Situation with Religious Freedom in Crimea 2015 – OSCE Mission's Report

ORGANIZATION FOR SECURITY AND CO-OPERATION IN EUROPEOffice for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights&High Commissioner on National Minorities Report of the Human Rights Assessment Mission on Crimea (6–18 July 2015) Extract on religious...

Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights
High Commissioner on National Minorities


Report of the Human Rights Assessment Mission on Crimea

(6–18 July 2015)

Extract on religious freedom

Executive Summary

8. Re-registration requirements by the Russian Federation for non-governmental organizations (NGOs), media outlets, and religious organizations have reportedly been leveraged against those opposed to Russian rule, significantly restricting freedom of association, constricting the space for civil society, and decimating the number of independent voices in the media landscape.

18. The space for Ukrainian culture in the illegally annexed Crimea has also decreased. Cultural, religious and symbolic elements of Ukrainian identity have been restricted and/or suppressed through various administrative or law-enforcement measures. Hostile attitudes in Crimea towards residents of Crimea who support the territorial integrity of Ukraine, display Ukrainian state and cultural symbols and publicly celebrate important dates for the Ukrainian culture and history are widespread.

Recommendations to Russian Federation authorities and the de facto authorities in Crimea:

Freedom of assembly:

  • Respect and ensure the rights of all people in Crimea to organize and/or participate in public assemblies, for any peaceful purpose they wish, particularly in relation to their cultural, national or religious holidays.
  • Refrain from imposing unnecessary or disproportionate restrictions on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, including in relation to the time, location or content of public assemblies.
Freedom of association:
  • Allow all previously operating Ukrainian media, non-governmental and religious organizations to operate freely without re-registration in Crimea, and without being considered unlawful.
  • Extend indefinitely all application periods to re-register legal entities that were registered under Ukrainian law (including private enterprises), and provide a simplified procedure to do so without excessive application requirements.
  • Facilitate local consultations with all organizations and legal entities seeking to re-register under Russian laws, in order to identify and provide solutions for any obstacles encountered by potential applicants.


1. Imposition of Russian Laws and Citizenship

1.6. Business and property ‘nationalization’ (expropriations)

68. According to Crimean lawyers, NGOs, residents and IDPs who spoke with the HRAM, as well as NGO reports, the ensuing seizures of public and private properties and businesses have reportedly been without adequate notification, compensation, legal basis or opportunity for appeal. In some cases the seizures were reportedly enforced by “self-defence” militia, or apparently targeting civil society, media organizations, ethnic minorities or religious communities [100].

70. … The Ukrainian government claims that there have been thousands of cases of expropriations of private properties and enterprises from Crimean residents or IDPs who were the legal owners prior to annexation [104]. An Associated Press investigation throughout Crimea also estimated that, already by December 2014, there had been “thousands of businesses seized from their owners since Crimea was annexed by Russia”, identifying in its detailed report a range of expropriation practices including: “legal owners strong-armed off their premises; buildings, farms and other prime real estate seized on dubious pretenses, or with no legal justification at all; nonpayment of the compensation mandated by the Russian constitution; and targeting of assets belonging to or used by independent news media, the Crimea Tatar ethnic minority and the pro-Kiev branch of the Orthodox Church.” [105]

1.9. Religious organization re-registration

88. The right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief is a fundamental right, as recognized under international human rights treaties 135 and OSCE commitments [136]. That right includes the freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief in community with others, including through organizations with legal personality [137]. The Guidelines on the Legal Personality of Religious or Belief Communities, jointly issued by ODIHR and the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, further observe that: “Any procedure that provides religious or belief communities with access to legal personality status should not set burdensome requirements”, and “legislation should not deny access to legal personality status to religious or belief communities on the grounds that some of the founding members of the community in question are foreign or non-citizens, or that its headquarters are located abroad.” [138]

