Russia has handed two imprisoned Crimean Tatar leaders over to Turkey, freeing them from incarceration.
Akhtem Chiygoz and Ilmi Umerov — both jailed on charges related to their opposition to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea — were first brought to the occupied Crimean capital of Simferopol, then flown to the Russian city of Anapa, before finally being sent to Ankara, Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev told the Ukrainska Pravda newspaper.
Their release came as the result of agreements reached during Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Ukraine earlier this month, Dzhemilev added.
“What everyone has long been waiting for has finally happened,” the two men’s lawyer, Nikolai Polozov, wrote on Facebook. “Akhtem Chiygoz and Ilmi Umerov are fearless heroes of the Crimean Tatar people. Today, they are freed from criminal prosecution. This is the natural result of titanic efforts and successful legal, political, and diplomatic work.”
The two men were pardoned by Russian President Vladimir Putin, but the presidential order was classified and not published, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported, citing Polozov.
On September 11, 2017, a Russian court in annexed Crimea sentenced Chiygoz, deputy chairman of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis assembly, to eight years in prison for allegedly organizing mass disturbances outside the Crimean Supreme Council in February 2014 during the Russian annexation.
Just two weeks later, on September 27, Russia sentenced Umerov, also a Mejlis deputy chairman, to two years in prison on separatism charges. Umerov stood accused of inciting separatism for stating during a March 2016 appearance on a Crimean Tatar-language television channel that Russia should pull out of Crimea and Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.
Both trials were marked by serious flaws and violations of judicial procedure.
Turkey considers the Crimean Tatars to be ethnic Turks and maintains close ties with the community, both in occupied Crimea and greater Ukraine. Earlier this month, Sergiy Korsunsky, former Ukrainian Ambassador to Turkey, told Hromadske that Ankara remains a strong advocate for the Tatars.
“I know for sure that at every meeting of Turkish officials with Russian officials, they raise this issue,” he said. “They talk about Crimean Tatars, they bring this issue [to] the table in different international organizations.”
/By Matthew Kupfer