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Crimean Tatar Leader Tells Court He's 'Only A Citizen Of Ukraine'


Ilmi Umerov is deputy chairman of the Crimean Tatars' self-governing body, the Mejlis, which is now banned by Moscow. (file photo)

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine – A top Crimean Tatar leader declared himself "only a citizen of Ukraine" as he lashed out in a final court statement at Russian prosecutors who have charged him with separatism.

Ilmi Umerov, who has repeatedly criticized Russia's 2014 seizure of the Black Sea region from Ukraine, is the latest in a series of Crimean Tatar leaders whom Russia has targeted with criminal prosecutions.

At the September 20 hearing, prosecutor Denys Semenchuk asked the court to give him a 3 1/2-year suspended sentence. Semenchuk also recommended that Umerov, 60, who is a qualified doctor, be barred from public activities and teaching medicine for a three-year period.

In his last statement to the court, Umerov, who is deputy chairman of the Crimean Tatars' self-governing body known as the Mejlis, said that he considers himself "only a citizen of Ukraine."

"I call the annexation an annexation and the authorities established [by Russia] as occupational ones,” he told the court.

"I believe that the borders of 1991 that were inherited after the collapse of the Soviet Union must be reinstated. Those borders are recognized in the world and have been confirmed by corresponding documents and agreements between Ukraine and the Russian Federation," Umerov said.

Umerov stressed that the charges against him have only one goal, "which is to punish those who oppose the annexation."

He also criticized authorities' order committing him to a psychiatric clinic in August 2016 and pressure he said was imposed on his lawyers as attempts to break his will.

He said that the translation of an interview he gave to a Crimean Tatar TV channel into Russian, which formed the basis for the separatism charges, had been done unprofessionally and with mistakes that distorted his remarks.

Umerov, who went on trial June 7 in the Crimean capital, Simferopol, is one of several critics of the Russian takeover who have faced what rights activists say are politically motivated criminal charges at the hands of Russia and the authorities it backs in Crimea.

The Moscow-based human rights group Memorial has called the case against Umerov "illegal and politically motivated."

Mejlis Chairman Refat Chubarov, who was barred from entering the region by a Russian court and resides in Kyiv, has said the case against Umerov is part of a campaign of persecution against Crimean Tatars.

Another deputy chairman of the Mejlis, Akhtem Chiygoz, was sentenced to eight years in prison on September 12 after a court convicted him of organizing a pro-Ukrainian rally there in February 2014.

Russia seized control of Crimea in March 2014 after sending in troops and staging a referendum that is considered illegitimate by more than 100 countries. After the takeover, Russia adopted a law making it a criminal offense in Crimea to question Russia's territorial integrity.

The majority of Crimean Tatars opposed Russia's annexation of the region.