii website (krymr.org) are actually connected with these people. It is questionable how accurate the prosecutor’s office’s data is in general. But because this will be a political case, they may just fabricate evidence, as they often do. We are also establishing contacts with relatives.”
Such actions have become a kind of implementation of the ideas expressed by head of the Investigative Committee of Russia Alexander Bastrykin in his recent programmatic article in Kommersant, a Russian newspaper. In it, he talked about the need for “an effective barrier against information warfare” and somehow combined it with the fight to protect the country against extremism, terrorism, and even with “the national idea” in line with the Russian constitutionalism (!). Namely, Bastrykin believes that the “referendum” in Crimea was “a legal act giving expression to the Crimeans’ popular will” and “has become an unalienable element of Russian constitutionalism.” Needless to say, he mentioned neither the Russian invasion, nor the “little green men,” nor special nature of these “referendums” in Crimea and the Donbas.
These seemingly absurd articles and statements never appear by accident in Russia, similarly to Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s calls for violence which the Kremlin then implements. Of course, for one of the world’s most notorious terrorists who openly unleashed a war in Ukraine, occupied part of its territory, and killed more than 10,000 Ukrainian citizens, this kind of rhetoric effectively preceded another offensive. It came first in words and then in actions which included arrests, mass inspections (as happened particularly in the village of Partenit, where riot police descended en masse to verify compliance with the passport regime and to prevent the influx of illegal immigrants to the village) and other measures. This proves that Russia will respond to any sanctions and any other external pressure only by radical measures against all whom it can reach. Russia will embark on purges looking for any hint of dissent. In this respect, it is characteristic that the Ukrainian informational influence in the occupied territories has been virtually destroyed for a year and a half already, so people there are subjected to the exclusive Russian influence.
But there is another side to the reasons for this persecution. It should be recalled that the Russian side released a statement on April 18 that the number of Russian soldiers who participated in the occupation operations in eastern Ukraine and were taken prisoner now stands at 130. And this is just the official figure, which Russia has recognized. Certainly, these prisoners are a kind of potential “exchange fund” for the liberation of our soldiers and civilians who were unlawfully imprisoned in the occupied territory. Given that it is quite hard to capture a soldier, the Russian military and mercenaries have long switched to imprisoning precisely civilians. In January, Den released a characteristic interview with former prisoner of the so-called “Luhansk People’s Republic” Anatolii Poliakov, who was thrown “into the basement,” as the local slang calls it, by the militants, and saw for himself that these operations were the responsibility of Russian secret services. Poliakov was sure that we should expect new waves of detentions and arrests.
It should be recalled that the invaders have complied “death lists” of dissenters, including Den’s journalists, since the beginning of the aggression. The only difference is that in 2014, this technique of combating nonconformity was used informally, but such lists were compiled quite professionally and were highly detailed, which suggests that their compilers were no amateurs. It turns out that the mere fact of contributing to Den is seen as a sign of hostility and danger by Russia. Thus, our former contributor Mykola Semena eventually became a victim of this Stalinist (read: Putinist) approach.
Against the background of this story, so threatening for individual freedoms including the freedom of speech and human rights, recent calls by some Ukrainian journalists to “combat the language of hate” and search for compromises with representatives of the occupying power look extremely cynical. People going to the occupied territories to find a “common ground” with the gangsters have apparently forgotten that those whom they see as “fellow humans” do not see us as fellow humans at all. Moreover, they have no use for peace, and their only interest is to demonstrate physical force, ignoring all the rules in order to not only show the world how helpless Ukraine is, but also to relegate the international community itself to the condition of passive observer.
Also, while some journalists were digging into politicians’ social life and playing with ephemeral “sensations,” Den wrote about our history of bloody relations with the northern neighbor, both recent and long-past (the Gulag, the Norilsk uprising); that neighbor knows well our weaknesses as well as the danger posed by us to the empire by the very fact of our existence as a nation, as a people.
Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada Andrii Parubii appealed to the UN to condemn the Kremlin’s illegal ban on the Crimean Tatar Mejlis in Crimea. Russia dares to issue international warrants for leaders of the Crimean Tatars, who were the Red Kremlin’s victims before, and prosecute members of this community. Parubii said: “This marks the first time since the era of dictators Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler that an entire ethnic group has been declared to be extremists. This is a manifestation of Russian fascism.”
In turn, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine told Den that it “strongly condemned the arrest of Semena and others,” and called these cases “examples of Stalinist techniques being reused.”
As we can see, the Mejlis is not the only entity to come under Russian pressure. At risk are all the people who are not thinking, not breathing, and not marching like Vladimir Putin, a contemporary dictator, wants. This means that the UN should convene an urgent meeting to deal with the whole range of threats presented by the Putin regime and its methods. And of course, the world has immediately to think of new ways to influence the Kremlin.
The key question is what the official Ukrainian authorities, citizens, and the international community are to do now to effectively confront the criminal intentions of the Kremlin and protect people from danger?
