For Release: October 25, 2017
Contacts: Eric Chenoweth and Irena Lasota

Press Release
IDEE Condemns Forced Exile of Crimean Tatar Leaders

The Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe (IDEE) welcomes the release from prison and house arrest of Akhtem Chiygoz and Ilmi Umerov, the two deputy chairmen of the Crimean Tatar national assembly, the Mejlis. IDEE equally and strongly protests their forcible expulsion from Crimea. Their unwanted exile is a further violation of human rights by the Russian government — part of a systematic campaign of persecution of Crimean Tatars since its illegal occupation of Crimea in March 2014. Reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s practice to exile its opponents, this action, must be protested by the US Government, Congress and European governments. The convictions of the two leaders should be reversed and they should be allowed to return feely to their homeland without further fear of arrest.

Chiygoz and Umerov were sentenced to 8 years’ and 2 years’ imprisonment in September due to their defense of Crimean Tatars’ rights and their opposition to Russia’s illegal annexation, which is condemned by the international community. Both leaders were convicted based on fabricated charges in separate court proceedings that violated international principles of rule of law. Chiygoz was accused of organizing a demonstration held before the annexation of Crimea but charged under Russian law. He was illegaly tried from his prison cell, prevented from attending the trial, and denied motions for calling witnesses for proving his innocence of false claims that he instigated violence. Umerov was sentenced based on a statement that Crimea was the sovereign territory of Ukraine. Russian authorities fabricated a translation of an interview to falsely accuse him of calling for violent actions against Russia’s territorial integrity.

Chiygoz and Umerov are lifetime activists and leaders of the peaceful and non-violent Crimean Tatar National Movement, which organized the return of Crimean Tatars to their homeland starting in 1988 after 45 years of forced exile in the Soviet period. They have also been long-time elected representatives of the Crimean Tatar national community and leaders of the now-banned Mejlis. Other leaders, Mustafa Dzhemilev, the former chairman of the Mejlis and the Crimean Tatar National Movement and an MP in the Ukrainian parliament, and Refat Chubarov, the current chairman of the Mejlis, are also forcibly exiled and banned from returning to Crimea.

The US and the EU imposed sanctions on Russia as a result of its illegal annexation of Crimea. In March 2017, the International Court of Justice found the Russian Federation in violation of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination due to its systematic repression of the rights of Crimean Tatars, including the banning of the Mejlis. Since the occupation, an estimated 30,000 Crimean Tatars have been forced to flee the peninsula due to massive and systematic persecution of the Crimean Tatar community by Russian authorities.