Three years after the annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, Russia has deployed all the tools at its disposal, in the police and the justice system, to silence dissenting voices. Whether it’s the Tatars (an ethnic minority opposed to the annexation), journalists who express a critical point of view, or pro-Ukrainian activists, all those who question the Russian state risk the wrath of the regime.
On March 18, 2014, following military manoeuvres and a referendum disputed by the international community, President Vladimir Putin signed the decree annexing Crimea to Russia. At the time, many voices, including in Crimea, spoke up to protest the move. Among the most vocal were the Tatars, who were deported under Stalin. In response to their protests, Russia banned the Medjlis, the representative body of the Crimean Tatars, and forced several of its leaders into exile. Others are under criminal prosecution.
And the Tatars are not the only ones: dozens of opponents are targeted by several ongoing court cases.
In December 2016, the NGO Amnesty International published a report entitled "Crimea: In the Dark - The silencing of dissent". "The cases documented in this report demonstrate the ruthlessness of the Russian authorities in brooking absolutely no dissent to their rule in Crimea," said John Dalhuisen, Director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Programme.
For its part, Russia says it is merely applying the law. After the annexation, legislation was amended to punish acts of "separatism". Any public criticism of the annexation may lead to prosecution for "incitement to undermine the territorial integrity of Russia", punishable by four to five years in prison.
Little by little, in Crimea, dissenting voices are forced into silence. Our reporter Elena Volochine went to meet them.