89. Legal organizations of religious communities were also required to re-register under Russian legislation in order to continue their organizational activities, such as renting facilities, hiring employees, or inviting foreigners to participate in their religious activities [139]. Notably, only Russian citizens are legally permitted to register religious organizations as legal entities [140]. While the initial deadline for re-registration was 1 January 2015, it was subsequently extended twice after religious communities continued to experience serious difficulties completing the bureaucratic application procedure. The deadline was extended first to 1 March 2015, and then again to 1 January 2016. [141]

90. Reportedly, the main technical problems faced by religious organizations seeking to re-register were extensive documentation requirements, lack of necessary legal knowledge, and long queues for those seeking to re-register [142]. Those organizations able to subordinate themselves to structures of their religious communities that were already registered in Russia could complete a simplified procedure [143]. However, those seeking to register for the first time under Russian rules were reportedly required to provide additional information, such as on the organization’s doctrine and political views. [144]


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91. At the time of annexation, over 1,400 religious communities were formally registered as legal entities under Ukrainian law, and 674 additional communities (mostly belonging to the Muftiate) operated informally without registration [145]. Prior to the first deadline of 1 January 2015, 150 applications had reportedly been rejected for technical reasons, including all 20 applications by the Jehova’s Witness community, and the applications of the Catholic Church due to providing some documents in the Ukrainian language [146]. At the time of the first extended deadline, Russian authorities reported that only 60 religious organizations (including 9 communities) had successfully re-registered under Russian law [147]. Following the second extended deadline, OHCHR reported that fewer than 200 religious communities had applied for re-registration, and that still only 51 of them had yet been successful as of 8 May 2015 (excluding the 9 religious communities). By 10 August 2015, the website of the Federal Tax Service of the Russian Federation listed as registered in the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol a total of 53 local religious organizations (excluding any communities registered under Moscow-based legal entities through the simplified procedure). [148]

1.10. Summary of findings

92. The post-annexation period has been characterized by a steady consolidation of control by the de facto authorities, including through the rapid application of new and existing Russian Federation laws and regulations to all aspects of public and private life in Crimea. For Crimean residents who were in penal or social care institutions at the time of annexation, there was reportedly no option to reject automatic Russian citizenship. For those residents who wished but were unable to renounce Russian citizenship and obtain permanent residency status, or were unwilling to accept Russian passports, the imposition of Russian laws and citizenship has in some cases resulted in the loss of access to employment and social services, and invalidity at the local level of property titles and registrations of businesses, NGOs, media and religious organizations. In her 2014 annual report, Crimea’s local ombudsperson noted that the lack of Russian passports had caused problems for Crimean residents to gain employment and access public services, including: re-registration of NGOs and private businesses; cadastral records for property transactions; vehicle registrations; and registration for social security, including pensions and health insurance. [149]

93. Under new Russian regulations requiring the re-registration of legal entities, no more than 5 to 10 per cent of the NGOs, media and religious organizations previously registered under Ukrainian law have successfully re-registered with Crimean de facto authorities. In some cases, those re-registration processes appeared to be used to administratively exclude pro-Ukrainian organizations and media, and have quite literally decimated the breadth and diversity of civil society space, while simultaneously chilling dissent. The European Court of Human Rights has found that refusal or delay by authorities in the registration of associations, including where necessary to obtain legal personality, may constitute an interference with the freedom of association. [150]

94. The Guidelines on Freedom of Association, jointly issued by ODIHR and the Venice Commission, further underscore that “re-registration should not automatically be required following changes to legislation on associations”. Yet even when re-registration is necessary, due to exceptional and fundamental changes in the legal framework, “if they do not re-register, the associations should be able to continue to operate without being considered unlawful.” [151]

95. By excluding thousands of NGOs, media and religious organizations from operating in Crimea (including based on citizenship of founders), under the auspices of mandatory re-registration requirements, de facto authorities have also set the table for violations of other interrelated human rights and fundamental freedoms [152]. As ODIHR and the Venice Commission have previously observed, “freedom of association must also be guaranteed as a tool to ensure that all citizens are able to fully enjoy their rights to freedom of expression and opinion, whether practiced collectively or individually.” [153]

