Russia is crushing dissent and inciting fear amongst the Ukrainian people: UK statement to the OSCE
Ambassador Neil Holland calls for the immediate release of those detained by Russia as part of its continued war of aggression against Ukraine.
As part of Russia’s strategy to crush dissent and incite fear amongst the Ukrainian people, it has carried out enforced disappearances, torture, arbitrary detentions, and judicial harassment. Russia began its campaign when it illegally annexed Crimea. These practices first utilised on the Peninsula, are now widely used in the Ukrainian territories temporarily under Russian control.
It is reported that since the start of Russia’s illegal war, Russia has detained over 20,000 Ukrainian civilians. Many are being held on politically motivated charges for peacefully exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms. Crimean Tatars and those who defend their rights have faced the brunt of Russian persecution.
In Crimea, the human rights organization, Zmina, reports that Russia is holding 186 political prisoners, including 21 in need of urgent medical care. Furthermore, the Russian authorities are illegally transporting prisoners thousands of miles away from their families and legal representatives to remote areas of Russia.
In 2021, Russia detained Nariman Dzhelyal, the first deputy of the Mejlis of Crimean Tatar People, and activist cousins Asan and Aziz Akhmetov. Despite international condemnation, the Russian authorities have maintained unfounded charges against these men, sentencing them to 17, 15 and 13 years in prison, respectively. Their ordeal has only intensified with Nariman and Aziz being sent to Minusinsk in Eastern Siberia, and Asan to the notorious Vladimir Central Prison.
Another victim of Russia’s barbarity is Serhiy Tsihipa, a pro-Ukrainian activist and journalist from Nova Kakhovka who was detained in Kherson and transferred to Crimea in March 2022. Serhiy’s relatives lost all communication with him, left completely unaware of his condition and whereabouts until he appeared in a Russian propaganda video. Last month, Serhiy was unjustly sentenced to 13 years in prison. With no access to him, his relatives fear for his safety.
The recent UN Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine found further evidence of the Russian Federation’s use of torture in detention facilities. Former detainees detailed harrowing experiences of “torture rooms” with pliers, knives, saws, and cutters. And we should not forget Dzhemil Gafarov and Kostiantyn Shiring who died earlier this year in Russian detention. Those responsible must be held to account.
Mr Chair, against the backdrop of this awful record of human rights abuses it is worth noting that this week – on 30 October – Russia marked its Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repressions under the USSR. We must do all we can to honour the victims of the past by fighting against oppression today. The UK calls for the release of all who have defended human rights and democracy across Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE region. This includes Vladimir Kara-Murza, Alexei Navalny, Ilya Yashin, Maria Ponomarenko, and the three OSCE Special Monitoring Mission members, as well as over 1,400 political prisoners in Belarus.
All those detained on politically motivated charges must be freed, immediately and unconditionally. We will never tire of speaking out against internal and external repression of fundamental rights. Thank you, Mr Chair.