Russian authorities detained Osman Arifmemetov, an ethnic Crimean Tatar freelance journalist, in March 2019 in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don along with another Crimean journalist, Remzi Bekirov. Another journalist, Rustem Sheikhaliev, was detained the same day in Simferopol, Crimea’s capital. Arifmemetov and Sheikhaliev are charged with “participating in a terrorist organization,” and Bekirov is facing charges of “organizing activities of a terrorist group.”
Arifmemetov, Bekirov, and Sheikhaliev livestreamed raids and trials and posted the videos on the YouTube channel of Crimean Solidarity, which assists Crimean political prisoners by publicizing their prosecution and advocating for their release, according to the group’s website. The group uses the YouTube channel and social media to post videos from trials and home raids of Crimean Tatars, according to Krym.Realii (Crimea Realities), the Crimea-focused project of the U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and a CPJ review of the videos on the channel and the group’s Facebook page.
Arifmemetov also interviewed family members and lawyers of Crimean Tatar activists detained by Russia, according to Krym.Realii and a video on Crimean Solidarity’s YouTube page that includes clips from the three journalists’ reports.
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 2021 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, CPJ has documented.
Officers of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), Interior Ministry, and the National Guard raided the home of Arifmemetov–as well as the homes of nearly two dozen other ethnic Crimean Tatars, most of them linked to the support group Crimean Solidarity–late on March 27, 2019, in Simferopol and several districts in Crimea, according to media reports.
Arifmemetov, who was not home at the time of the raid, was detained later on March 27 in a café in Rostov-on-Don along with Bekirov, according to Bekirov’s employer, the independent local news website Grani, and the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG), an independent human rights organization based in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, and a Facebook post by Crimean Solidarity.
Another Crimean journalist, Sheikhaliev, was also detained during the raids, according to a statement by the Lviv Media Forum, a group of Ukrainian media professionals.
Previously, Arifmemetov was detained on February 21, 2017–along with Bekirov–while livestreaming the raid of a Crimean Tatar activist Marlen Mustafaev’s home in Simferopol, and was sentenced the next day to five days of administrative arrest, according to Crimean Human Rights Group (CHRG), a Ukraine-based non-governmental organization.
Arifmemetov’s house was raided and searched when no one was there, his wife, Aliye Nejmedinova, told CHRG. She said that the door to her house was cut open with an electric saw and the hard disk of her husband’s computer was taken. Nejmedinova denied the charges against the journalist, saying the books the investigators later claimed to have found in their apartment during the search were planted.
Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported that the Crimean Tartars who were detained were accused of being supporters of Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir. Russia considers Hizb ut-Tahrir a terrorist organization but the group is allowed to operate legally in Ukraine, according to Freedom House’s 2021 Freedom in the World report and RFE/RL.
On March 28, 2019, Arifmemetov was transported to Simferopol, where he was charged with “involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir” and faces up to 20 years in prison on terrorism charges, according to KHPG. According to KHPG, after being detained at the café, Arifmemetov and Bekirov were beaten to the point when Arifmemetov fainted. Then they were taken to a forest where they were beaten again. According to HRW, the two men were given no food and limited access to water for 24 hours after their detention.
Early March 29, 2019, the two dozen detainees, including Arifmemetov, were driven to the airport and flown back to Rostov-on-Don, according to KHPG. They were not told where they were being taken, and their families were not notified, according to KHPG. They were transported to a pretrial detention facility in Krasnodar, Russia, on September 5, 2019, according to Crimean Solidarity’s Facebook post. The three journalists were later transported to a pretrial detention center in Simferopol, according to the same post.
In October 2019, Arifmemetov was placed in solitary confinement in the Simferopol facility for five days for violating internal prison rules, his defense attorney Aleksey Ladin told Krym.Realii on October 22, 2019.
On November 12, 2019, at a court hearing in Simferopol, Arifmemetov denied the charges, saying his detention was illegal and calling his “forced removal” from Crimea to Russia’s Rostov-on-Don and subsequent return to Simferopol a “deportation” similar to the deportation of the Crimean Tatars in 1944, according to Crimean Solidarity’s Facebook page. At the hearing, the court extended Arifmemetov’s detention until February 15, 2020, pending trial, according to the Facebook post.
Crimean lawyer Edem Semedlyaev, who defends another Crimean Tatar in the same case and coordinates the work of all defense attorneys, told Krym.Realii on November 12, 2019, that the inmates, including the journalists, did not receive food on trial days.
The Crimean Supreme Court extended the journalists’ detention several times during 2020 and 2021; as of September 2021, his detention had most recently been extended to December, reports said.
During an August 10, 2020, hearing, Arifmemetov shared a written statement with his lawyer and Crimean Solidarity, in which he wrote that his imprisonment was “related to my active position as a citizen and my professional activity as a civic journalist,” and was part of a wider prosecution against dissenting views.
On August 21, the Russian Federal Security Service completed its investigation into the three journalists and other defendants, Crimean Solidarity reported. The defendants were given time to study the case documents, and no trial date had been set as of October 2021, according to Crimean Solidarity and other news reports
Crimean Solidarity representative Lutfiye Zudiyeva told CPJ via phone in September 2021 that Arifmemetov was being held in Detention Center No. 1 in Rostov-on-Don. She said that authorities had questioned witnesses anonymously, and did not give the defense any information on those people.
Aliye Nejmedinova, the journalist’s wife, told CPJ in late 2021 that he had frequent headaches but was otherwise in good health. She said she was only able to see her husband during court hearings.
CPJ called the Russian Interior Ministry’s branch in Rostov-on-Don and emailed the national prosecutor general’s office for comment in September 2021, but did not receive any replies.