Russian authorities detained Crimean Tatar freelance journalist Nariman Memedeminov in March 2018 after raiding his home in Crimea. In October 2019, a military court in Russia’s southern city of Rostov-on-Don sentenced Memedeminov to two years and six months in prison after he was convicted of public calls for terrorism online.
Memedeminov reported on the activities of Crimea’s indigenous ethnic Crimean Tatar population, a Muslim minority, and on human rights violations by Russian authorities in Crimea, posting videos on his YouTube channel and the YouTube channel of the civic support group Crimean Solidarity, according to Krym.Realii (Crimea Realities), a Crimea-focused project of U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and a CPJ review of the videos. Crimean Solidarity helps Crimean political prisoners by publicizing their prosecution and advocating for their release, according to the group’s website. Memedeminov livestreamed the trials and home raids of Crimean Tatar activists, and interviewed their family members and lawyers, after Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014, according to Krym.Realii.
Russia has enforced its laws in Crimea since it annexed the peninsula from Ukraine, including imposing substantial restrictions on media freedom, according to Freedom House’s 2019 Freedom in the World report. The number of media outlets in Crimea was reduced by more than 90% under a 2015 reregistration process overseen by the Russian media regulator Roskomnadzor, and Russian authorities have restricted access to Ukrainian television and other media outlets, according to Freedom House. Many independent journalists and outlets left Crimea after the Russian annexation, CPJ documented in 2015. 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, CPJ has documented.
Officers of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) detained Memedeminov on March 22, 2018, at his home in the village of Kholmivka, Bakhchisaray district of Crimea, according to HRW and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which cited his wife, Lemara Memedeminova. According to the RFE/RL report, the FSB officers confiscated electronic equipment and books from the journalist’s home, and placed him in pretrial detention in Simferopol, Crimea’s capital.
Authorities charged Memedeminov with public calls to terrorism on the internet, under Article 205.2 of Russia’s criminal code, according to Ukrainian state news agency Ukrinform.
The terrorism charges stem in part from a video dating back to 2013–before Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014–of a meeting of the Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir, RFE/RL reported. Russia considers Hizb ut-Tahrir a terrorist organization but the group is allowed to operate legally in Ukraine, according to Freedom House and RFE/RL.
RFE/RL and Ukrainian state news agency Ukrinform reported that Memedeminov’s videos dating to 2013 contain calls to comply with the norms of Islam and express opinions on Russian national holidays, such as International Women’s Day and Children’s Day. Ukrainian news site Zn.ua quoted the journalist’s lawyer, Edem Semedlyayev, as saying that a group of Russians were asked to provide the court with expert opinion on the videos’ content. Semedlyayev said he questioned the group’s conclusion and said respected experts on Islam who were familiar with everyday life of devout Muslims as well as the specifics of Islam should have been involved in the case.
Memedeminova told Krym.Realii that after Russia annexed Crimea, Memedeminov, an economist, “Just took his phone and started filming trials, commenting, taking photos and posting them online, so people would see what was going on here because no journalists are left in Crimea.”
Memedeminov denied the charges in a defense speech at an October 1, 2019, trial session, RFE/RL reported.
On October 2, 2019, the Southern District Military Court in Russia’s southern city of Rostov-on-Don sentenced Memedeminov to two years and six months in prison on charges of public calls for terrorism online, according to RFE/RL and Human Rights Watch.
On October 14, 2019, Memedeminov appealed, Semedlyayev told Krym.Realii, adding that the date of the appeal hearing had yet to be set.
The journalist is being held in a detention center in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, according to Ukrainian media. In March 2019, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG), an independent human rights organization based in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, reported that doctors examined the journalist in February 2019 after he had filed several complaints about pain and scheduled him for surgery on March 14, 2019. When the surgery was postponed, Ukraine’s National Union of Journalists called it an “act of torture” and demanded Memedeminov’s release.
On November 6, 2019, Ukraine’s consul general to Crimea, Taras Malyshevskiy, visited Crimean prisoners, including Memedeminov, in a detention center in Rostov-on-Don, according to Krym.Realii. He told the outlet that Memedeminov was “full of energy.”
CPJ phoned the Russian Interior Ministry’s city branch in Rostov-on-Don but an officer on duty refused to give comments about the journalist and said the information was available only for inmates’ family members.
Memedeminov was not included in CPJ’s 2018 prison census because CPJ was not aware of his case.