Paris, August 25, 2022—Russian authorities in Crimea must drop all charges against journalist Vilen Temeryanov, release him immediately, and stop prosecuting members of the press in retaliation for their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.
On August 11, officers with the Russian FSB security agency in the village of Vilne, in Russian-occupied Crimea, searched the home of Temeryanov, a correspondent for the human rights group Crimean Solidarity and the independent news website Grani, and ordered him to be detained on charges of organizing and participating in the activities of a terrorist organization, according to multiple media reports and a Facebook post by Crimean Solidarity. Authorities also arrested five Crimean Tartar activists during a crackdown that day, those reports said, adding that Temeryanov is also a member of the Crimean Tartar ethnic group.
The following day, the Kyiv District Court of Simferopol ordered Temeryanov to be held until October 10 while authorities conduct an investigation, according to those sources.
“Russian authorities controlling Crimea have relentlessly targeted independent voices trying to shed light on the human rights situation in the region,” said Carlos Martinez de la Serna, CPJ’s program director, in New York. “Authorities must drop all charges against journalist Vilen Temeryanov, release him immediately, and stop cracking down on Crimean Tatar journalists.”
Authorities accuse Temeryanov of being a member of the Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which Russian authorities have banned and consider to be a terrorist organization, those news reports said. Some early reports stated that a lawyer representing Temeryanov said the journalist admitted to being a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir. However, the journalist’s lawyer, Marlen Halikov, told CPJ via messaging app that those reports were incorrect and Temeryanov denied the charges.
If convicted, Temeryanov could face up to 20 years in prison, according to the Russian criminal code and Halikov.
During the search of Temeryanov’s apartment, FSB officers seized phones, laptops, and a photocopy of the journalist’s press credentials for Grani, saying that the outlet was “directly connected” to Crimean Solidarity, according to news reports. The FSB also searched the house of Temeryanov’s mother the same day, those reports said.
Crimean Solidarity is a support group that helps Crimean political prisoners by publicizing their prosecution and advocating for their release, as CPJ has documented. Since Russian authorities cracked down on the independent media in Crimea in 2015, many reporters have engaged in “civic journalism,” particularly focused on human rights issues affecting Crimean Tartars, according to media reports and CPJ’s research.
Crimean Solidarity correspondent Lutfiye Zudiyeva told CPJ via messaging app that authorities have targeted the group’s members with detentions and arrests in retaliation for their work. Zudiyeva added that Crimean Solidarity is not linked with Grani.
Zudiyeva told CPJ that, while Temeryanov’s name has not been included on Crimean Solidarity’s recent reporting, he had worked as a correspondent and camera operator for multiple reporting projects on political trials in the peninsula since 2019.
Zudiyeva told CPJ that Temeryanov received an accreditation from Grani in 2020. CPJ emailed Grani for comment but did not receive any reply.
Temeryanov was previously detained in November 2020 while covering a protest in Simferopol and fined 2,000 rubles (US$33) for allegedly failing to comply with COVID-19 regulations, Zudiyeva told CPJ. He was detained again in November 2021 while on editorial assignment and arrested for 14 days for allegedly participating in a protest, according to reports and Zudiyeva.
Zudiyeva told CPJ that Temeryanov “took up activism and civic journalism in 2019, and then suddenly in 2022 he becomes ‘potentially dangerous’ and they decide to detain him.”
“Everything that seems disloyal to the current regime is gradually being forced out. But journalists in the peninsula have always been in an especially high-risk position,” she said.
At the time of CPJ’s December 1, 2021, prison census, at least four journalists were imprisoned by Russian authorities in occupied Crimea in retaliation for their work.
CPJ called the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Crimea for comment, but the call did not connect.
Editors’ Note: The 11th and 12th paragraphs were updated to correct a typo in Temeryanov’s name.