The following is based on a communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and other UN experts to the Government of Russia on 27 July 2023. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public, giving the Government time to reply. Regrettably, the Government did not reply within this time frame. If a reply is received it will be posted on the UN Special Procedures communications database.
This is a shorter version of the original communication.
Topic: persistent judicial harassment, namely two pending administrative charges, against the human rights defender Abdureshit Dzhepparov.
Mr. Abdureshit Dzhepparov is a human right defender and activist of the Crimean Tatar National Movement. He has raised awareness surrounding the issues faced by the indigenous community of Crimean Tatar people and has advocated for the community’s right to return to their homeland after they were deported from the region in 1944, following the occupation of the region by the USSR. Moreover, Mr. Abdureshit Dzhepparov has coordinated the ‘Crimean Contact Group on Human Rights’, which deals with enforced disappearances on the Russia-occupied Crimean peninsula. Aside from this, the human rights defender has co-founded several other human rights initiatives, including the groups ‘Crimean Solidarity’ and ‘Qirim Gayesi’. The latter of these, which translates as “Crimean Idea”, is human rights organisation which monitors violations of international humanitarian law in the Russia-annexed Crimean Peninsula and which issues news publications and overviews in relation to this. In 2020, Mr. Abdureshit Dzhepparov received a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.
On 27 September 2014, two of Mr. Dzhepparov’s sons and his nephew were forcibly disappeared near the Crimean Tatar village of Sary-Su in the Bilohirsk district following continued harassment by state authorities.
On 19 August 2019, Mr. Dzhepparov published a video on social media where he made comparisons between a Soviet military march song, “Aviator’s March” and a song from the Nazi regime in Germany.
On 16 March 2022, Federal Security Service of Russia (FSB) officials searched Mr. Dzhepparov’s home in Sary-Su village of Bilogorsk District in Russia-annexed Crimea. They seized Mr. Dzhepparov’s hard-drives, detaining his relatives and lawyer, and forbidding the presence of the latter as part of the search.
On the same day, Mr. Dzhepparov and his lawyer appeared before the Belogorsk District Court on the charge of “propaganda and public display of Nazi paraphernalia and symbols” under article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences of the Russian Federation pertaining to his video on 19 August 2019. He was given a 15 day administrative sentence in Evpatoria Temporary Detention Centre before being released on 31 March 2022.
On 25 April 2023 at 7 a.m., unidentified individuals wearing Russian military uniforms raided Mr. Abdureshit Dzhepparov’s family home in Bilohirsk, in Russian-annexed Crimea. During the raid, it is reported that the phones of the human rights defender and his wife were seized immediately, as well as the laptop belonging to Mr. Dzhepparov. Furthermore, both Mr. Dzhepparov and his wife were forbidden from contacting their lawyers or any other person during the course of the raids.
Following the raid, these same individuals in military uniform reportedly kidnapped the human rights defender and brought him to an unknown location. At his disappearance, both his family members and his lawyer made efforts to track down the location of Mr. Dzhepparov by contacting the Russian Federal Security Service, the local department of the Ministry of Interior and the Center for Combating Extremism to seek information as to his whereabouts. However, when questioned as to Mr. Dzhepparov`s location, the representatives of these government bodies denied that Mr. Dzhepparov was being detained on their premises.
Later on the same day, sometime after 9 p.m., Russian authorities communicated to Mr. Dzhepparov’s lawyer and family that the human rights defender had in fact been transferred to the Detention Centre for Administrative Detainees, located in the police precinct of Zaliznychnyi district, in the city of Simferopol.
On 25 April 2023, Mr. Dzhepparov was charged with the administrative offence of “disobedience to the lawful order of a police officer,” as per article 19.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences of the Russian Federation, which carries a punishment of 12 days detention. This sentence was on account of allegedly obstructing the seizure of his laptop during the course of the raid on his home. Mr. Dzhepparov’s lawyer was not informed as to when and where the court hearing took place, and consequently was not in attendance. Moreover, it is reported that Mr. Dzhepparov was not informed that he was facing administrative charges until he was present in the courtroom at his hearing, having been misleadingly advised beforehand that the raid on his home was nothing more than a “preventative measure”.