2. Civil and Political Rights 

2.1. Freedom of expression

100. Both Ukraine and the Russian Federation are legally obligated under the same international human rights treaties to guarantee freedom of expression without discrimination, including the right of all people to hold opinions, and to receive and impart information without interference by public authorities [158]. Freedom of expression includes the right of journalists and media professionals to gather, report and disseminate information freely [159]. Freedom of expression is necessary for the enjoyment of many other human rights and fundamental freedoms, including among others: freedom of assembly; freedom of association; freedom of thought, conscience or religion; the right to participate in public affairs; and the right to take part in cultural life. [160]

2.1.3. Freedom of the media 

120. Despite ATR’s pre-emptive self-censorship, on 24 September 2014, the Counter-Extremism Centre wrote a letter to ATR’s Director General requesting a wide range of information about the station and its individual staff members. The letter relayed claims allegedly received by the FSB from the “Russian Oversight Committee in Crimea and Sevastopol” that: “the ATR TV channel has changed its media information content and persistently implants the idea about possible national and religious repressions and facilitates development of anti-Russian public opinion and intentionally ignites distrust to the authorities and their actions among Crimean Tatars, which poses an indirect extremist threat.”195

4. Situation of Minority Communities

4.1. Crimean Tatar community

4.1.1 Self-governing organizations of Crimean Tatars

229. In April and May 2014, the long-time leader of the Crimean Tatar people and former chairperson of the Mejlis, Mustafa Dzhemilev, and QHA news agency general co-ordinator and adviser to the Mejlis, Ismet Yuksel, were declared personae non grata and banned from entering Crimea for five years. On 3 May 2014, Dzhemilev attempted to enter the territory of Crimea and was stopped at the administrative border of Kherson Oblast. Up to 2,000 Crimean Tatars gathered to support Dzhemilev and to protest the entry ban.

230. On 5 May 2014, the de facto prosecutor of Crimea issued a warning to the Chairperson of the Mejlis, Refat Chubarov, notifying him that the Mejlis could be banned on the grounds of involvement in the organization of extremist activities in connection with the 3 May event (see paragraph above). On 5 July, while he was away from Crimea, Chubarov was also served a notice by the de facto Prosecutor’s Office of Crimea, banning him from entering the peninsula for five years.

231. The period since early July 2014 has been marked with a wave of “preventive talks” by the security service; warnings from the de facto Prosecutor’s Office of Crimea; and the interrogation and detention of Crimean Tatar leaders and activists, on charges related to extremism, participation in and membership of radical religious organizations and/or taking part in illegal assemblies. During this period, using the Russian Federation’s broad anti-extremism legislation, the authorities exercising de facto control in Crimea have issued several “antiextremist warnings” to the organizations and activists connected with the Mejlis. The pressure mounted further in the run-up to the local elections organized by the de facto authorities in September 2014 and especially after the Crimean Tatar community largely heeded the calls of the Mejlis leaders to boycott them.

4.1.2. Religious organizations of Crimean Tatars

242. The pressure on Crimean Tatar religious organizations exhibits a clear pattern of increasing and subsiding periods. From June to September 2014, the de facto Crimean law-enforcement bodies conducted searches in mosques and madrassas (Islamic schools) across the peninsula and interrogated dozens of Crimean Tatars suspected of possession of banned extremist materials or of affiliation with religious organizations banned under Russian Federation legislation, such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir. Many of these searches took places in mosques and madrassas that belong to the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Crimea (DUMK).

243. On 24 June 2014, the Federal Security Service (FSB) raided a madrassa in the village of Kolchugino in the Simferopol district.380 On 13 August 2014, three madrassas in Simferopol, the Education Centre on Victory Avenue, a women’s madrassa in Kamenka and Seit-Settar madrassa were also searched [381].

