Russia frees Crimean dissident from psychiatric clinic

September 7, 2016 7:02 AM EDT

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian authorities freed a prominent Crimean dissident from a psychiatric clinic on Wednesday after he was held there for almost a month and subjected to enforced examinations, his lawyer and a colleague said; but he still faces a possible jail sentence.

Ilmi Umerov, deputy head of the Crimean Tatars' semi-official Mejlis legislature, which was suspended by Moscow after it annexed the peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, was committed to compulsory psychiatric testing by local authorities in August.

Western countries, including Britain and the United States, had called for Umerov's release, and rights activists had accused Russia of reviving the Soviet practice of subjecting political dissidents to enforced psychiatric treatment.

Authorities have opened a criminal case against the 59-year-old, who says his mental health is fine, accusing him of making statements that undermine Russia's territorial integrity by calling in an interview for an end to Russian control of Crimea.

If found guilty, he could be jailed for up to five years.

Umerov's lawyer, Mark Feygin, said his client had been released on Wednesday from the dilapidated medical facility in Simferopol, the Crimean capital, where he was being held.

He noted he still faced a criminal charge however in what he said was a political case and called for him to be pardoned.

The Tatars, a mainly Muslim community that makes up about 15 percent of Crimea's population, have largely opposed Russian rule in the peninsula and say the 2014 annexation was illegal, a view supported by the West.

Moscow says the overwhelming majority of Crimeans voted to join Russia in a proper and fair referendum.

Nariman Dzhelyalov, acting head of the Mejlis, confirmed the release to Reuters, saying Umerov, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, diabetes and high blood pressure, would now have to undergo a series of medical tests.

"The doctors said he does not have any psychological problems," said Dzhelyalov. "(But) the criminal case against him goes on."

In the meantime, Umerov is not allowed to leave Crimea.

Separately, a court in southern Russia found four Crimean Tatars guilty of terrorism charges and sentenced them to between five and seven years in jail. All four had pleaded not guilty, saying the charges against them were politically motivated.

(Reporting by Andrew Osborn and Anton Zverev; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

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