KYIV -- About 200 people have gathered in Kyiv to show support for Akhtem Chiygoz, the Crimean Tatar leader who was sentenced to eight years in prison by a Russia-controlled court in Crimea on charges widely seen as being politically motivated.
The participants in the September 13 rally on Independence Square held portraits of Chiygoz and banners calling for his release.
The demonstration brought together representatives of civil rights organizations, human rights activists, and members of the Crimean Tatar community, such as government minister Emine Dzheppar. It also included politicians, such as former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
The event was organized by Refat Chubarov, chairman of the Crimean Tatars' self-governing body, the Mejlis. He has resided in Kyiv since 2014 when Russia-imposed authorities in Crimea banned him from entering the occupied region.
Russian-imposed court officials in Crimea's capital, Simferopol, convicted and sentenced Chiygoz on September 11 on charges of organizing an illegal demonstration in February 2014 -- a time when Russian military forces were seizing the Ukrainian territory and weeks before Russia's illegal annexation of the region.
Chiygoz is a deputy chairman of the Mejlis, which has been banned as an "extremist" organization by court officials in Crimea and by Russia's Supreme Court.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Ukraine's government, and international rights organizations have condemned Chiygoz's imprisonment and called on Russia to release him.
In a statement posted on Twitter on September 13, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the United States was "deeply troubled" by Chiygoz’s conviction, calling it "the latest in a long line of politically motivated legal actions against the Mejlis and its leadership."
Meanwhile, court officials in Simferopol resumed the trial of another Mejlis deputy chairman, Ilmi Umerov.
Umerov was charged with separatism in May 2016 after publicly opposing Russia's annexation of Crimea. He denies the charges, saying he has the right to express his opinions.
Moscow has been criticized by international rights groups and Western governments for its treatment of the region's indigenous Turkic-speaking Crimean Tatar minority.
The majority of Crimean Tatars oppose Russia's takeover of their historic homeland.