Crimea * | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2017

Crimea *


Freedom Status: 
Not Free

Freedom in the World Scores

(1=Most Free, 7=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Press Freedom Status: 
Not Free

In early 2014, Russian forces invaded the autonomous Ukrainian region of Crimea, which was then quickly incorporated into the Russian Federation through a referendum that was widely condemned as having been conducted in violation of international law. The occupation government severely limits political and civil rights, has silenced independent media, and employs antiterrorism and other laws against political dissidents. Some members of the peninsula’s indigenous Tatar minority continue to vocally oppose the annexation, despite the risk of imprisonment.

Key Developments: 
  • In November, the International Criminal Court stated in preliminary findings that the annexation of Crimea constituted a violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and was “equivalent to an international armed conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation.”
  • In September, elections for the Russian State Duma were held in Crimea. Local rights activists reported that some residents were threatened with dismissal from their jobs if they failed to vote, or were pressured to attend a preelection rally for Russian president Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.
  • Crimean Tatar activist Ervin Ibragimov was abducted in May, and his whereabouts were unknown at year’s end.
Executive Summary: 

Russian occupation authorities enforced their control over Crimea for a third year in 2016, notably repressing Crimean Tatar activists, further limiting the media available to Crimean residents, and pressuring local voters to participate in Russia’s State Duma elections in September. In August, President Putin claimed that Russia had thwarted an incursion into the territory by Ukrainian saboteurs planning terrorist acts, though he provided little evidence to support the allegations, which Ukrainian authorities said were fabricated. The following day, Putin accused Ukraine of attempting to provoke violence in Crimea, and Russian officials announced naval exercises in the Black Sea. Separately, Russian authorities banned the Mejlis, the official but nongovernmental representative body of the Crimean Tatar people, purportedly because its members engaged in “extremist activity.” Both episodes reflected Russian authorities’ strategy of pointing to the alleged presence of extremists as justification for tightening their grip on the territory.

In addition to the Mejlis closure, occupation authorities—whose leadership was largely imposed by Moscow and included individuals with ties to organized crime—continued to harass members of the Crimean Tatar minority, with the most outspoken activists facing political persecution. Since the 2014 invasion, Tatar media outlets have been shuttered and many Tatar-owned businesses arbitrarily closed.

While some Crimeans hoped that the Russian occupation would improve their standard of living, prices for many goods have soared, wages and pensions have not kept pace, and the important tourism and agriculture industries are under heavy strain.

The international community continues to oppose the Russian occupation of Crimea. In late 2016, the United States imposed new sanctions against Russian firms and individuals doing business in Crimea—particularly those involved in the construction of a bridge connecting the peninsula to the Russian mainland—and against a number of officials in the occupation government.

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