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(Simferopol) – Crimean authorities should urgently conduct a thorough investigation into the enforced disappearance and subsequent killing of Reshat Ametov, a Crimean Tatar from the Simferopol region, and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Ametov’s relatives told Human Rights Watch that he was last seen during a protest on March 3, 2014, on Lenin Square in Simferopol, Ukraine, where three unidentified men in military-style jackets had led him away. Relatives’ efforts to locate him, including through a complaint to the police, were unsuccessful. On March 16, local police informed them that a body bearing marks of violent death had been found outside the town of Belogorsk. On March 17, the family identified the body as Ametov’s.

“The disappearance and murder of Reshat Ametov illustrates the climate of lawlessness that has been pervasive in Crimea over the last week,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Crimean authorities have a duty to thoroughly investigate this case and punish those responsible, whoever they are.”

Ametov, a 39-year-old seasonal construction worker and the father of three young children, was well known in the Crimean Tatar community. Ametov had regularly petitioned local authorities regarding problems in his neighborhood and discussed on his Facebook page issues related to the situation of Crimean Tatars and the future of Crimea, a relative told Human Rights Watch.

On the morning of March 3, Ametov went to Lenin Square, where a small peaceful protest was taking place in front of the Crimean Council of Ministers building. He did not return home that night, and his wife contacted other relatives the following morning. They filed a police report and started making inquiries among people who had been at the protest.  

Ametov’s relative told Human Rights Watch that witnesses who had been at the square said that at around 10 a.m. Ametov had passed through the line of men from self-defense units and approached a group of armed men in green uniforms. Footage from ATR (Crimean television channel) shows two men in green uniforms and one in a black uniform, all without insignias, leading Ametov away from the square.

Ametov’s relative submitted a missing person report to the local police, who opened an investigation. But in the two weeks following his enforced disappearance, the family did not receive any information about Ametov’s whereabouts or fate.

On March 16, local police in the town of Belogorsk, 45 kilometers east of Simferopol, informed Teifuk Gafarov, a lawyer with the Mejlis, the Crimean Tatar representative body, that local villagers had found a man’s body in a nearby forest. The next day, Ametov’s wife identified the body as her husband’s.

Local media reports suggested that the body bore marks of torture and that there was transparent tape wrapped around Ametov’s head and hands. Human Rights Watch was not able to verify these reports, but Ametov’s relative said the local police told him that the death was registered as “violent.” Ametov’s relatives have not yet been able to retrieve either his body or the death certificate from the mortuary.

Human Rights Watch previously documented abuses committed by Crimean self-defense forces and unidentified military forces across Crimea, and called on the Crimean authorities to disarm and disband these units and prosecute those responsible for abuses.

“For weeks, armed masked men who refuse to identify themselves have harassed and intimidated people,” Denber said. “Failure to call a halt to this mistreatment and investigate would only embolden the people responsible for the abuse.”

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