Freedom in the World reports assess the level of political rights and civil liberties in a given geographical area, regardless of whether they are affected by the state, nonstate actors, or foreign powers. Disputed territories are sometimes assessed separately if they meet certain criteria, including boundaries that are sufficiently stable to allow year-on-year comparisons. For more information, see the report methodology and FAQ.
In early 2014, Russian forces invaded the autonomous Ukrainian region of Crimea and quickly annexed it to the Russian Federation through a referendum that was widely condemned for violating international law. The occupation government severely limits political and civil rights, has silenced independent media, and employs antiterrorism and other laws against political dissidents. Many Ukrainians have been deported from or otherwise compelled to leave Crimea. Members of the Indigenous Crimean Tatar minority, many of whom continue to vocally oppose the Russian occupation, have faced acute repression by the authorities.
- A draft UN General Assembly resolution distributed in October noted continued rights abuses in Crimea, including the use of Russian military courts to try Crimeans and the provision of basic military training for schoolchildren in the territory. The body passed a resolution on human rights in Crimea in mid-December.
- In September, Nariman Dzhelialov, the first deputy chairman of the Mejlis—the representative body of the Crimean Tatar community—was detained along with four other people over an alleged sabotage plot. While two of the detainees were released by mid-September, Dzhelialov remained in detention at year’s end.
- In January, supporters of Russian opposition figure Aleksey Navalny rallied in Sevastopol and Simferopol after Navalny was arrested in Russia. Authorities detained participants in at least one Sevastopol rally and two Simferopol rallies.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||0.000 4.004|
Under the administrative system established by Russia, the Crimean Peninsula is divided into the Republic of Crimea and the federal city of Sevastopol, a port of nearly 437,000 residents. Sevastopol’s political institutions largely mirror those of Crimea proper.
The head of the Republic of Crimea is elected by its legislature, the State Council of Crimea, for up to two consecutive five-year terms. Lawmakers choose the leader based on a list of nominees prepared by the Russian president. In October 2014, the legislature unanimously elected Sergey Aksyonov as the head of the republic in a process that did not conform to democratic standards. (Aksyonov had led Crimea since February 2014, when a group of armed men forced legislators to elect him prime minister at gunpoint.) He was unanimously reelected in 2019.
An Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) election monitoring mission noted that polling for Ukraine’s presidential election, held in two rounds in March and April 2019, could not be organized in Crimea.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||0.000 4.004|
The State Council consists of 75 members elected to five-year terms. Two-thirds of the members are elected by party list and one-third in single-member districts. Legislative elections in 2014 under the Russian-organized Crimean constitution were contested exclusively by candidates who backed the Russian occupation, and Ukrainian parties were banned. Conditions for the September 2019 elections were similar, though the ruling party in Russia, United Russia, lost some support, and won 60 seats, down from 70 previously. The ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia secured 10 seats, and the Communist Party won 5.
OSCE election monitors noted that polling for the 2019 Ukrainian parliamentary election could not be organized in Crimea, leaving 12 single-member districts vacant. Crimeans were similarly unable to participate in Ukraine’s October 2020 local elections.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||0.000 4.004|
The Russian occupation authorities have tailored the electoral system to ensure maximum control by Moscow. Legislators electing the chief executive are limited to candidates chosen by the Russian president. In the legislative elections, legitimate opposition forces are denied registration before the voting begins, leaving voters with the choice of either abstaining or endorsing pro-Russian candidates.
Russian elections have been held in Crimea since its 2014 annexation, with residents voting in the 2016 and 2021 State Duma elections, the 2018 presidential election, and the 2020 referendum on extending term limits for the Russian president.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||0.000 4.004|
Ukrainian political parties are banned, allowing United Russia and other Kremlin-approved factions to dominate the political system. The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), local police, and pro-Russian “self-defense” units use intimidation and harassment to suppress any political mobilization against the current government or the annexation of Crimea.
