Crimea: another anniversary of events of 26 February
Five years have passed since the events that unfolded on 26 February 2014 outside the building of the Crimean Parliament in Simferopol. On that day, two demonstrations took place at the venue: a pro-Ukrainian protest and a counter-protest of pro-Russian separatists. The event marked the high point of tensions in the Crimea and the starting point of the active phase of the occupation of the peninsula.
After the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine, commonly known as the Euromaidan, pro-Russian sentiment grew in the Crimea. Local authorities publicly considered Crimea’s breakout from Ukraine. At the end of February 2014, the active and unauthorised movements of Russian troops were observed in the Crimea. On 26 February, two rallies were held outside the Parliament of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea in Simferopol: one was organised by the “Russian Unity”, a political party endorsing the Crimea’s secession from Ukraine, and the other one by the Majlis, the local government body of Crimean Tatars, who expressed their support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine. During the demonstration, a confrontation between the two protesting groups broke out, which resulted in two fatalities and numerous injuries.
Ukrainian authorities have initiated criminal proceedings related to demonstrators’ deaths. However, after the Crimea’s annexation, these investigations were conducted by law enforcement agencies subordinated to Russia. In January 2015, a group of Crimean Tatars who took part in the pro-Ukrainian rally were charged with organizing and participating in mass riots. Only the demonstrators expressing their support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine were held criminally responsible. Ahtem Chiygoz, deputy head of the Mejlis representative body of Crimean Tatars was charged first and later sentenced to eight years in prison. The remaining eight defendants received suspended sentences of two to five years. The events of 26 February became a pretext for the subsequent banning of the Majlis and the large-scale repression against Crimean Tatars opposing the Russian occupation of the Crimea.
Expert group report
In December 2015, NGOs from Ukraine, Poland and Moldova formed an international expert group to evaluate the events of 26 February. As a result of its work, the group published a report entitled 26 February Criminal Case, which presents a detailed reconstruction of the course of events of the day, as well as a legal analysis of the events in the context of international standards on the freedom of assembly, initiation of criminal proceedings and a fair trial. In the report, experts show that the events that occurred outside the Supreme Council building in Simferopol were not riots and that the police took a rather passive stance during the events, generally limiting their involvement to monitoring the rallies.
In October 2017, Ahtem Chiygoz was moved to Turkey and later to Ukraine. Russian authorities do not provide details and the legal basis for these operations. Mr Chiygoz is currently free and actively works for the victims of repression in the Crimea. The remaining sentenced demonstrators are serving their sentences in the Crimea. Since the Russian Federation took effective control of the Crimean peninsula, about 47 persons have been convicted in politically motivated administrative and criminal proceedings and 44 individuals have fallen victim to enforced disappearances, the fate of 15 of them is unknown.