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Five Crimean Tatar Activists Get Suspended Prison Terms Over 2014 Protest


Ali Asanov

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine -- A Russian court in Crimea has convicted five Crimean Tatar activists of taking part in "mass disturbances" in February 2014 and handed them suspended prison sentences ranging from 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 years.

The court in Simferopol, the capital of the Russian-controlled Ukrainian region, pronounced the verdicts and sentences on June 19.

The five men -- Ali Asanov, Mustafa Degermendzhy, Eskendir Kantemirov, Eskendir Emirvaliev, and Arsen Yunusov -- were among a group who staged a protest outside the regional legislature in February 2014.

The demonstration occurred as Russia moved to seize control of the Black Sea peninsula following street protests in Kyiv that pushed Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych from power.

The five were arrested and charged by Russian authorities in 2015.

Akhtem Chiygoz, a prominent leader of the Crimean Tatars’ local assembly, was also charged for his participation in the protest.

He was sentenced to eight years in prison in September 2017, but weeks later he was taken to Turkey and freed. He later moved to Kyiv.

Moscow’s takeover of Crimea in March 2014 was vocally opposed by many members of the Crimea Tatar population, who make up a sizable minority of the peninsula.

Exiled from their homeland en masse by the Soviet authorities under dictator Josef Stalin during World War II, many Crimean Tatars are very wary of Russia and Moscow's rule.

Russian President Vladimir Putin promised in 2014 that Russia would treat the mostly Muslim minority well and would address what he asserted were rights and issues that were ignored or mishandled by the Ukrainian authorities.

But rights groups and Western governments have denounced what they call a campaign of repression targeting members of the Turkic-speaking Crimean Tatar minority and others who opposed Moscow's seizure of the peninsula.