As in Russia, the authorities in the territory consistently crack down on opposition political activity. Crimean Tatars have continued to voice dissent and openly oppose the Russian occupation, but they risk harassment, arrest, and imprisonment for their actions. Other opposition figures experience intimidation and police surveillance. In 2019, Yevgeniy Karakashev, an opposition political activist, was convicted on terrorism charges by a Russian court and sentenced to six years in a penal colony. In March 2021, pro-Ukraine activist Oleh Prykhodko was convicted on terrorism charges and sentenced to five years in a penal colony.
Supporters of Russian opposition figure Aleksey Navalny were also targeted by the occupation government. Participants at January 2021 rallies held in Sevastopol and Simferopol were detained by authorities.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||0.000 4.004|
Because Ukrainian political parties are not allowed to compete in elections and Russia tightly controls the political and electoral systems, there is no opportunity for a genuine political opposition to form, compete, or take power in Crimea.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||0.000 4.004|
Chief executive Sergey Aksyonov was originally installed by Russian security forces, and subsequent elections have been carefully controlled by the Russian government, which pressures citizens to vote. Among other abuses, during the 2018 Russian presidential election and 2019 local elections, public employees were threatened with termination if they did not vote. During the 2021 State Duma elections, school principals were expected to pressure their subordinates to register to vote and to vote for United Russia.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||0.000 4.004|
Occupation authorities deny full political rights to all Crimea residents, but Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians are regarded with particular suspicion and face greater persecution than do ethnic Russians.
The headquarters of the Mejlis, the Crimean Tatars’ representative body, was closed by the authorities in 2014. The Mejlis’s incumbent chairman, Refat Chubarov, and Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev have since been banned from the territory. The Mejlis was officially banned by Crimea’s Supreme Court in 2016. In June 2021, Chubarov was convicted of organizing riots for participating in a 2014 demonstration and was sentenced in absentia to six years’ imprisonment in a penal colony. Dzhemilev, meanwhile, was charged with “illegally crossing the state border of the Russian Federation” in 2020. That case was ongoing at the end of 2021. In September 2021, Mejlis first deputy chairman Nariman Dzhelialov was one of five people arrested for allegedly planning to sabotage a gas pipeline near Simferopol in August. Two of the five were released by mid-September, though Dzhelialov and two others remained in custody. In late October, a court extended Dzhelialov’s detention into January 2022.
The prohibition on Ukrainian political parties leaves ethnic Ukrainians with limited options for meaningful representation.
Women formally have equal political rights, but they remain underrepresented in leadership positions in practice, and government officials demonstrate little interest in or understanding of gender-equality issues. After the September 2019 election, women held 21 percent of the seats in the State Council.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||0.000 4.004|
All major policy decisions are made in Moscow and executed by Russian president Putin’s representatives in Crimea or the local authorities, who were not freely elected and are beholden to the Kremlin.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||0.000 4.004|
Corruption is widespread in Crimea and occurs at the highest levels of government. Generally, efforts to investigate and prosecute corruption are inadequate. Some elements of the Russian-backed leadership, including Aksyonov, reputedly have ties to organized crime. In recent years, the Russian FSB has arrested a number of Crimean officials as part of an ostensible antigraft campaign; many of the arrests were related to allegations that local authorities embezzled Russian funds meant to support the occupation. However, some have also been linked to infighting between Crimean and Russian officials over control of the peninsula’s assets.
In September 2021, Crimean deputy prime minister Yevgeny Kabanov was dismissed from his post and was detained on corruption-related charges.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||0.000 4.004|
With strict controls on the media and few other means of holding officials accountable, residents struggle to obtain information about the functioning of their government. Budget processes are opaque, and input from civil society, which is itself subject to tight restrictions, is limited.
Authorities are similarly opaque about the COVID-19 pandemic. In late 2020, Crimean health-care workers warned that the occupation authorities underreported pandemic-related deaths. Former Mejlis chairman Chubarov claimed that Russian authorities withheld pandemic-related information and that health-care services in Sevastopol had been overwhelmed.
|Is the government or occupying power deliberately changing the ethnic composition of a country or territory so as to destroy a culture or tip the political balance in favor of another group?||-2.00-2|
Since the occupation began, the Russian government has taken decisive steps to solidify ethnic Russian domination of the peninsula and marginalize the Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar communities. The elimination of the Ukrainian language from school curriculums and the closure of most Ukrainian Orthodox churches since 2014 are indicative of this attempt to Russify the population.
