Crimean Tatar community leader Ahmet Chiygoz has started a hunger strike from his prison cell in the Crimean capital Simferopol after he was placed in solitary confinement earlier this week.
Speaking to Radio Free Europe, Crimean Tatar Assembly Deputy Chairman Nariman Celal confirmed Chiygoz, who is also a Deputy Chairman, began his hunger strike on Wednesday.
Chiygoz has been in prison since being arrested in January, where he is awaiting trial for allegations of organising “mass disorder” against Russia’s annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine last year.
The Russian authorities accuse him of being behind clashes that occurred between the peninsula’s indigenous Crimean Tatar community and pro-Russian protesters outside the Crimean parliament building in Simferopol.
Two people were killed in the clashes that took place on February 26, 2004, just one day before armed men in unmarked military uniforms occupied key strategic locations around the Black Sea peninsula.
Although Russia at the time denied involvement, it was highly suspected the soldiers, identified only as “little green men,” were Russian troops.
Chaos unfolded in the ethnically mixed Crimean peninsula when Ukraine’s former pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych fled the country after months of pro-EU protests in Kiev.
The autonomous government of the region, which was dominated by ethnic Russians, declared independence from Ukraine shortly afterwards, only to organise a referendum on Russian annexation on March 16, 2014.
Having gained the approval of the vast majority of the mainly ethnic Russian population of the peninsula in the referendum - which was largely boycotted by the Crimean Tatars - Russia announced the annexation of the peninsula.
As descendants of Turkic tribes who settled in the region in 1441, the Crimean Tatars fear a return to the days of the Soviet Union, with memories of Josef Stalin’s decision to exile around 190,000 of their people to various parts of central Asia and the Caucasus still fresh in their minds.
Today, there is an estimated 300,000 Crimean Tatars living in the peninsula - making up around 12 percent of the overall population - after the Crimean Tatars returned in droves in the early 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
However, the recent annexation has seen many Crimean Tatars migrate to mainland Ukraine after they refused to take Russian passports.
Crimean Tatar leaders Mustafa Abdulcemil Kirimoglu and Refat Chubarov were also barred from entering Crimea for five years while the Crimean Tatar Assembly was shut down.
The international community has condemned the annexation of Crimea, with economic sanctions slapped on Russia as a result.