WARSAW (REUTERS) - Poland on Wednesday awarded a prize for championing democracy and human rights to Mustafa Dzhemilev, a leader of the Tatar community in Ukraine's Crimea peninsula who says he was barred from the region after Russia annexed it.
The choice of laureate for the inaugural "Solidarity Prize"is likely to irk Russia, which is locked in a stand-off with Ukraine that has sunk relations with the West to their lowest level since the Cold War.
"He is a defender of Ukraine's integrity," said Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, as he announced Dzhemilev had been awarded the prize.
"He is someone who, together with his people, has demonstrated that democracy is possible."
The Tatars are a Turkic-speaking Muslim community who make up about 12 per cent of Crimea's two million-strong population.
Many Tatars were uneasy about coming back under Moscow's control, especially as they were persecuted during Soviet rule.
Dzhemilev, who until last year led the body that represents Crimean Tatars, publicly opposed Russia's annexation of Crimea.
He said Crimea's new Moscow-backed authorities last month banned him from entering the peninsula for five years.
Dzhemilev will visit Poland next month to receive his prize, Sikorski said.
The Polish prize, in its first year, is intended to recognise people who embody the same democratic values as Lech Walesa, the leader of Poland's Solidarity trade union movement who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in overthrowing Communist rule in Poland in the 1980s.