Russian and local pro-Russian officials’ policies and actions in Crimea have led to an influx of hundreds of thousands of people from Russia, including Russian troops, civilian personnel, and their families. People displaced by fighting and deprivation in eastern Ukraine—home to many ethnic Russians—have also come to Crimea. Ukrainian citizens from Crimea have been drafted into compulsory military service in the Russian armed forces, in contravention of international law. By 2021, more than 34,000 Crimeans had been drafted into the Russian military, with many of them forced to serve far from Crimea.
Meanwhile, political persecution has led to an outflow of ethnic Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars. Russia instituted a policy of mass Russian naturalization for all residents of Crimea in 2014, in violation of international law. Once the policy was enacted, Crimeans had only 18 days to opt out of Russian citizenship. Ukrainian citizens, many of them long-term residents with immediate family on the peninsula, continue to be deported from Crimea, often for opting out of Russian citizenship.
|Are there free and independent media?||0.000 4.004|
Media freedom is severely curtailed in Crimea. In addition to other restrictive Russian laws, a penal code provision prescribes imprisonment for public calls for action against Russia’s territorial integrity, which has been interpreted to ban statements against the annexation, including in the media.
Journalists in Crimea risk harassment, arrest, and imprisonment for carrying out their work. In 2019, Crimean Tatar citizen journalist Nariman Memedeminov was handed a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence over YouTube videos he posted in 2013 about Hizb ut-Tahrir, a pan-Islamist movement that seeks to establish a caliphate but does not advocate violent methods to achieve it. Hizb ut-Tahrir operates legally in Ukraine but is designated as a terrorist group in Russia. Memedeminov’s YouTube channel has also covered abuses against Crimean Tatars. Memedeminov was released from a Russian prison in September 2020. That December, a territorial court handed Lenur Islyamov, owner of Crimean Tatar television station ATR, a 19-year prison sentence in absentia on charges including “sabotage.”
In March 2021, Vladislav Yesypenko, a freelance journalist associated with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), was arrested on charges of possessing an explosive device and espionage. Yesypenko, who was reportedly tortured by authorities, remained in custody as of mid-December.
In April 2021, Bekir Mamutov, editor in chief of Crimean Tatar newspaper Qirim, was fined for disseminating “information about a banned organization.” In October 2020, Qirim published an article referring to a UN report on human rights in Crimea which mentioned the Mejlis; the article did not mention that the body was banned in Russia.
Independent and pro-Ukraine media outlets do not openly function on the peninsula. A 2015 reregistration process overseen by the Russian media and telecommunications regulator Roskomnadzor effectively reduced the number of media outlets in Crimea by more than 90 percent. The occupation authorities have cut Crimea off from access to Ukrainian television, and Crimean internet service providers must operate under draconian Russian media laws. Russian authorities continued to block a number of Ukrainian news sites and interfered with Ukrainian radio signals by transmitting Russian programming on the same frequencies in 2021.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||0.000 4.004|
The occupation authorities forced religious organizations to reregister under new rules, sharply reducing the number of registered groups. All 22 Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations were deregistered after the Russian Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that the group had violated laws against extremism. In 2020, authorities began issuing prison sentences to adherents for their activity. As of late December 2021, five Jehovah’s Witnesses were imprisoned, while seven were under house arrest and nine faced restrictions on their movement.
Mosques associated with Crimean Tatars have been denied permission to register, and Muslims have faced legal discrimination. In August 2021, a Russian military court issued prison sentences to four Crimean Tatars for their alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir membership. The same court issued sentences to another four defendants for their alleged membership in October. A December 2021 report from the Crimean Human Rights Group (KPH) counted the detention of 79 individuals accused of membership in Muslim organizations deemed “terrorist” or “extremist” in nature.
