Rights group urges Russia to release Crimean Tatar leader

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MOSCOW (AP) — An international rights group on Friday urged Russia to release Crimean Tatar leader Ilmi Umerov, who has been sent to a psychiatric hospital.

Umerov, 59, is a former deputy chairman of the Mejlis, the Crimean Tatars' representative body, and one of the most outspoken Tatar critics of the Kremlin. He refused to pledge allegiance to Russia after it annexed the peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. Crimea's Supreme Court effectively banned the Mejlis in April, declaring it an extremist organization.

Umerov was charged with separatism in May, following a television interview in which he criticized Russia's annexation of Crimea.

Human Rights Watch urged Russia to drop separatism charges against Umerov and provide him with necessary medical treatment.

"Russian authorities should stop persecuting people who challenge Russia's actions in Crimea," HRW's Ukraine researcher Tanya Cooper said in the statement released Friday.

A Crimean court earlier this month ordered a psychiatric evaluation for Umerov following a petition from the Russian security agency FSB. His lawyers challenged the decision, but Umerov was transferred to a psychiatric facility last week from the hospital where he was treated for high blood pressure before the appeals court could hear the appeal.

Umerov's daughter and his lawyers say he is not receiving proper medical care. Umerov also has diabetes and Parkinson's disease.

Ukraine's Supreme Rada on Monday urged Umerov's immediate release, calling his detention an example of "systematic repression of freedom" of Crimean Tatars.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin likened the treatment of Umerov to Soviet-era trials of dissidents, saying that "punitive psychiatry is a throwback" to Soviet secret police tactics.

Rights groups have raised concerns over freedom of speech and association in Crimea. Local authorities banned two Crimean Tatar leaders from entering the peninsula, shut down Crimean Tatar media outlets, and prohibited peaceful gatherings.

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