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article imageRussia hands Crimean Tatar leader 2-year sentence

By Lilya Budzhurova (AFP)     Sep 27, 2017 in Crime

A court in Moscow-annexed Crimea on Wednesday sentenced leading Crimean Tatar activist Ilmi Umerov to two years in a penal colony on charges of "separatism".

The Simferopol district court sentenced Umerov, who suffers from Parkinson's disease and diabetes, to two years in a penal settlement, a type of prison colony with a more open regime.

The 60-year-old activist is one of the Crimean Tatars' most prominent community leaders and has irked Moscow by opposing its 2014 annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine.

Umerov told AFP after the verdict that he would appeal to Crimea's Supreme Court and, if unsuccessful, appeal the European Court of Human Rights.

"This sentence will not force me to change my convictions," he said.

"I will remain a person who considers that Crimea is the territory of Ukraine that has been occupied by Russia."

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko condemned the sentence as "disgraceful" on Twitter, calling Umerov "a hero of his people against whom Moscow used the worst methods of Soviet-era repression."

The Kremlin-backed authorities have launched a vicious crackdown on Tatars since Crimea's annexation.

Earlier this month, another Crimean Tatar leader Akhtem Chiygoz was jailed for eight years over deadly clashes at a rally, in a trial Amnesty International rights group called a "sham."

The Crimean Tatars are a Muslim people native to Crimea who were deported under Stalin and only returned to the peninsula in the 1990s.

Umerov's lawyer Mark Feigin told AFP the sentence was unexpectedly harsh.

"This sentence is too unexpected -- even for the Russian justice system -- since the prosecutor asked for a 3 1/2 year suspended sentence."

Feigin called the sentence "yet more proof that there are no trials of political cases in Russia -- these are just orders and political expediency of the Kremlin."

In May last year, Russia charged Umerov with making public calls to change Russia's borders after he said on Crimean Tatar television channel ATR that Crimea should be returned to Ukraine.

Umerov was the deputy chairman of the Crimean Tatars' elected governing body, the Mejlis, which the Russian authorities banned as extremist last year.

His trial began last summer, when he was forcibly detained in a psychiatric hospital for three weeks to undergo forced testing of his sanity.

Umerov is still free, pending his appeal, his lawyer Feigin said.

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