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9 June 2022

Crimea (Ukraine): Crackdown on Crimean Lawyers

Front Line Defenders expresses its grave concern at the increased targeting against human rights lawyers in the Russia-annexed Crimean peninsula. Since the beginning of the occupation, human rights lawyers actively involved in representation and defence of rights of the Crimean Tatars became one of the major targets for the Russian authorities. Since 26 May 2022, human rights defenders and lawyers Edem Semedliaev, Aider Azamatov, Nazim Sheikhmambetov and woman human rights defender and lawyer Emine Awamileva– have been detained and arrested on various administrative charges.

On 26 May 2022, law enforcement officers of the Center for Combating Extremism within the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation arrested and detained human rights defender and lawyer Edem Semedliaev in Simferopol, Crimea. The human rights defender is being prosecuted for being tagged in a Facebook post that has allegedly “discredited the actions of the Russian Armed Forces.” Kyiv District Court of the city of Simferopol found Edem Semedliaev guilty of this charge and fined him 75,000 rubles (1,050 Euro).

On the same day, 26 May 2022, Edem Semedliaev’s defence attorney, Nazim Sheikhmambetov, immediately after the court hearing on Edem Semedliaev’s alleged violation was arrested by the officers of the Centre for Combating Extremism of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Nazim Sheikhmambetov is charged with violating Article 20.2.2 of the Administrative Code of the Russian Federation. On 26 October 2021, the human rights lawyer allegedly violated COVID-19 regulations by not wearing a mask and not social-distancing in a public place as he was “voluntarily taking part in a mass event implying co-presence in a public place to support detained Crimean Tatar nationals.” Human rights defender and lawyer, Edem Semedliaev acted as Nazim Sheikhmambetov’s attorney. After his arrest, Nazim Sheikhmambetov was brought to the premises of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Crimean peninsula in Simferopol. Nazim Sheikhmambetov was charged with 8 days of administrative arrest and is currently released.

On 27 May 2022, human rights defender and lawyer, Aider Azamatov and woman human rights defender and lawyer, Emine Awamileva, were arrested and detained by law enforcement officers when they arrived to act as defense attorneys of Nazim Sheikhmambetov. On 28 May 2022, the Central District Court of Simferopol sentenced Aider Azamatov to 8 days of administrative arrest, while Emine Awamileva is sentenced to 5 days. These charges also relate to the 25 October 2021, when both human rights lawyers acted as defense attorneys for human rights defender and lawyer Edem Semedliaev. Both human rights lawyers were charged under Part 1 of Article 20.2.2 of the Administrative Code of the Russian Federation for the “organisation of mass simultaneous stay and/or movement of citizens in public places, resulting in violation of public order". They are both currently released.

The targeting and systemic persecution of human rights lawyers by the Russian Federal Security Services forms part of a worrying trend in Crimea since its annexation in 2014. This systemic persecution includes judicial harassment, office raids, disciplinary penalties, and disbarment threats. Another prominent Crimean human rights defender and lawyer, Emil Kurbedinov, was repeatedly sentenced to short-term detentions in 2017 and 2018 for publishing Hizb-ut Tahrir related materials on his social media pages. Shortly after Emil Kurbedinov was arrested in 2017, Russian Federal Security Services raided his and Edem Semedliaev’s office and seized various personal and professional items belonging to them. Another prominent Crimean woman human rights defender and lawyer, Lilia Gemedzy, faced a disciplinary punishment for “repeated violation of the Court hearing regulations” in 2020. In 2021, Russian authorities subjected Edem Semedliaev to judicial harassment, charging him for a refusal to undress in the police search for “extremist tattoos” on his body.

Front Line Defenders is deeply concerned by the detention and arrests of human rights defenders, Edem Semedliaev, Aider Azamatov, and Nazim Sheikhmambetov and woman human right defender Emine Awamileva, and believes they are being solely targeted as a result of their legitimate and non-violent work as a human rights lawyers. The targeting and systemic persecution of human rights lawyers by the Russian Authorities forms part of a worrying trend in Crimea since its annexation in 2014. This systemic persecution includes sustained judicial prosecution, office raids, disciplinary penalties, and disbarment threats. Front Line Defenders urges the Russian authorities to put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the administrative and judicial levels, against all human rights defenders and organisations in Crimea.