Amet Suleymanov, a Crimean Tatar freelance journalist, is serving a 12-year prison sentence after being convicted on charges of terrorism and of “preparation for a violent seizure of power,” in connection with his reporting on alleged human rights abuses by Russian authorities in Crimea. Russian authorities detained him in March 2020 in Bakhchysarai in southern Crimea.
Suleymanov livestreamed detentions and home raids of Crimean Tatars and posted the videos on the YouTube channel of Crimean Solidarity, a support group that helps Crimean political prisoners by publicizing their prosecution and advocating for their release, Crimean Solidarity representative Lutfiye Zudiyeva told CPJ via messaging app.
On March 11, 2020, officers of Russia’s Federal Security Service in Crimea raided the home of Suleymanov in Bakhchysarai, as well as the homes of other ethnic Crimean Tatars, according to Crimean Solidarity and banned Russian independent human rights organization Memorial. The agents seized computers, telephones, electronic devices, and books, according to Memorial.
The following day, a court in Simferopol, Crimea’s capital, ordered Suleymanov to be placed under house arrest, according to those sources.
Authorities accused Suleymanov of being a supporter of Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir, according to Memorial. Russia considers Hizb ut-Tahrir a terrorist organization, but the group is allowed to operate legally in Ukraine, according to Freedom House and the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Suleymanov was charged with "participation in the activities of a terrorist organization" and with "preparation for a violent seizure of power," Memorial reported.
On October 29, 2021, the Southern District Military Court in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don convicted Suleymanov of both charges and sentenced him to 12 years in jail, according to Memorial. Suleymanov pleaded not guilty, Russian state media agency TASS reported.
The court ruled that he would serve the first three-and-a-half years of the sentence in prison and the rest in a high-security colony, with additional restrictions on his freedom for one year after his release, including a ban on leaving his municipality, changing his residence, and working without notifying the authorities, Crimean Solidarity reported.
On August 27, Suleymanov was transferred to T-2 Vladimirskiy Tsentral a prison in the Russian city of Vladimir, according to the Ukrainian human rights group Zmina.
Russia has enforced its laws in Crimea since it annexed the peninsula from Ukraine in March 2014, including imposing substantial restrictions on media freedom, according to Freedom House’s 2023 Freedom in the World report. The number of media outlets in Crimea was reduced by more than 90 percent under a 2015 reregistration process overseen by Roskomnadzor, and Russian authorities have restricted access to Ukrainian television and other media outlets, according to Freedom House. Since taking control, Russian authorities have systematically prosecuted journalists and activists who questioned the annexation.
Crimean Tatars are a predominantly Muslim ethnic group indigenous to the Crimean peninsula. Many Crimean Tatar activists who opposed Russia’s annexation of Crimea were put on trial on terrorism-related charges, according to Krym.Realii, Human Rights Watch (HRW), and U.K.-based news website OpenDemocracy. Russia has a track record of using terrorism and extremism laws to silence critics and muzzle independent news coverage.
Suleymanov’s wife Lilya Lyumanova called his conviction “a death sentence” for the journalist, given his health issues, Crimean Solidarity reported.
“I link his criminal case and persecution to his activism and activity as a civic journalist within human rights group Crimean Solidarity,” Zudiyeva told CPJ.
Suleymanov worked as a journalist with Crimean Solidarity from 2014 to 2019, Zudiyeva said. “He was then forced to stop this activity for health reasons, as covering searches implies a lot of stress, adrenaline, and anxiety,” she said.
Suleymanov suffers from multiple health issues, including heart, lungs, stomach, and joint problems, according to his wife and Ukrainian media project Graty.
In October 2023, Zudiyeva told CPJ that she feared for Suleymanov’s life and his wife had told her that his recent transfer to the T-2 Vladimirskiy Tsentral prison had “exhausted” him, but he wasn’t losing heart despite his poor health.
Authorities in Crimea previously detained Suleymanov in 2017 and 2019 for reporting on raids and trials of Crimean Tatars, according to Crimean Solidarity and the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, a Ukrainian trade group.
CPJ emailed the T-2 Vladimirskiy Tsentral prison and the press service of the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office but did not receive any replies.
CPJ did not include Suleymanov in its previous prison census due to insufficient information at the time.