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Prosecutor Seeks Lengthy Prison Term For Crimean Tatar Leader

Crimean Tatar leaders Akhtem Chiygoz (right) and Mustafa Dzhemilev (file photo)
Crimean Tatar leaders Akhtem Chiygoz (right) and Mustafa Dzhemilev (file photo)

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine -- A state prosecutor in Ukraine's Russian-controlled Crimea region has asked a court to convict a prominent Crimean Tatar leader, Akhtem Chiygoz, and sentence him to eight years in prison.

The prosecutor made the sentencing recommendation at the trial in the regional capital, Simferopol, on August 7.

Chiygoz is a leader of the Majlis, the Crimean Tatar assembly that was outlawed by Russia after Moscow's forcible takeover of the Black Sea peninsula.

He has been held by the Russian authorities since January 2015, and is charged with organizing an illegal demonstration in Simferopol in February 2014.

Defense lawyers say the charge is absurd because the demonstration against Russian moves to seize control of Crimea came before Moscow illegally annexed the peninsula the following month, and no Ukrainian laws were violated.

Rights groups say his trial is part of a persistent campaign of reprisals against Crimeans who opposed Russia's seizure of the region.

Russia has been sharply criticized by international rights groups and Western governments for its treatment of members of the indigenous Turkic-speaking Crimean Tatar minority.

Chiygoz, 52, and two other Crimean Tatars charged in connection with the demonstration -- Ali Asanov and Mustafa Degermendzhy -- are recognized as political prisoners by the Russian human rights group Memorial.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and other international organizations have called for their release.

Russia moved swiftly to take over Crimea after Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was driven from power by pro-European protesters in February 2014.

Russia seized the peninsula, which is home to a major Russian naval base, by sending in troops and staging a referendum dismissed as illegal by Ukraine, the United States, and a total of 100 countries.

The Russian takeover badly damaged Moscow's relations with Kyiv and the West and resulted in the imposition of sanctions by the European Union, the United States, and several other countries.

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