Vilen Temeryanov

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Russian authorities have detained journalist Vilen Temeryanov, a correspondent for the human rights group Crimean Solidarity and the independent news website Grani, since August 2022 on terrorism charges. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in jail. 

On August 11, 2022, officers with the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) in the village of Vilne, in Russian-occupied Crimea, searched the home of Temeryanov and ordered him to be detained on charges of organizing and participating in the activities of a terrorist organization. Authorities also arrested five Crimean Tartar activists during a crackdown that day, according to multiple media reports and a Facebook post by Crimean Solidarity, which noted that Temeryanov is also a member of the Crimean Tartar ethnic group.

The following day, the Kyiv District Court in Simferopol ordered Temeryanov to be held until October 10, while authorities conduct an investigation, according to 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

Authorities accuse Temeryanov of being a member of the Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which Russian authorities have banned and consider to be a terrorist organization, news reports said. Some early reports stated that a lawyer representing Temeryanov said the journalist admitted to being a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir. However, the journalist’s lawyer, Marlen Halikov, told CPJ via messaging app that those reports were incorrect and Temeryanov denied the charges.

If convicted, Temeryanov could face up to 20 years in prison, according to the Russian criminal code and Halikov.

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. Since taking control, Russian authorities have systematically prosecuted journalists and activists who questioned the annexation. 

During the search of Temeryanov’s apartment, FSB officers seized phones, laptops, and a photocopy of the journalist’s press credentials for Grani, saying that the outlet was “directly connected” to Crimean Solidarity, according to Krym.Realii. The FSB also searched the house of Temeryanov’s mother the same day, the report said.

Crimean Solidarity is a support group that helps Crimean political prisoners by publicizing their prosecution and advocating for their release, as CPJ has documented. Since Russian authorities cracked down on the independent media in Crimea in 2015, many reporters have engaged in “civic journalism,” particularly focused on human rights issues affecting Crimean Tartars, according to media reports and CPJ’s research.

Crimean Solidarity correspondent Lutfiye Zudiyeva told CPJ via messaging app that authorities have targeted the group’s members with detentions and arrests in retaliation for their work. Zudiyeva added that Crimean Solidarity is not linked with Grani.

Zudiyeva told CPJ that while Temeryanov’s name has not been included on Crimean Solidarity’s recent reporting, he had worked as a correspondent and camera operator for multiple reporting projects on political trials in the peninsula since 2019.

Zudiyeva told CPJ that Temeryanov received an accreditation from Grani in 2020. CPJ emailed Grani for comment but did not receive any reply.

Temeryanov was previously detained in November 2020 while covering a protest in Simferopol and fined 2,000 rubles (US$32) for allegedly failing to comply with COVID-19 regulations, Zudiyeva told CPJ. He was detained again in November 2021 while on editorial assignment and arrested for 14 days for allegedly participating in a protest, according to a Krym.Realii report and Zudiyeva.

Temeryanov “took up activism and civic journalism in 2019, and then suddenly in 2022 he becomes ‘potentially dangerous’ and they decide to detain him,” Zudiyeva told CPJ. “Everything that seems disloyal to the current regime is gradually being forced out. But journalists in the peninsula have always been in an especially high-risk position.”

On November 14, Crimea Solidarity reported that Temeryanov was undergoing a “compulsory forensic examination” at a psychiatric hospital in Simferopol, where he had been sent for more than 20 days by court order. 

On November 28, Zudiyeva told CPJ that Temeryanov was back in Pretrial Detention No. 1 in Simferopol. “According to his wife, his health condition is satisfactory, but he needs dental care,” she told CPJ. 

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.