A Crimean Tatar leader was jailed for eight years by Russia today over a rally against Moscow's seizure of the region, in a trial branded a "sham" by rights activists. Akhtem Chiygoz, a former deputy head of the Tatars' traditional decision-making assembly, the Mejlis, was arrested in 2015 over clashes at a rally that left two people dead in the run-up to Moscow's annexation of Crimea in March 2014. The Crimean Tatars are a Muslim people native to Crimea who were deported under Stalin and only returned to the peninsula in the 1990s. Chiygoz is a staunch opponent of the takeover of his home region and sought to defend his community amid a vicious crackdown by the Kremlin-backed authorities. His lawyer Nikolai Polozov blasted the ruling by the Crimean court "unlawful and unfounded" and said they intended to appeal to Russia's supreme court. Rights group Amnesty International branded the trial a "sham" and called for Chiygoz's immediate and unconditional release. "The unfair trial of Akhtem Chiygoz tops a wave of spurious and demonstrably false criminal and administrative cases instigated by the occupying Russian authorities against members of the Crimean Tatar community," said Oksana Pokalchuk, Director for Amnesty International in Ukraine. "It epitomises the ongoing persecution of these activists whose only 'crime' is to vocally oppose Crimea's annexation by Russia," she said in a statement. Last year Russia banned the Mejlis for alleged "extremism" in a move that was widely condemned as political.
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