“The situation that exists regarding political prisoners including those prosecuted for the events of February 26, 2014, I mean Oleh Sentsov, Oleksandr Kolchenko, Hennadii Afanasiev, Oleksandr Kostenko and others, who stand accused of terrorism by Russia – I think that the Russians do it in order to increase pressure and spread fear among the residents of Crimea,” Serhii KOSTYNSKY, a member of the National Council of Television and Radio Broadcasting of Ukraine, commented for The Day. “The Kremlin’s message is that resistance does not make sense and will be punished. Secondly, the invaders can use these prisoners to exchange for some kind of preferential treatment on the part of the Ukrainian authorities. I know Semena personally and consider him a guru of Crimean journalism. Russia could use the case they filed against him as an example of what will happen to those who oppose the occupation. This marks the end of independent journalism in Crimea, because I have to emphasize the fact that Semena is a very authoritative journalist. He is a marker of high professionalism in this trade. It is a phantasmagoria where a Ukrainian stands accused of separatism because he believes a Ukrainian region to be part of Ukraine. I believe that these cases can be resolved only at the international level using all means of diplomacy. We need stronger pressure to be put on Russia. We have the Savchenko and Sentsov list of sanctioned individuals. I think that should Semena be imprisoned, we will have to compile the ‘Semena list,’ because Russia is targeting every independent Ukrainian journalist in a systemic way.”
“The Ukrainian state as represented by our president should call on the international community to immediately discuss the situation in occupied Crimea,” chairman of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis Refat CHUBAROV said. “We should call for an extraordinary meeting of the UN Security Council and ask our partners in the EU, the Council of Europe to discuss these issues as well in their institutions, at meetings of the European Parliament. This must be linked to the sanctions and the further development of the situation in eastern Ukraine. It is time to honestly say that we have no step-by-step plan to address the issue of restoring territorial integrity of Ukraine, no priorities on human rights in areas that are not controlled by Ukraine. We must insist that international instruments that can ensure the territorial integrity of Ukraine be used in full. That is, we need deepening sanctions and continued maximal isolation of Russia, to force it to the negotiating table on the issues of Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk.”
“Russia is testing the Western public and international organizations’ reaction,” Chubarov continued. “The situation around the return or otherwise of Savchenko and other political prisoners has worsened lately. In fact, we see complications in Russia’s relations with international financial institutions. I think that all this makes Putin to hurry up with the implementation of his plans, as he wants to keep Crimea as part of Russia and be able to keep Ukraine completely in the orbit of his policy through separation of the eastern regions with special rights which Russia urges for them. That is, Putin is taking further measures which are probably his last-ditch attempts to implement the plans which would enable him to achieve such results in the negotiations with the West that he could report significant victories to the Russian public: ‘Crimea is ours,’ ‘Ukraine is not going anywhere,’ ‘Donetsk and Luhansk ‘republics’ are building happy life for themselves.’ Putin is testing the public’s reaction before possibly looking for other steps. Therefore, the West must not only refrain from further compromises with Russia, but also now be firmer on their demands. Putin is running quite low on both resources and reserves.”
“Russia is sinking into the darkness of the worst treatment for the best people”
Larysa IVSHYNA (in a commentary given on request from the Crimean Tatar TV station ATR)
“Of course, this is a horrible event, which proves for an umpteenth time that Russia has chosen neo-Stalinism for its foreign and domestic policy. This requires an exceptionally clear-cut position not only of Ukraine and its political leadership, but also of European and world leaders. I know that now calls are heard to denounce the ban on Mejlis, which is also a blatant violation of human rights, but this must be coupled with the violation of journalists’ rights: an unprecedented pressure executed under absolutely artificial pretexts.
“Only recently the liberal press was able to express its editorial standpoint. But now journalists in Russia are so browbeaten that they are afraid of their own shadow. So, the support of people who have their own position and the guts to express and defend it is ever more necessary.
“Leniara Abibulaieva has taken part in many of our photo contests. She is a wonderful and talented person, and none of the accusations make any sense. Or Mykola Semena, who worked with the originally Russian newspaper Izvestia, which was the most advanced periodical in the perestroika years in the post-Soviet space. Later he cooperated with Den/The Day in a most extensive range of topics, from environment to social and cultural life in Crimea. This is the man who loves Crimea and knows it very well. Those empty accusations seem to me not only a horrible injustice. They deal a blow to freedom of speech, to human rights, to all the best features. This is intimidation.
“Of course, this sets off alarm bells for all people of Crimea. We all remember the example of Nazi Germany:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.
“This is exactly how neo-Stalinism in Russia should be qualified. Russia is acting as a terrorist state. And the repercussions of unfolding these policies will be dramatic, if instead of giving a clear assessment, the world will seek backstage deals and befriend the aggressor over Ukraine’s head. This is how it happened with Hitler. You must have a backbone. By the way, Den/The Day has always been the newspaper which has for years emphasized the importance of studying anti-Stalinist literature. Our only friends and partners in Russia are the people who take a clear anti-Stalinist stand. But Russia is as a whole sinking into the darkness of the worst treatment for the best people. This is extremely dramatic for all of Europe as well, no matter how it is burdened with other problems. The Syrian massacre, fueled by Russia, flooded Europe with refugees, and this is a problem of a major scale. Yet this should not overshadow more complex and important questions, which require the consolidated and principled position of both leaders and journalists.
“By the by, this also pertains to Ukrainian journalists, because in this time of attack on human rights very many are in fact looking, via servile organizations, for approaches under artificial pretexts: ‘Let us replace the language of hate towards Russia with the language of special tolerance.’ Instead of indulging in self-justification, people must take a principled stand. Only solidarity will help us.
“This needs a substantial reinterpretation and also the efforts of all journalists, who could use this concrete example of concrete journalists and explain all the injustice and barbarism on the part of the occupation authorities.”