Occupation authorities have confiscated numerous properties in Crimea from the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU). In 2019, a de facto court nullified a prominent Simferopol cathedral’s lease with Ukrainian authorities; it was the last cathedral in Crimea to have maintained an affiliation with the Ukrainian church authorities. In 2020, authorities ordered the demolition of an OCU structure in Yevpatoria. In August 2021, a territorial court fined an OCU archbishop after he held religious services in a cathedral in the village of Balki.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||1.001 4.004|
Schools must use the Russian state curriculum. Schoolchildren in Crimea are exposed to Russian military propaganda. Some schoolchildren have received basic military training in recent years. The October 2021 text of a UN General Assembly draft resolution on human rights in Crimea noted the continuation of these trends.
Instruction in the Ukrainian language has been almost completely eliminated. In a 2017 ruling, the International Court of Justice ordered Russia to ensure the availability of education in Ukrainian, but the authorities did not comply with this order. Access to education in the Crimean Tatar language has been more stable, declining only slightly since 2014.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||1.001 4.004|
The FSB reportedly encourages residents to inform on individuals who express opposition to the annexation, and a climate of fear and intimidation seriously inhibits private discussion of political matters. Social media comments are reportedly monitored by authorities. The FSB frequently opens criminal cases against those who criticize the occupation and the oppression of Crimean Tatars.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||0.000 4.004|
Freedom of assembly is severely restricted. Public events cannot proceed without permission from the authorities, and the Crimean government lists only 366 locations where they can be held. Permission to hold demonstrations is frequently denied, and when protests do proceed, participants are often arrested. Authorities have at times handed activists advance warning notes threatening them with administrative or criminal prosecution for holding events. Crimean Tatar activists have been known to receive such notes before the anniversary of the Stalin-era mass deportations and Crimean Tatar Flag Day. Authorities further restricted public gatherings beginning in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These restrictions are selectively enforced.
Supporters of Aleksey Navalny held rallies in Sevastopol and Simferopol after Navalny was arrested in Russia in January 2021. Authorities detained 13 people after a January 23 event in Sevastopol. At least 16 people were detained at a Simferopol rally on January 23, while another 7 were detained during a January 31 rally there.
In September 2021, authorities, including at least one man in a Russian police uniform, used Russian COVID-19 restrictions to detain 53 people in front of an FSB office in Simferopol; some of them were relatives of Crimean Tatars who had been detained earlier that month on sabotage charges.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||0.000 4.004|
The de facto authorities, including the FSB, repress all independent political and civic organizations. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are subject to harsh Russian laws that enable state interference and obstruct foreign funding. NGO leaders are regularly harassed and arrested for their activities.
In 2020, Server Mustafayev, a coordinator for NGO Crimean Solidarity, was sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment in a Russian penal colony for his alleged ties to Hizb ut-Tahrir. In November 2021, Crimean Solidarity coordinator Diliaver Memetov was detained in front of a court building. Memetov was placed under administrative arrest for 12 days.
In August 2021, activist Ludvika Papadopulu was placed under house arrest for a month after being charged with libel under the Russian criminal code. Papadopulu’s home had been searched in February in connection with a social media post that his lawyer said he did not author.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||1.001 4.004|
Trade union rights are formally protected under Russian law but limited in practice. As in both Ukraine and Russia, employers are often able to engage in antiunion discrimination and violate collective-bargaining rights. Pro-Russian authorities have threatened to nationalize property owned by labor unions in Crimea.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||0.000 4.004|
Under Moscow’s rule, Crimea is subject to the Russian judicial system, which lacks independence and is effectively dominated by the executive branch. Russian laws bar dual citizenship for public officials, and Crimean judges were required to obtain Russian citizenship in order to retain their positions after the annexation.
In recent years, Russian judges have been transferred to from Russia to work in Crimea. These judges regularly hand down politically motivated judgments against residents who oppose the annexation.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||0.000 4.004|
Russian authorities replaced Ukrainian laws with those of the Russian Federation. In 2020, Russian president Putin enacted criminal code amendments allowing for harsher punishments against those accused of “violating” or “alienating” Russian territorial integrity.
Many detainees and prisoners are transferred from occupied Crimea to Russia, in violation of international law. The October 2021 draft text of a UN General Assembly resolution noted that Crimean residents continue to face trial in military courts located in Russia proper.
Arbitrary arrests and detentions, harsh interrogation tactics, falsification of evidence, pressure to waive legal counsel, and unfair trials are common. A 2020 Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) report noted that prosecutors are heavily favored in military court proceedings, and separately noted that state-appointed defense lawyers participating in cases in Crimea were often ineffective.
