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Crimea: conviction of Tatar leader Ilmi Umerov is latest in ongoing crackdown on critics

Prominent critic of Russian occupation sentenced to two years in penal colony

‘It looks like in Crimea reprisals will continue until there is no one left to criticise the occupation’ - Oksana Pokalchuk

Today’s conviction of Ilmi Umerov, a prominent critic of Russia’s occupation of Crimea and leader of the Crimean Tatar people, is the latest encroachment on fundamental rights and freedoms on the peninsula, said Amnesty International, as it called for the conviction to be quashed.

Mr Umerov, 60, was sentenced by a de facto court in Crimea this morning to two years in a penal colony.

The Simferopol District Court found Umerov - the deputy leader of the Crimean Tatar community’s now-outlawed representative body Mejlis - guilty of making “public calls to violate the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation” (Article 280.1 of the Russian Criminal Code) and sentenced him to two years in a penal colony. During the pre-trial investigation, Umerov was confined in a psychiatric institution for three weeks to undergo a forced examination. Apparently as a form of punishment, Umerov was placed in a closed ward for patients with severe mental health conditions. His defence team has vowed to appeal his sentence and Umerov will remain at home until the appeal is heard.

Last week, the same court handed Ukrainian journalist Mykola Semena a two-and-a-half-year suspended prison sentence. Like Umerov, he was accused of threatening the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation on account of their public opposition to the Russian occupation and annexation of Crimea. Semena is one of the few remaining pro-Ukrainian journalists in Crimea after the Russian occupation in 2014. The Russian security services placed him under surveillance and eventually started a criminal case against him for writing an article in which he called for the Russian forces to leave Crimea. His conviction prohibits him from participating in public life for three years.

In less than a month, three vocal critics of Russia’s Crimea annexation have now been convicted after being brought before criminal courts for non-violently opposing the de facto authorities. Earlier this month, Akhtem Chiygoz, deputy leader of the Mejlis - the executive-representative body for Crimean Tatars - was sentenced to eight years in a penal colony after a sham trial.

Oksana Pokalchuk, Amnesty International’s Ukraine Director, said:

“The sentencing of Ilmi Umerov, who is 60 and has Parkinson’s disease, marks yet another stage in the de facto government’s lengthy persecution of him. 

“His imprisonment follows a series of politically-motivated trials, arbitrary arrests and intimidation against critics of Russian authorities in Crimea. It is a clear violation of freedom of expression

“It looks like in Crimea reprisals will continue until there is no one left to criticise the occupation.

“The sentences against Akhtem Chiygoz, Mykola Semena and Ilmi Umerov must be immediately quashed. Chiygoz should be immediately and unconditionally freed, and any restrictions imposed on any one of them as part of their sentence immediately lifted.”

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