A court on Wednesday found a Crimean dissident opposed to Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea guilty of separatism and sentenced him to two years in a prison colony, a punishment supporters said amounted to a death penalty for such an ill man.
Ilmi Umerov was deputy head of the Crimean Tatars’ semi-official Mejlis legislature before it was suspended by Moscow after it took control of the peninsula in 2014, a move condemned by the West and Ukraine.
State prosecutors had accused the 60-year-old of making statements that undermined Russia’s territorial integrity by calling in an interview for an end to Russian control of Crimea.
Umerov, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and attacks of high blood pressure, said he did oppose Russia’s annexation but that the interview which prosecutors objected to had been badly translated and his words distorted.
His lawyer, Mark Feygin, said on social media that he would appeal Wednesday’s verdict which was delivered by a court in Simferopol, the Crimean capital.
Feygin said he hoped Western countries would put pressure on Russia to try to quash the verdict. “His dispatch to a prison colony would mean his death,” he said of his client.
The Tatars, a mainly Muslim community that makes up about 15 percent of Crimea’s population, have largely opposed Russian rule in the peninsula and say the 2014 annexation was illegal, a view supported by the West.
Moscow says the overwhelming majority of Crimeans voted to join Russia in a proper and fair referendum.
Feygin, Umerov’s lawyer, posted a video on social media in which his client said he still thought Crimea should be returned to Ukraine.
Ahtem Chiygoz, another Crimean Tatar leader, was found guilty of stirring up anti-Russian protests earlier this month and jailed for eight years, a move Ukraine’s president called an act of Russian repression.
A U.N. human rights report said on Monday that Russia had committed grave human rights violations in Crimea, including its imposition of citizenship and by deporting prisoners. Moscow said it deemed those allegations “groundless”.