Russian authorities have detained freelance journalist Iryna Danylovych since April 2022 on charges of illegally handling explosives. If convicted, she faces up to eight years in jail.
On the morning of April 29, 2022, Danylovych failed to return home from her work at a medical center in the village of Vladyslavivka, in Russian-occupied Crimea. At about 10 a.m., six men arrived at the home Danylovych shares with her parents in Vladyslavivka, searched it, and confiscated the family’s laptops and phones. They told her parents that she had been placed under detention for 10 days for allegedly sending information to a foreign country.
The journalist’s father, Bronislav Danylovych, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview, said the men did not identify themselves, drove unmarked cars, and refused his request to show any court documents authorizing the search or his daughter’s detention.
Danylovych works at the medical center in Vladyslavivka and contributes to local news websites InZhir Media and Crimean Process. She wrote articles covering local news for InZhir Media under the pseudonym “Pavel Buranov,” according to Andrii Zubariev, director of the human rights organization Human Rights House Crimea, who is familiar with her work and communicated with CPJ via messaging app.
CPJ was unable to find any articles attributed to “Pavel Buranov” published on InZhir Media after February 1, 2022, and was unable to find any articles attributed to Danylovych at Crimean Process.
In her most recent post on her personal Facebook account, on March 5, Danylovych reposted information about Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta’s decision to suspend its coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Previously, on February 25, she had reposted information from the Ukrainian armed forces about Russian losses during the invasion. Her account has since been set to private, but CPJ reviewed screenshots of those Facebook posts.
On May 4, the Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine’s Autonomous Republic of Crimea, which is based in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, launched criminal proceedings for illegal searches and detention of Danylovych under Article 146, Part 2, and Article 162. Part 2, of the Ukrainian criminal code.
On May 5, Danylovych’s father was quoted as saying by Ukrainian human rights organization Zmina that he got access to a video showing his daughter being forced into a car by plainclothes men at a bus station.
On May 7, the Kyiv District Court in Simferopol, Crimea’s capital, ordered Danylovych be detained for two months pending the investigation, according to reports.
On May 11, Danylovych was found by her lawyer Aider Azamatov in a pretrial detention center in Simferopol, according to media reports and a report by Zmina. She had been charged with illegally handling explosives under Article 222.1, Part 1, of the Russian criminal code by the Crimean branch of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), according to those sources. If found guilty, she faces up to eight years in prison and a fine of up to 100,000 rubles (US$1,620).
Danylovych, who denied the charges, alleged that she was fed once a day and kept in the basement of the FSB headquarters in Simferopol for eight days, from April 29 until she was taken to court on May 7, Azamatov told CPJ via messaging app and was also quoted as telling the Ukrainian media project Graty.
During her detention at FSB headquarters, Danylovych was questioned and forced to take a polygraph about her alleged connections to foreign security services, media, and other organizations, as well as her involvement in Crimean Solidarity, a group that helps Crimean political prisoners by publicizing their prosecution and advocating for their release, Azamatov told CPJ and was also quoted as saying by Graty and Zmina.
Danylovych also had a bag put over her head during her detention, and her captors threatened to take her out “into the woods” or to the besieged southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol if she hid anything, Azamatov told CPJ and Graty. Danylovych was taken to court after agreeing to say on video that she had not been subjected to coercion and signing blank forms as a condition of her release, according to Azamatov, adding that she was told that 200 grams of explosives were found in her purse, where she kept medical needles and tourniquets that she used in her work as a nurse.
On June 3, news media reported that the Russian Ministry of Justice had added her to its "media foreign agents" list.
In a letter she wrote from detention, Danylovych claimed she was beaten by FSB guards on July 5, while being taken to court, according to Zmina and Krym.Realii (Crimea Realities), a Crimea-focused outlet run by the Ukrainian-language service of the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. She also wrote that on July 22, an FSB guard complained that "not enough explosives" had been planted in her bag and that he would have made sure to add "a kilo of drugs" if he had been the one to detain her, the reports said.
Azamatov told CPJ that he was able to see Danylovych on May 12. “There was no physical violence against her, but there was very strong psychological pressure,” in the form of threats and insults to her and her father, he said.
Azamatov told CPJ that Danylovych was also interrogated about her alleged ties to Krym.Realii. Danylovych is not working for Krym.Realii, but was interviewed by the outlet in October 2021 for a piece about the health situation at the hospital where she worked, Azamatov said.
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 2022 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.
Danylovych’s trial began on August 22, according to Crimean Process. On that day, a court extended Danylovych’s detention until February 2, 2023.
On September 7, the Crimean Supreme Court denied Danylovych’s appeal of her detention, according to Crimean Process. On November 11, the Ukrainian National Union of Journalists denounced the “political nature” of Danylovych’s case and the “bias” of the court, after Krym.Realii reported that two FSB officers were called to testify during a November 7 hearing.
On November 10, the human rights organization Crimea SOS reported that the FSB was planning to bring treason charges against Danylovych under Article 275 of Russia’s criminal code, which carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
In a letter dated August 30, made public November 17, Mary Lawlor, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, and other U.N. officials expressed concern about apparent fair trial violations in Danylovych’s court proceedings.
In a response letter dated from September 9 and published on November 17, the Permanent Mission of Russia to the U.N. wrote that the Danylovych’s case “remains the subject of verifications and legal proceedings” under domestic law, adding that Russia’s constitution and laws “prohibit any non-procedural influencing of the judiciary.”
Zmina head Tetiana Pechonchyk told CPJ via email on October 4 that Danylovych was held in Simferopol pretrial detention center. On October 5, Azamatov told CPJ via messaging app that Danylovych’s health status was “satisfactory.”
On November 22, Crimea SOS published a letter in which Danylovych said that detention center officers confiscated her personal notebook containing notes for her final statement in court after an “unplanned search.”
In October 2022, CPJ called the Russian Ministry of Interior, but nobody answered the phone. CPJ emailed the press service of the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office but did not receive any replies.