The Russian authorities’ isolation of Ukrainian journalists : Iryna Danilovych has been transferred from Crimea to Russia

Persecuted by Russia’s judicial machine and sentenced to seven years in prison on a trumped-up explosives charge in 2022, Ukrainian journalist Iryna Danilovych who is in very poor health after 15 months in detention was transferred from Crimea to Russia 24 July 2023.  Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns this illegal Russian decision and calls on the authorities to free the journalist at once.

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Update: On August 9, 2023, Iryna Danilovich was transferred from the Armavir pre-trial detention center to Zelenokoumsk prison, taking her even further away from Crimea. She reports to her father that her jailers confiscated essential medicines, telling her: "It will pass on its own once you become deaf". Her father then announced that she had completely lost hearing in her left ear, a fact made public on 21 August.

Just three days after the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders called for Danilovych’s release, it emerged that the Russian authorities, turning a deaf ear to the international community appeals, are planning to transfer her to Russia. Initially scheduled for 17 July, her transfer was delayed by an explosion on the Crimean bridge. Despite her lawyer’s negotiation efforts, she was transported 24 July from Simferopol, the Crimean capital, to Krasnodar, a city in southwestern Russia that is a ten-hour drive away from Simferopol (editor's note: the information that she had been transferred to Armavir, a town in the Krasnodar region, and not to Krasnodar itself, became known after the publication of this press release). This appalling development follows the Crimean supreme court’s cynical decision in June to reduce Danilovych’s sentence by just one month on appeal, from seven years to six years and 11 months.

“This transfer to Russia, one of the political persecution techniques used in the Crimean peninsula ever since its annexation in 2014, must now be seen as a threatening eventuality for the other journalists imprisoned in Crimea. We denounce this measure, which violates the Geneva Convention and is designed to isolate Iryna Danilovych from her relatives and lawyers. She and the other Ukrainian journalists detained in occupied territory or in Russia must be released immediately.”

Jeanne Cavelier
Head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk

Danilovych's health has worsened dramatically in prison but her jailers continue to deny her access to appropriate medical care. She is at risk of hearing loss in her left ear and suffers from permanent headaches and tinnitus which cause her to lose consciousness. From prison, Danilovych wrote that, in response to her request for medical attention, the prison authorities said she “would do better to cut her wrists.” During her appeal, her request for a hearing postponement on health grounds was rejected by the court. In the same way, her health problems were completely ignored in the transfer decision, yet again flouting this journalist's rights.

A sad textbook case of Russian justice in Crimea, Danilovych’s illegal detention has been referred to the European Court, which is currently studying a complaint filed by the human rights NGO CrimeaSOS. The referral is similar to the complaint for enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention and denial of due process that RSF filed in September 2022 with the International Criminal Court and the Ukrainian prosecutor-general’s office in connection with Danilovych’s case.

Danilovych had been harassed by the Russian authorities since 2016 in connection with her coverage of public health issues in Crimea, especially at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, when she was posting on social media and reporting for several media outlets. Abducted by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) on 29 April 2022, she was illegally held incommunicado in the basement of FSB headquarters in Simferopol, for eight days, until she was officially detained. She continued to be detained provisionally until 28 December 2022, when she was finally convicted on a trumped-up charge of “fabricating explosives.”

The Crimean peninsula’s annexation by Russia since 2014 has had a very negative impact on local journalists, who have been harassed constantly by the occupying authorities – harassment that has increased since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. An imprisoned journalist who is a member of Crimea’s Tatar community was also transferred to Russia about two months ago. It was Remzi Bekirov, who was sentenced to 19 years in prison in 2022 on a trumped-up terrorism charge.

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