Crimeans struggle to exercise their basic human rights amid Russian persecution.

Earlier this week, Russian president Vladimir Putin inaugurated a new bridge linking occupied Crimea to the Russian mainland. But for Crimeans living under de facto Russian rule, there is little to celebrate. Many individuals, particularly Crimean Tatars, have seen respect for freedom of belief, freedom of the media, freedom of expression, and freedom of association all but disappear over the last four years. While life under the Ukrainian constitution between 1991 and 2014 was not without challenges, citizens’ access to democratic rights and fundamental freedoms has undergone a jarring change for the worse.

Ukraine as a whole remains Partly Free, according to Freedom House’s Freedom in the World index, but Crimea has been designated Not Free since the Russian occupation began, as those who try to exercise their basic rights face harsh repression by the authorities. Indeed, the territory’s separate score is among the worst in the entire Eurasia region, falling below that of the Russian Federation itself.

A grim anniversary

Putin’s bridge ceremony came three days before the 74th anniversary of “Sürgünlik,” the state-imposed exile of the Crimean Tatar people. In one of the darkest chapters in Soviet history, more than 180,000 men, women, and children were roused in the middle of the night, rounded up, and packed into cattle cars bound for Siberia and Central Asia. It is estimated that nearly 8,000 perished during the journey alone, and those who survived faced difficult living conditions and the threat of…