244. On 22 September 2014, a seven-hour search was carried out at the Derekoi Mosque in Yalta [382]. Three Crimean Tatars, Ruslan Zeytullaev, Nuri Primov and Rustam Vaitov, were charged with participation in extremist religious organizations under Article 205(5) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. [383]


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245. After the initial wave of raids against religious communities under control of the DUMK, the authorities modified their approach. In January 2015, Sergey Aksyonov, de facto head of Crimea, publicly admitted the excessive nature of searches in the homes of religious Crimean Tatars. On 17 February 2015, the Yevpatoria City Court also ruled that the Juma-Jami Mosque in Yevpatoria belonged to the DUMK, and that a recently formed splinter group that had broken away from DUMK, which calls itself Tavrichseskiy Muftiyat, has no title to it. The latter was founded by the former head of the Juma-Jami religious community [384]. At the end of February 2015, the DUMK was officially registered in accordance with the Russian Federation legislation on registration of religious organizations.

246. The de facto authorities most likely changed their policies towards the DUMK due to the more moderate stance of the DUMK’s leader mufti Emirali Ablaev, who, importantly, is a member of the Mejlis. As of late, he has refrained from direct criticism of the authorities exercising de facto control over Crimea, and has participated in official meetings organized by the de facto authorities. [385]

4.2. Ukrainian identity and culture

263. The October 2014 census conducted by the de facto authorities indicated fewer ethnic Ukrainians and native Ukrainian speakers in Crimea compared with the 2001 census conducted by the Ukrainian Government. The share of ethnic Ukrainians was reported at 15.68 per cent compared to 24.12 in 2001; Ukrainian as a native language was named by 3.3 per cent of the Crimean population compared to 9.55 per cent in 2001. Russian was named as a native language by 79.7 per cent of ethnic Ukrainians [402]. HRAM interlocutors claimed that the de facto authorities manipulated these figures to show that ethnic Ukrainians do not comprise a significant part of Crimea and to justify further limiting access of Crimean residents to the Ukrainian language and culture. They also claimed that many residents of Crimea were afraid to indicate that they belong to the ethnic Ukrainian community. [403]

264. The future of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate remains uncertain. Reportedly, Sergey Aksyonov, de facto head of Crimea, has made a proposal to Archbishop Kliment that the land and property of the Kyiv Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Crimea will be protected if Archbishop Clement becomes a member of the Council on Religious Affairs of Crimea. Some legally rented property of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate has been already put to auction [404]. The deadline for registration of religious communities with the de facto authorities was extended to 1 January 2016 and also applies to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate.

265. Soon after the 2014 Russian Federation annexation of Crimea, several places of worship inside what were previously Ukrainian military bases were seized. These were churches of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kyiv Patriarchate, such as St. Clement’s Church in the Nakhimov Naval Academy in Sevastopol, and the Greek Catholic Church [405]. The Kyiv Patriarchate reportedly claimed that five of its ten priests in the region had been forced to leave Crimea. Greek Catholic priests also fled Crimea following these church seizures, fearing for their safety. [406]

4.4 Summary of findings

292. Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians who openly support the territorial integrity of Ukraine and do not support the de facto authorities continue to be in a particularly vulnerable position. The Mejlis – a self-governing body of Crimean Tatars – became the main target of administrative and criminal reprisals by the de facto authorities. Intimidation, expulsion, or incarceration of prominent leaders of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People has a detrimental effect on the exercise of the political and civil rights of persons belonging to the Crimean Tatar community. The de facto authorities have recently imposed severe limits to the right to freedom of assembly of persons belonging to the Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian communities who openly express their identity and opposition to the illegal annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation. Cultural, religious and symbolic elements of Ukrainian identity have been restricted and/or suppressed through various administrative or law-enforcement measures.

