Europe

Scores of Ukrainian detainees remain in Russia

Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov was among 70 detainees from Russia and Ukraine released in a prisoner swap—35 from each side. Last year, Sentsov spent 145 days on a hunger strike, demanding the release of all Ukrainians held in Russia and Russian-annexed Crimea on politically motivated charges. Human Rights in Ukraine decried the fact that, despite the swap, at least 87 Ukrainian political prisoners remain imprisoned in Russia or occupied Crimea, in addition to at least 225 hostages held by Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region. In light of this reality, the group called the “upbeat noises” in Western media about a “normalization” in Ukrainian-Russian relations “at very least premature.” (Photo via Kyiv Post)

Europe

Kosovo PM resigns to face war crimes court

The prime minister of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj, resigned after being called in for questioning by a war crimes court in The Hauge. The court is investigating ex-members of the Kosovo Liberation Army for actions during the war from 1998-9 that led to Kosovo’s independence from Serbia. Haradinaj was a KLA commander in that war. Although technically a body of the Kosovo government, the war crimes court is based at The Hague and made up of foreign prosecutors and judges—an unusual arrangement pointing to the limited sovereignty of ostensibly independent Kosovo.  (Photo of Kosova Liberation Army via IBNA)

Europe

Crimean Tatars arrested in Red Square protest

Seven Crimean Tatars were detained in Moscow while holding a peaceful picket calling for an end to ethnic and religious persecution in Russian-annexed Crimea. Around 20 activists—most in their 50s and 60s, veterans of the Crimean Tatar national movement—gathered in Red Square with placards reading: “Our children are not terrorists”; “The fight against terrorism in Crimea is a fight against dissidents” and “Stop persecution on ethnic and religious lines in Crimea.” The picket was held in advance of an appeal hearing for four Crimean Tatars facing “terrorism” charges for their membership in the civil organization Hizb ut-Tahrir. The detained protesters were charged with holding an unauthorized demonstration. One of those arrested is the father of one of the “terrorism” defendants. (Photo: Human Rights in Ukraine)

Europe

European Union betrays Crimea and Tatars

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe voted to reinstate the Russian delegation despite criticism over human rights abuses. Russia’s voting rights had been stripped in 2014 in response to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea. The vote was taken after Russia threatened to leave the Council altogether, opening a budgetary dilemma. The move comes as Russia is escalating its crackdown on dissent and even religious practice by the Crimea’s Tatar people. Days before the vote, a Russian court sentenced five Crimean Tatars to a total of 68 years in prison simply for being members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist revival organization that was (and remains) legal in Ukraine, and has carried out no attacks in Crimea either before or since Russian annexation. (Photo: Krymr-RFE/RL)

Europe

Crimean anarchist imprisoned for social media chat

Yevhen Karakashev, a 41-year-old left-wing activist from Yevpatoria in Russian-annexed Crimea, was sentenced to six years in prison by a Russian court, with the charges based solely on years-old private messages on the social-media network VKontakte. Russia’s FSB security agency claimed that the posts fell under Article 205.2 of the Russian criminal code, which imposes penalties for “public calls to carry out terrorist activities, public justification of terrorism or propaganda of terrorism.” Russia’s independent Memorial Human Rights Center stated that there is a strong likelihood “the criminal proceedings against Yevhen Karakashev were initiated in the context of his opposition civic and political activities as a frequent participant in protests in Crimea.” They view this as part of a mounting attack on left-wing activists and anti-fascists in Russia since January 2018. (Photo: Human Rights in Ukraine)

Europe

‘Rehabilitation center’ planned for Crimean Tatars

Russia has announced plans for a “rehabilitation center” in the annexed Crimean Peninsula to “re-educate” Muslims considered to be under the influence of “extremist ideology.” The move comes less than a week after Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) carried out raids targeting Crimean Tatars thought to be linked to Hizb ut-Tahrir, a pan-Islamist party that is legal in Ukraine. Detained in the raids were 23 civic activists and journalists, all now facing what monitoring group Human Rights in Ukraine calls “fundamentally flawed charges.” The plan is moving ahead despite that fact that Russia’s Human Rights Commissioner pledged last month to review the legality of a 2003 court order labeling Hizb ut-Tahrir a terrorist organization. Hizb ut-Tahrir is banned in 13 countries around the world, but operates legally in the United States and United Kingdom.

