Both Ukrainian human rights defenders and their foreign colleagues have repeatedly emphasized that the Russian Federation is widely using anti-terrorism legislation and criminal law as a tool against the Ukrainian citizens in Crimea who disagree with the de-facto regime on the peninsula.
The first Ukrainian “terrorist” designated in such a way became the film director Oleh Sentsov sentenced to 20 years in a high-security penal colony. There are 16 Crimean Muslims charged with terrorism for their membership in the Hizb ut-Tahrir organization banned in Russia. Several Ukrainian citizens are charged with participation in subversive groups. Crimean journalist Mykola Semena and deputy head of Mejlis – the highest legislative and representative body of Crimean Tatars, Akhtem Chyigoz are under investigation. The recent case is the sentence presented to the Crimean resident Volodymyr Balukh, whom the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union calls a prisoner of conscience.
On August 4 Rozdolnensky court in the Russia-annexed Crimea sentenced Ukrainian activist Volodymyr Balukh to three years and seven months in a penal colony. “Such persecutions are undoubtedly politically motivated. Volodymyr Balukh is a prisoner of conscience,” said Daria Svyrydova, a lawyer at the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union at a press-briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center.
The charges against the Crimean Ukrainian
Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) detained Volodymyr Balukh in Serebryanka village in the southwestern part of the annexed peninsula in December 2016. FSB reported they found 90 ammunition rounds and several TNT blocks when they ransacked Balukh’s house. Ukrainian human rights defenders have a different view on the reasons for the arrest. Balukh is a farmer who has been openly expressing his disagreement with the Russian authorities since the first days of the occupation. After Crimea was annexed by Russia Balukh flew the Ukrainian flag above his house. The move was followed by threats of administrative and criminal liability on the part of Russian law enforcement. In November 2016 Volodymyr placed an address plate on his house in which the street bore the name of the Heaven’s Hundred (people’s name for the activists killed on Maidan).
During another round of searches on the roof of Volodymyr’s house, “he was locked in the room on the ground floor. No one but policemen was present when explosives were found. The search witness was brought by the policemen, he had testified against Volodymyr before and was intoxicated with alcohol,” Olha Skrypnyk, head of the board at the Crimean Human Rights Group, presented the case details.
Over 20 persons were involved to put Volodymyr Balukh in jail. Among them are staff members of the Crimean branch of FSB as well as Ukrainian citizens who sided with the occupational authorities. “We know all personal details and positions of these law enforcement staff members and judges. We shall issue a respective legal assessment to their actions in the nearest time,” reassured Oleksandr Darakchi, head of the department for monitoring of criminal proceedings at the Prosecutor’s Office of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (the agency operates from mainland Ukraine).
Volodymyr’s defense consists of three lawyers. They are Olha and Dmytro Dinze who were earlier defending Oleh Sentsov. “They managed to prove that the facts of the case were falsified, but the court is simply ignoring it,” Olha Skrypnyk noted.
Appeal to the international community
The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, the Crimean Human Rights Union, and the Human Rights Information Center published a joint appeal that also lists the persons who took part in falsifying the case against Balukh. The appeal is addressed to the Ukrainian government and to the EU member states. It calls upon the governments to put the above persons involved in illegal imprisonment of Crimeans into the sanction lists of their states. In addition to that, the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union has lodged two complaints to the European Court of Human Rights.