Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, said in a statement. “Iryna Danylovich’s alarming disappearance prompts fears of yet another clampdown on independent reporting in Russian-occupied Crimea, which is already an extremely restrictive environment for the press.”
The Crimean human rights activist and nurse disappeared on her way home from work in the Russian-annexed peninsula almost two weeks ago. On Wednesday, her loved ones finally received confirmation she had been detained by Russian authorities, who have until now refused to say whether, where or by whom she was being held.
Danylovich’s lawyer Aider Azamatov has spent the past 12 days searching for her in detention centers across the peninsula. He told CNN that like her friends and family, he was repeatedly turned away and told by the authorities they had no information about Danylovich.
That all changed on Wednesday afternoon.
“We went to the detention center in Simferopol again and I was finally told that Iryna is there. They didn’t let us speak or see each other,” he said.
Azamatov told CNN he was given documents that show Danylovich has been charged with Illegal handling of explosives or explosive devices – a charge she denies.
Danylovich’s father Bronislav told the news site Krym.Realii, a Radio Liberty affiliate, that his daughter went missing on the morning of April 29, after finishing her shift at a medical facility in Koktebel, southeastern Crimea.
At around the same time, Azamatov said, balaclava-clad officials from the Russian special police unit came to the house Danylovich shares with her parents in the village of Vladislavovka, near Feodosiya. Vladislavovka is about 34 kilometers (21 miles) from Koktebel.
He told CNN that the officials who searched the family’s house told her father she had been sentenced to 10 days of administrative arrest for “the transfer of unclassified information to a foreign state.”
However, they refused to hand over any documents.
Crimean authorities were not immediately available to comment on Wednesday afternoon.
When CNN inquired about Danylovich on Tuesday, Crimean authorities refused to comment. The officer on duty at the prosecutor’s office for Russian-occupied Crimea referred CNN to authorities in Danylovich’s hometown.
When CNN reached the police station in Feodosiya on Tuesday, the person who answered the call said they knew nothing about the case and hung up.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russian-occupied Crimea did not respond to a written request for comment. A phone number listed on its website is not reachable.
Through her work as a citizen journalist, Danylovich has exposed problems in Crimea’s health care system, including in its response to the coronavirus pandemic. She has written for a number of Ukrainian media outlets and has published her findings on Facebook.
Human rights organization Crimea SOS said Wednesday that Danylovich faces up to eight years in prison.
“Human rights activists are now investigating whether there was falsification of evidence. It is known that Iryna does not admit her guilt and has refused to testify,” the group said in a statement.
It added that the case had “all the elements of an enforced disappearance.”
The term enforced disappearance describes disappearances either perpetrated by state actors or by others acting on behalf of, or with the support of, state authorities, followed by a refusal to disclose the person’s fate and whereabouts.
Because the authorities refuse to acknowledge detention, the victim doesn’t have any legal protection and perpetrators are rarely prosecuted, according to the UN.
The UN says the practice is often used as a strategy to spread terror within society.
Danylovich’s case is the latest in a string of disappearances of activists, journalists and ordinary citizens reported over the last decade in Crimea.
According to a report published in March 2021, the UN Human Rights Office documented at least 43 cases of enforced disappearances in Crimea between 2014 and 2018.
The UN said they were mostly abductions and kidnappings and that some of the victims – 39 men and four women – had been subjected to ill treatment and torture. Eleven of the men remained missing, and one man remained in detention at the time of the report.
The UN said they had not been able to document any prosecutions in relation to any of the cases.
CNN’s Anna Chernova contributed reporting.