Europe

Russia tightens screw on Crimean Tatars

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) raided the homes of several Crimean Tatars, officially as part of an investigation of activities linked to Hizb ut-Tahrir, banned as a “terrorist” organization in Russia although operating lawfully in Ukraine. FSB agents carried out at least 25 searches and detained at least 20 people. In Simferopol’s Kamyanka district, officers of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs cordoned off the neighborhood and ordered residents who assembled during the operation to disperse. According to reports, residents were not allowed to enter their homes and their lawyers were not permitted to be present during searches. Amnesty International Ukraine director Oksana Pokalchuk said: “The crackdown on the Crimean Tatar community, whose members are regarded as disloyal to the de facto Russian authorities, has continued unabated for five years.”

Europe

Amnesty: EU complicit in violence against refugees

European governments are complicit in the systematic, unlawful and frequently violent "pushback" and collective expulsion of thousands of asylum seekers to squalid and unsafe refugee camps in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Amnesty International charges in a new report. By prioritizing border control over compliance with international law, European governments are not merely turning a blind eye to vicious assaults by the Croatian police, but actually funding such activities. In so doing, they are fueling a growing humanitarian crisis on the edge of the European Union. (Photo Border Violence Monitoring)

Europe

Ukrainian anarchists targeted by security police

The Ukraine Security Service (SBU) appears to be targeting the country's anarchist youth following an attack on a leader of the neo-fascist Right Sector. In December, the SBU carried out searches at the homes of seven anarchists in the cities of Kiev, Brovary, Dnipro and Lviv. SBU officers reportedly forced two anarchists to sign a "cooperation agreement," and one of the activists had her passport confiscated. Those targeted were members of the groups Black Banner and Ecological Initiative. The searches were carried out as part of an investigation into an attack on a Right Sector militant Dmytro "Verbych" Ivashchenko, a veteran of the war in Ukraine's eastern Donbass region. (Photo: protest outside SBU office in Kiev, via Zaborona)

Europe

Crimean Tatar imprisoned as alleged militant

A 24-year-old Crimean Tatar was sentenced by a court in Russian-annexed Crimea to 10-and-a-half years' imprisonment for supposed involvement in a volunteer force patrolling the border of Crimea and mainland Ukraine to help enforce a blockade. Video evidence introduced in the trial only showed the suspect from behind. Nonetheless, Fevzi Sahandzhy was convicted of being a member of the Asker Battalion—also known as the Noman Çelebicihan Battalion, in honor of the martyred president of the short-lived independent Crimean Republic of 1918. The Battalion began participating in the blockade of Crimea in 2015 to press demands for the release of political prisoners and restoration of freedom of speech and assembly on the peninsula. (Photo: Human Rights in Ukraine)

Europe

Russia completes Crimea-Ukraine border wall

Russia completed a high-tech security fence along annexed Crimea's border with mainland Ukraine. The fence, more than 60 kilometers long, is topped with barbed wire and equipped with hundreds of sensors. Russia's FSB security agency called the fence a "boundary of engineering structures," and said it is necessary to prevent "infiltration attempts by saboteurs," also citing traffic in drugs, arms and other contraband. The statement boasted of "the most complicated system of alarm sensors in the Isthmus of Perekop," the stretch of land where annexed Crimea borders the Ukrainian mainland. (Photo via ??? ???????)

Europe

Car industry behind Hungary’s ‘slave law’

In the biggest demonstrations since the fall of communism, thousands have repeatedly taken to the streets in Hungary to oppose Prime Minister Viktor Orba''s controversial "slave law." The square outside the parliament building in Budapest was massively occupied Dec. 12 as the law was approved. It was subsequently signed by President Janos Ader. Orban said the law scraps "silly rules," and will help those who want to earn more by working more. In fact, the law will allow employers to demand workers put in up to 400 extra hours per year of overtime, compared with the current limit of 250. Meanwhile, payment for this overtime may be delayed by up to three years. Local media in Hungary report that Orban pushed through the law in a bid to lure German auto-maker BMW to invest a billion euros in a new plant in Debrecen, Hungary's second city, situated in the poorest region of the country, the northeast. The move is portrayed as intended to undercut labor costs in Slovakia, where BMW was initially considering investment. (Photo: KaosEnLaRed)