SIMFEROPOL, Crimea (Reuters) - A Crimean dissident undergoing enforced psychiatric testing by Russian authorities is being held in a dilapidated medical facility and says the poor conditions are a danger to his physical health.
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.
The 59-year-old, who says his mental health is fine, had previously been criminally charged over statements he made protesting what he called the “Russian occupation” of Crimea.
He has since been held at a crumbling psychiatric ward in the Crimean capital of Simferopol. A Reuters reporter who gained access to the hospital during visiting hours spoke to Umerov in the facility’s courtyard, where other patients have been forced to sleep outside because of building works.
Western countries, including Britain and the United States, have called for Umerov’s release and condemned his treatment. Rights activists say Russia is reviving the Soviet practice of subjecting political dissidents to enforced incarceration and psychiatric treatment.
Umerov suffers from Parkinson’s disease and attacks of high blood pressure after undergoing heart surgery in 2011. He said he had been barred from speaking to journalists and forced to live in squalid, crowded conditions that endangered his health.
The Russian Federal Security Service in Crimea was not immediately available for comment on Umerov’s case.
“With this bouquet (of ailments), to be in such conditions is of course dangerous,” he said, grey-faced and struggling to control his arms and the left side of his face, which shook violently because of his Parkinson’s. “On my fourth day here I collapsed and lost consciousness.”
“Yesterday, the administrator came and told the patients and staff that journalists were not allowed to speak to me, that phones, dictaphones and cameras were not allowed because it is a closed facility.”
Two orderlies blocked the view of a Reuters reporter who tried to photograph Umerov.
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.
Umerov said doctors were due to rule on his mental condition next week.
“It is all an attempt to keep the population in a constant state of fear,” he said. “If the Mejlis deputy chairman can be charged and punished, then everyone else should just shut up.
“I don’t think it is the prosecutor who is accusing me, rather this comes from somewhere in the Kremlin.”
Writing by Jack Stubbs; Editing by Christian Lowe and Larry King