293. Education in and of the Ukrainian language is disappearing in Crimea through pressure on school administrations, teachers, parents and children to discontinue teaching in and of the Ukrainian language. This may further limit the presence of the Ukrainian language and culture on the peninsula. Education both in and of the Crimean Tatar language continues to face obstacles and new challenges brought by the annexation and remains in need of support and revitalization.



100. Interviews with Crimean IDPs (Kyiv, 7 July 2015); interview with NGOs and human rights lawyers in Kyiv (9 July 2015); interview with NGO in Odessa (10 July 2015). Interviewees were directly knowledgeable of the expropriations of hotels and a production plant, among other enterprises. For an exhaustive review of the scope and scale of “nationalizations” of properties and enterprises since annexation, see: UCIPR, “Citizenship, Land and Nationalization of Property in Occupied Crimea: Rights Deficit” (3 June 2015), p.11; Final Analytical Report, p. 7. See also, Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, Human Rights in Ukraine – 2014 (Kharkiv: 2015), “Situation in AR Crimea and Human Rights” (pp. 35–54), at pp. 47-49 (“Crimea: The Protection of Property Rights”).

104. Interview with Andriy Ivanets, Head of the Ukrainian President’s Department on Crimea (Kyiv, 8 July 2015).

105 Associated Press, “Crimea’s New Russian Overlords Are Seizing Thousands of Businesses” (2 December 2014), reported by Laura Mills and John-Thor Dahlburg; available at: http://www.businessinsider.com/crimeas-new-russian-overlords-are-seizing-thousands-of-businesses- 2014-12; with profiles of seized properties available at: http://hosted.ap.org/interactives/2014/crimea

135 Inter alia, Article 9 of the ECHR (note 19 above); and Article 18, ICCPR (note 23 above).

136. For instance, OSCE participating States committed in the Vienna Document (1989) to “grant upon their request to communities of believers, practicing or prepared to practice their faith within the constitutional framework of their States, recognition of the status provided for them in their respective countries”. Concluding Document of the Vienna Meeting (Third Follow-up Meeting to the Helsinki Conference, 15 January 1989, Vienna), para. 16.3.

137. OSCE-ODIHR and Venice Commission, Guidelines on the Legal Personality of Religious or Belief Communities (Warsaw: 4 February 2015), para. 20; available at: http://www.osce.org/odihr/139046

138. Ibid., paras. 25 and 29.

139. Russian Federal Law No. 124-FZ of 5 May 2014, “On the Introduction of Amendments to the Federal Law ‘On the Enactment of the Civil Code of the Russian Federation (First Part)’ and to Article 1202 of the Civil Code of the Russian Federation (Third Part)” (entry into force 1 July 2014), available at: http://www.consultant.ru/document/cons_doc_LAW_162572/

140. See Articles 8(1) and 9(1), Russian Federal Law No. 125-FZ of 26 September 1996, “On the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations” (with amendments), available at: http://legislationline.org/download/action/download/id/4379/file/RF_Freedom_of_Conscience_Law_1 997_am2008_en.pdf.

141. OHCHR report of May 2015 (note 112 above).

142. Crimean Field Mission on Human Rights, Brief Review of the Situation in Crimea (February 2015 report), p. 15 (“Freedom of Conscience and Religion”).

143. See note 139 above.

144. Ibid, as prescribed by order No. 53 of the Ministry of Justice “On State Religious Expertise” (18 February 2009).

145. See MFA of the Russian Federation, submission to UNESCO (14 April 2015, available at: http://russianunesco.ru/eng/article/2070); Crimean Field Mission on Human Rights, Brief Review of the Situation in Crimea (February 2015 report), p. 15 (“Freedom of Conscience and Religion”); and Forum 18, “Crimea: Only one percent of religious organisations re-registered” (26 March 2015), available at: http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2050.

