Please join the McCain Institute’s discussion on the future of Crimea with Akhtem Chiygoz and Ilmi Umerov. Chiygoz and Umerov are national leaders of the Crimean Tatar community. Following the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, they were tried in sham court proceedings, sentenced to imprisonment, and then forcibly exiled from Crimea in October 2017 and are now living in Kyiv, Ukraine. They will be joined by their lawyer, Nikolai Polozov.
Paul Fagan, the McCain Insitute’s Director for Human Rights & Democracy, will moderate the discussion.
Akhtem Chiygoz was the deputy chairman of the Mejlis, the Crimean Tatars’ national representative assembly. He was arrested in January 2015, with seven others, and charged with “organizing or participating in mass unrest.” Their “crime” was leading and participating in a demonstration of thousands of Crimean Tatars in the capital, Simferopol, on February 26, 2014 — before the annexation. The demonstration, in support of Ukrainian sovereignty of Crimea, effectively delayed the Russian annexation. The “unrest” was due to a violent attack on the protest by Russian “counter-demonstrators,” who were in fact members of a Russian paramilitary group. Chiygoz was held in detention throughout the pre-trial and trial proceedings, which he was barred from attending in person. Despite many court irregularities, his lawyer elicited testimony from many witnesses directly refuting the prosecution’s case. Regardless, Chiygoz was convicted and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment in September 2017.
Ilmi Umerov, who headed the Bakhchiseray region, a center of the Crimean Tatar community, was elected to replace Akhtem Chiygoz as deputy chairman of the national Mejlis after Chiygoz’s arrest. In both positions, he was outspoken in his opposition to the annexation and support for international pressure on Russia to voluntary return Crimea to Ukrainian sovereignty. Umerov was arrested in March 2016 for an interview he gave to a Crimean Tatar television channel expressing these opinions. He was kept in a psychiatric hospital subjected to torture for two months before his release following strong international protest. He was tried while under home arrest. His trial resulted in a guilty verdict and sentence of two years’ imprisonment despite his suffering from a serious medical condition.
Nikolai Polozov is a Russian human rights lawyer. Born in Moscow, he became a civil and criminal defense attorney in 2008. Among several prominent cases of political persecution, he has been defense attorney for participants in demonstrations protesting against electoral fraud in the 2011 Duma elections; the three members of the Pussy Riot rock group; opposition leader Sergey Udaltsov; and Ukrainian pilot, Nadiezhda Savchenko, who was captured by Russian authorities in Ukraine and released only following a months-long hunger strike. In 2015-2016, he defended the son of the Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev, who was re-tried and re-sentenced by Russian authorities following the annexation of Crimea in a case of accidental shooting. Khaiser Dzhemilev gained early release in late 2016 and lives now in Kyiv. Since 2016, Polozov has been the main lawyer for both Akhtem Chiygoz and Ilmi Umerov, the two most prominent elected Crimean Tatar leaders in Crimea following the annexation. They were found guilty in separate trial proceedings and each sentenced to harsh prison terms in September 2016. They were forcibly exiled one month later.
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