Tatar leader jailed in Crimea 

Tatar leader jailed in Crimea 

A court in the Russian-occupied Crimea peninsula has sentenced a prominent Crimean Tatar leader, Akhtem Chiygoz, to eight years in jail.

A court in the Crimean capital, Simferopol, sentenced Chiygoz after finding him guilty of organising an illegal protest in Simferopol in February 2014, before Russia seized the peninsula from Ukraine. Clashes between rival crowds left two dead.

Chiygoz, 52, is a leader of the Majlis or Mejlis, a Crimean Tatar assembly that was banned by Moscow after the invasion and was arrested in Crimea in January 2015.

His sentence was immediately condemned by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Facebook: “You can illegally restrict freedom, but you can never break free will and truth! You can occupy another’s land, but it will burn beneath your feet and seethe until it is liberated.”

The Turkic-speaking Tatars’ 33-member parliament was legally recognised by Ukraine in 1999 while Moscow claimed it was an extremist organisation.

The Crimean Tatars are a largely Sunni Muslim group who suffered mass deportation under Soviet strongman Josef Stalin in 1944 and make up more than 12 per cent of Crimea’s largely ethnic Russian population of about 2 million.

Activists said his detention was part of a persistent campaign of reprisals against residents who opposed the Russian occupation. Earlier this year a group of four Tatars were convicted of being members of banned Islamist group, Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Russia has been criticised for its treatment of members of the indigenous Turkic-speaking Crimean Tatar minority.

When the former pro-Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was driven from power in 2014, after months of protests, Russia invaded the peninsula. Many Tatars fled, including the leader of the community, Mustafa Dzhemilev, while there have been several alleged disappearances.

Chiygoz and two other Crimean Tatars charged in connection with the demonstration, Ali Asanov and Mustafa Degermendzhy, are named as political prisoners by the Russian rights group Memorial.

Chiygoz’s lawyer Nikolai Polozov said the sentence was unlawful, as Chiygoz was a citizen of Ukraine, where the criminal code did not contain any such the offence.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and other international bodies have called for their release. The European Union and Amnesty International say the human rights of Crimean Tatars have been violated.

Ukrainian anti-Putin protesters in 2014. Picture credit: Wikimedia 

 

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