On 7 May 2023, Mr. Dzhepparov was released after completing his 12 day administrative sentence. Reportedly, the group of people that had gathered at the site of his release were forcibly dispersed by police officers. These same police authorities also took the details of three human rights lawyers who were in attendance at the scene.
Furthermore, it is reported that, following the raid on Mr. Dzhepparov’s family home, and while in possession of his laptop, Russian law enforcement officers reviewed the Facebook page of “Qirim Gayesi”, the human rights organization of which Mr. Dzhepparov is a cofounder.
Subsequent to this investigation, it is reported that Mr. Dzhepparov received two administrative charges in connection with social media posts that Russian law enforcement authorities, as a consequence of this review, believe him to have authored. Though these were also issued in April, Mr. Abdureshit Dzhepparov was not made aware of them until May.
The first administrative charge against Mr. Dzhepparov relates to a post on the “Qirim Gayesi” Facebook page, dated 3 March 2023, which commented on the transfer and incommunicado detention of civilian hostages from other Russian-occupied territories to Crimea. It also specifically discussed the illegal forced transfer of children from an orphanage in the formerly Russia-occupied Kherson region of Ukraine to Crimea. In the post, the Russian Federation was referred to as the “occupying power.” This post, the Prosecutor for the case has stated, may amount to what is termed “discrediting the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation,” an administrative offence articulated in article 20.3.3 of the Russian Code of Administrative Offences. The human rights defender has maintained that, while he has been involved in the work of “Qirim Gayesi”, he was not responsible for writing the Facebook post in question, since he does not administer the social media accounts belonging to the organisation.
The second administrative charge that Mr. Dzhepparov has been faced with is an alleged “abuse of freedom of the mass media,” an administrative offence as per part 9 of article 13.15 of the Russian Code of Administrative Offences. This charge is similarly in connection with a Facebook post issued by “Qirim Gayesi” which commented on the sounds of explosions near the city of Feodosia on 8 April 2023, as well as the forced conscription of Crimean Tatars by the occupying authorities.
On 13 June 2023, the hearing on the first of these administrative cases against the human rights defender, concerning the charge of “discrediting the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation,” as per article 20.3.3 of the Russian Code of Administrative Offences, began in the Kyivskyi District Court in Simferopol in Russian-occupied Crimea.
On 26 June 2023, the court proceeded with the next hearing of Mr. Dzhepparov, in which they agreed to interrogate him.
In total, it is understood there has been four hearings associated with this case, each lasting over 2 hours, with the fourth and final hearing taking place on 7 July 2023. The judge agreed to hear the testimonies of the police investigator, as well as the two attesting witnesses who had been present at the time of the raids on Mr. Dzhepparov’s house on 25 April 2023. This is because it was mentioned in the protocol that Mr. Dzhepparov claimed that “Qirim Gayesi” was “his page” during the raid. However, in the course of the hearings, only the police investigator, Roman Filatov, and one of the attesting witnesses gave testimony. Furthermore, no other expert examinations were made, or other evidence presented.
On 4 July 2023, the case concerning the second administrative charge against Mr. Dzhepparov, “abuse of freedom of the mass media,” as per article 13.15 of the Russian Code of Administrative Offences, was transferred from the court in Simferopol to the Bilohirsk court in Crimea, where he lives. The date for the first hearing has still not been set and Mr. Dzhepparov has not yet received the court summons.
On 7 July 2023, the Kyivskyi District Court of Simferopol in Russian-occupied Crimea fined Mr. Dzhepparov 45,000 rubles, in relation to the first administrative offence against him; “discrediting the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation,” as per article 20.3.3 of the Russian Code of Administrative Offences.
In the communication, we express our grave concern at the reported judicial harassment of Mr. Dzhepparov, which appears to be in retaliation to his work as a human rights defender. Our concerns in this regard are aggravated by the apparent violations of due process guarantees in Mr. Dzhepparov’s case, including the fact that his transfer to Simferopol and his hearing on 25 April 2023 took place without his lawyer being duly notified. We are further concerned that the judicial harassment against Mr. Dzhepparov may have a broader chilling effect on freedom of expression and association in Crimea.