The ability to attend court hearings as a spectator can be limited by authorities. Attendees of open-court hearings regarding cases against Crimean Tatars were detained on several occasions in October and November 2021.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||0.000 4.004|
The Russian occupation authorities commonly engage in torture of detainees and other abuses. A 2020 OHCHR report noted accounts of “mock executions, beatings, electric shocks, and sexual violence.” Victims of torture have little legal recourse, allowing security forces to act with impunity. A 2020 KPH report noted that few references to violence committed by officials appeared in the territory’s court records.
In September 2021, Asan Akhtemov, who was accused of sabotage along with Nariman Dzhelialov, was tortured until he agreed to confess. A November OHCHR report noted that three of the five detainees in that incident were subjected to torture or ill-treatment.
Detention centers are often overcrowded and unhygienic, and detainees do not consistently receive medical attention.
The work of lawyers to protect clients from illegal actions by the police or FSB is limited. In October 2021, lawyer Edem Semedliaev was arrested while visiting clients detained in a Simferopol police station. In November, a Simferopol court sentenced him to 12 days’ administrative detention and issued a fine for “disobeying the lawful orders of a police officer.”
Ongoing Russian-Ukrainian tensions threaten Crimea’s security. In 2018, Russian forces attacked and seized three Ukrainian naval vessels in the Black Sea near Crimea as they attempted to enter the Sea of Azov through the Kerch Strait. Russia then took the 24 Ukrainian military personnel on board into custody; they were released in 2019 as part of a prisoner swap, several months after the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ordered their release. Russia continues to conduct large-scale war exercises in Crimea.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||0.000 4.004|
In addition to official discrimination and harassment against ethnic Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars, women face de facto discrimination in the workplace, and the legal situation for LGBT+ people has worsened under the Russian occupation. After 2014, Crimea became subject to Russia’s 2013 law banning dissemination of information that promotes “nontraditional sexual relationships,” which tightly restricts the activities of LGBT+ people and organizations.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||1.001 4.004|
The occupation authorities have sought to compel Crimea’s residents to accept Russian citizenship and surrender their Ukrainian passports. Those who fail to do so face the threat of dismissal from employment, loss of property rights, inability to travel to mainland Ukraine and elsewhere, and eventual deportation as foreigners.
As many as 4,700 people have been forcibly deported since the beginning of the occupation; half of the deportees are Ukrainian citizens, while citizens of another 37 countries and stateless persons represent the remainder.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||1.001 4.004|
Property rights are poorly protected, and the Russian annexation has resulted in a redistribution of assets in favor of Russian and pro-Russian entities. After the occupation, the properties of many Ukrainian companies were seized by Russian authorities. In 2018, a court in The Hague ordered Russia to pay $159 million to Ukrainian companies that had their property confiscated. The properties of Crimean Tatars who returned in the 1990s—after a Soviet-era mass deportation—and built houses without permits are also vulnerable to seizure by Russian authorities.
In 2020, Putin signed an edict banning foreign individuals from owning coastal land in the territory; the edict also included new restrictions on property rights which do not apply for Crimean residents holding Russian passports. The edict took effect in late March 2021.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||2.002 4.004|
Domestic violence remains a serious problem in Crimea, and Russian laws do not offer strong protections. In 2017, Putin signed legislation that partly decriminalized domestic abuse in Russia, prescribing only small fines and short administrative detention for acts that do not cause serious injuries. Russian law does not recognize same-sex marriage or civil unions.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||2.002 4.004|
Economic opportunity has been limited since the occupation due to international sanctions, restrictions on trade via mainland Ukraine, and reliance on trade with Russia. Pollution problems in Crimea are associated with sulfur dioxide emitted from a chemical factory, which led to the evacuation of over 4,000 children in the town of Armyansk in 2018. Residents’ access to goods and services remains constrained, and vital industries like tourism and agriculture have stagnated.
As in both Ukraine and Russia, migrant workers, women, and children are vulnerable to trafficking for the purposes of forced labor or sexual exploitation.
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Global Freedom Score7 100 not free