Paris, November 25, 2022 – In response to news reports that a Russian court on Thursday sentenced Crimean Tatar journalists Osman Arifmemetov and Rustem Sheikhaliev to 14 years in prison, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement:
“The draconian 14-year prison sentences for Crimean Tatar journalists Osman Arifmemetov and Rustem Sheikhaliev demonstrate just how intent Russian authorities are on eliminating any dissenting voices on Crimea,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “This sentencing should raise alarm bells for anyone who cares about freedom of the press in Russia and Russian-occupied Crimea. Russian authorities must immediately release Arifmemetov, Sheikhaliev, and all other imprisoned members of the press.”
Arifmemetov was arrested along with Crimean Tatar journalist Remzi Bekirov in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on March 27, 2019; Sheikhaliev was arrested the same day in Simferopol, Crimea’s capital, and the three are now held in Russia. They had livestreamed raids and trials and posted the videos on the YouTube channel of human rights group Crimean Solidarity. Bekirov was sentenced to 19 years in prison in March 2022.
The Southern District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don convicted Arifmemetov and Sheikhaliev of participating in banned Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which Russia deems a terrorist organization, and for preparing to violently seize power, the reports said. They will serve the first four years in prison and the rest of their sentences in a strict security colony; they will face additional restrictions on their liberty for one year after their release, a representative for the court said in an emailed response to CPJ’s query. The representative, who did not provide a name, did not give details on those restrictions.
According to Crimean Solidarity, after their release the journalists will be prevented from leaving their homes overnight, from leaving their municipalities or changing their residences, and from participating in mass events; the journalists will also be required to report to authorities twice a month.
Arifmemetov and Sheikhaliev pleaded not guilty, according to Crimean Solidarity. A representative for the group, Lutfiye Zudiyeva, told CPJ via messaging app that the journalists plan to appeal the verdict.
Editor’s note: The spelling of Lutfiye Zudiyeva’s name has been corrected in the sixth paragraph.