Crimean political prisoner Volodymyr Balukh has declared a hunger strike in protest of a colony sentence handed down by Kremlin-controlled authorities on the occupied peninsula, Crimean Human Rights Group reports.
Balukh was sentenced to three years and seven months in a colony-settlement in January on what rights groups say are openly fabricated charges of ammunition possession. The sentence was reduced by the Crimean Supreme Court in March to three years and five months.
The 46-year-old became a target for Russian authorities following Moscow’s occupation of Crimea, widely believed to be as a result of his openly pro-Ukrainian views.
At the time of the Euromaidan protests, he hoisted a Ukrainian flag above his Crimean home and later installed a plaque that read “Heroes of the Heavenly Hundred Street” to commemorate those who died during the revolution.
After more than a year of frequent visits from Russia’s security service, Kremlin-controlled authorities announced that they found 90 bullets as well as explosives in his attic and arrested him in late 2016.
The Rozdolnensky District Court in occupied Crimea sentenced him to three years and seven months in a colony settlement last August but the case was later sent for retrial. The prosecutors had sought a sentence of five years and one month in a colony settlement.
That same month, the court opened another criminal case against Balukh after the activist and his lawyer lodged a complaint against Valery Tkachenko, head of the temporary detention center, where Balukh was held. According to Balukh and his lawyer, Tkachenko had insulted and hit the Ukrainian activist during a morning inspection.
However, Tkachenko has launched criminal proceeding against Balukh, claiming it was the activist who had hit him. The incident has been caught on camera but according to Balukh, the investigation into Tkachenko has yet to begin, Crimean Human Rights Group reported today.
Balukh has also been summoned to court on this matter today.
The Crimean farmer remains a Ukrainian citizen at a time when Moscow-led authorities are imposing Russian citizenship on residents of the annexed peninsula. Human rights groups have condemned the proceedings against Balukh, calling his retrial a ‘farce’.
/By Natalie Vikhrov