Read A Section: Crimea
In February 2014, armed forces of the Russian Federation seized and occupied Crimea. In March 2014, Russia claimed that Crimea had become part of the Russian Federation. The UN General Assembly’s Resolution 68/262 of March 27, 2014, entitled “Territorial Integrity of Ukraine,” and Resolution 75/192 of December 28, 2020, entitled “Situation of Human Rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol (Ukraine),” declared continued international recognition of Crimea as part of Ukraine. The U.S. government recognizes Crimea is part of Ukraine; it does not and will not recognize the purported annexation of Crimea. Russian occupation “authorities” continue to impose the laws of the Russian Federation in the territory of Crimea.
On September 10, the Executive Board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) published its Follow-up of the Situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, stating that the “Russian occupation of Crimea has changed the perception of Ukraine’s historical and cultural heritage, both by the state and society.” According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, following Russia’s occupation of Crimea, many religious communities were essentially driven out of the peninsula through registration requirements under newly imposed Russian laws. Only the UOC-MP continued to be exempt from these registration requirements. According to the Religion Information Service of Ukraine (RISU), the number of denominations decreased from 43 in 2014 to 20 in 2021. Various sources reported that Russian “authorities” in occupied Crimea continued to persecute and intimidate minority religious congregations, including Muslim Crimean Tatars, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and OCU members and clergy. At year’s end, two Jehovah’s Witnesses were serving prison sentences for their faith. According to the NGO Crimea SOS, as of July, 74 (compared with 69 through October 2020) Crimean residents remained in prison in connection with their alleged involvement with the Muslim religious political organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Russia but legal in Ukraine. Russian occupation “authorities” continued to subject Muslim Crimean Tatars to imprisonment and detention in retaliation for their opposition to Russia’s occupation by prosecuting them for purported involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir. According to the international religious freedom NGO Forum 18, Russia continued to prosecute individuals for some types of worship, including imams leading prayers in their own mosques, as “illegal missionary activity.” UGCC leaders said they continued to have difficulty staffing their parishes because of the policies of occupation “authorities “and that they must register their congregations in Crimea as parishes of the Catholic Church of the Byzantine Rite, removing all reference to Ukraine in their name. Crimean Tatars reported police continued to be slow to investigate attacks on Islamic religious properties or refused to investigate them at all. The OCU reported continued seizures of its churches. According to the OCU, Russian occupation “authorities” continued to pressure the OCU Crimean diocese to force it to leave Crimea. On August 23, a judge fined Archimandrite Damian, the head of the St. Demetrius of Thessaloniki Men’s Monastery, for holding a church service on the private land on which the monastery stands, stating such worship constituted “unlawful missionary activities.” Religious and human rights groups continued to report Russian media efforts to create suspicion and fear among certain religious groups, especially targeting Crimean Tatar Muslims, whom media repeatedly accused of having links to Islamist groups designated by Russia as terrorist groups, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir. Russian media portrayed Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremists.” In January, the European Court of Human Rights issued a decision accepting for consideration Ukraine’s complaint alleging that Russia was responsible for multiple human rights violations in Crimea between February 27, 2014, and August 26, 2015. The court accepted Ukraine’s allegation of the harassment and intimidation of religious leaders not conforming to the Russian Orthodox faith, arbitrary raids on places of worship, and confiscation of religious property.
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, a radio survey in Crimea found 67 percent of those surveyed did not approve of Russia’s ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Jehovah’s Witnesses said that non-Jehovah’s Witnesses who observed Jehovah’s Witnesses being treated like criminals and accused of terrorism for their faith had increased sympathy for the organization.
The U.S. government condemned the continued intimidation of Christian and Muslim religious groups by Russian occupation “authorities” in Crimea and called international attention to religious rights abuses committed by Russian forces through public statements by the Secretary of State and other senior officials. In a September 5 press statement, the State Department spokesperson stated, “The United States strongly condemns the September 4 detention of the Deputy Chairman of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis Nariman Dzhelyal and at least 45 other Crimean Tatars by Russian occupation “authorities” in Crimea. We call on the Russian occupation “authorities” to release them immediately. This is the latest in a long line of politically-motivated raids, detentions, and punitive measures against the Mejlis and its leadership, which has been targeted for repression for its opposition to Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea.” U.S. government officials remained unable to visit the peninsula following its occupation by the Russian Federation. Embassy officials, however, as well as other State Department officials and the Secretary of Energy, participated in the August 23 Crimea Platform Summit, an international gathering of senior officials to discuss the annexing of Crimea, in which human rights was one of five key topics. The Secretary of Energy, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia, and a senior official from the Bureau of Democracy, Rights, and Labor gave remarks at the summit, whose joint declaration condemned the “continued violations and abuses and systematic undue restrictions of human rights and fundamental freedoms that residents of Crimea face,” including the right to religion or belief. Embassy officials continued to meet with Crimean Muslim, Orthodox, and Protestant leaders to discuss their concerns about actions taken against their congregations by the occupation “authorities” and to demonstrate continued U.S. support for their right to practice freely their religious beliefs.