146. Ibid.

147. See MFA of the Russian Federation, submission to UNESCO (14 April 2015, available at: http://russianunesco.ru/eng/article/2070)

148. See online registration database of the Federal Tax Service, available at: http://egrul.nalog.ru/

149. Crimea ombudsperson, Annual Report 2014 (note 43 above), pp. 5, 12.

150. Case of Ismayilov v Azerbaijan, Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights (17 January 2008).

151. See OSCE/ODIHR and Venice Commission, Guidelines on Freedom of Association (17 December 2014), para. 166. Available at: http://www.osce.org/odihr/132371. The Guidelines further recall that the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association reaffirmed that: “Newly adopted laws should not request all previously registered associations to re-register so that existing associations are protected against arbitrary rejection or time gaps in the conduct of their activities.” Report to the UN Human Rights Council (Best practices that promote and protect the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association), UN Doc. A/HRC/20/27 (21 May 2012), para. 62.

152. The Guidelines on Freedom of Association (para. 17, ibid.) observe: “The right to freedom of association is interrelated with other human rights and freedoms, such as the rights to freedom of expression and opinion, freedom of assembly and freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”

153. See OSCE/ODIHR and Venice Commission, Guidelines on Political Party Regulation (Warsaw: ODIHR, 2011), para. 37. Available at: http://www.osce.org/odihr/77812

160. Articles 18, 21, 22 and 25, ICCPR (note 23 above); Article 15, ICESCR (note 24 above).

195. Letter issued to ATR Director General by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Crimea, CounterExtremism Centre (Simferopol, dated 24 September 2014).

380. Forum 18 News Service: Felix Corley, “Crimea: Raids, violence, threats – but what protection do victims get?” Available at: http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1972

381. Forum 18 News Service: Felix Corley, “Crimea: First known Russian religious literature ‘extremism’ prosecution”. Available at: http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1989. Other raids and searches over the summer of 2014 were also reported in this news piece.

382. Ялтинскую мечеть «трясли» 7 часов (Yalta Mosque was "ransacked" for seven hours), news story in Russian, 23 September 2014, available at: http://15minut.org/article/jaltinskuju-mechet-trjasli-7- chasov-v-musulmanskij-hram-siloviki-voshli-ne-snim-2014-09-23-18-59-09.

383. Е. Сковорода, «Боюсь, что будет не один десяток обвиняемых» (Skovoroda, E, "I am afraid there will be more than one dozen persons of the accused), news story in Russian,18 March 2015, available at: http://zona.media/story/crimean-tatars-persecution/

384. Tavrichseskiy Muftiyat positions itself as a pro-Kremlin and anti-DUMK religious community. In its public statements, it accuses the DUMK of “having links with Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the Mejlis”. See, for, example, Обращение Президенту Российской Федерации В.В. Путину (Appeal to the President of the Russian Federation V.V. Putin), 27 March 2015. Available in Russian at: http://cdumk.ru/novosti/175-obrashchenie-prezidentu-rossijskoj-federatsii-v-v-putinu

385. Mufti Emirali Ablaev allegedly has helped, behind the scenes, individual Crimean Tatars who had been arrested by the de facto authorities by negotiating their release on bail. For instance, reportedly, one of the suspects in the 26 February case – the ATR cameraman, Eskender Nabiev – was released from custody on the personal guarantee of mufti Emirali Ablaev.

402. Statistics on the ethnic composition of Crimea from the de facto authorities is available at: http://www.gks.ru/free_doc/new_site/population/demo/perepis_krim/tab-krim.htm

403. Interview with Andriy Shekun.

404. За Россию стоит Путин, за крымских татар – весь мир, за украинцев в Крыму – никто. Интервью Оксаны Наумко с Архиепископом Климентом (Putin is standing up for Russia; the entire world for Crimean Tatars; but nobody for Ukrainians in Crimea. Interview with Archbishop Clement by Oksana Naumko), in Russian, 3 June 2015, available at: http://ru.krymr.com/content/article/27051858.html

405. Forum 18 News Service: Felix Corley, “Crimea: Religious freedom survey”, March 2015, available at: http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2051

406. Ibid.


The Institute for Religious Freedom, Ukraine

Institute for Religious Freedom

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