The “Supreme Court” of Russia-occupied Crimea has sentenced Crimean Tatar activist Akhtem Chiygoz to eight years in a maximum security prison.
The court found Chiygoz — who serves as the deputy chairman of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis assembly — guilty of organizing mass disturbances outside the Crimean Supreme Council in February 2014, during the Russian annexation.
The court also recognized Chiygoz as a citizen of Ukraine, the activist’s lawyer, Nikolai Polozov, said. The defense, alongside the Ukrainian government, now plans to appeal the verdict.
Photo credit: Sviltana Borysovska/UNIAN
The activist has already spent more than two years in pre-trial detention. Throughout his trial, Chiygoz was not allowed to attend the court sessions. Instead, he appeared only through video conferencing.
Chiygoz was arrested in January 2015 for organizing a pro-Ukrainian rally in front of the Supreme Council of Crimea on February 26, 2014, as Russia was annexing the Crimean peninsula. Around ten thousand Crimean Tatars attended the rally. However, the protest turned violent after clashes erupted with a smaller pro-Russian protest nearby.
Since then, the activist’s trial has been characterized by serious flaws. The court questioned dozens of witnesses, yet only a few confirmed Chiygoz’s presence at the protest. Additionally the court allowed “secret witnesses” to testify. These people were reportedly members of the Mejlis, but showed little knowledge of the organization and its functions.
The trial revealed that Chiygoz did not call people to attend the protest. That was done by another member of the Mejlis, Zaur Smirnov. Yet Smirnov has faced no charges. Since the annexation, he has gone to work in the “administration” of the Kremlin-controlled Crimean governor, Sergei Aksyonov.
In August, Chiygoz predicted he would be found guilty during his final statement in court.
“I am destined to accept this sentence as a sentence for all Crimean Tatar people from the Russian Federation, which occupied my homeland,” he said.
/By Matthew Kupfer