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Crimean activist Volodymyr Balukh (file photo)

Volodymyr Balukh, a pro-Kyiv activist jailed by the Russia-imposed authorities in Crimea, has been on hunger strike for 43 days and his health is reportedly in decline.

Akhtem Chiygoz, deputy chairman of Crimean Tatars' Mejlis self-governing body, told RFE/RL on April 30 that Balukh has been on hunger strike since March 19.

Lyudmyla Denysova, the human rights ombudswoman for Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, said on April 30 that Balukh needed an urgent medical examination and that his health was deteriorating with each passing day.

She said a court of the Russia-imposed authorities in Crimea had denied a request by Balukh's lawyers that he be afforded medical care.

Balukh was sentenced in January to three years and seven months in a penal colony where convicts live close to an industrial facility or a farm where they work, after being convicted on a weapons-and-explosives possession charge.

Balukh's initial sentence to the same prison term in August was annulled by an appeals court and returned for additional investigation.

Balukh insists the case against him was politically motivated.

In March, a new case was launched against Balukh after a warden in a local detention center in Crimea claimed that Balukh attacked him. Balukh denies the charge, saying the warden attacked him.

One Of Dozens

Balukh is one of dozens of Crimeans prosecuted by Russia in what rights groups say has been a persistent campaign to silence dissent since Moscow annexed the Ukrainian region in March 2014.

He was arrested in December 2016, after the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) said explosives and 90 bullets were found in the attic of his home.

The search was conducted shortly after Balukh planted a Ukrainian flag in his yard and affixed a sign to his house that read Heavenly Hundred Street, 18.

"Heavenly Hundred" is a term Ukrainians use for the dozens of people killed when security forces fired on protesters in Kyiv in February 2014, shortly before Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych was driven from power.

After Yanukovych's ouster, Russia seized Crimea by sending in troops and staging a referendum dismissed as illegal by Ukraine, the United States, and nearly 100 other countries.

The Russian takeover badly damaged Moscow's relations with Kyiv and the West and resulted in the imposition of sanctions by the European Union, the United States, and several other countries.

Rights groups say Crimea residents who opposed Russia's takeover have faced discrimination and abuse at the hands of the Moscow-imposed authorities.

In March 2017, the European Parliament called on Moscow to free more than 30 Ukrainian citizens who were in prison or under other conditions of restricted freedom in Russia, Crimea, and parts of eastern Ukraine that are controlled by Russia-backed separatists.

Telegram has been used widely by ordinary Iranian citizens as well as politicians, companies, and state media outlets. (illustrative photo)

Iran's judiciary has banned the use of the Telegram messaging app, saying it has been used to organize attacks and street protests, according to state television and a news agency affiliated with the judiciary.

A branch of the Culture and Media Court in Tehran announced that all Internet providers in Iran must take steps to block Telegram's website and app as of April 30, the Mizanonline news agency said.

A court order said that Telegram has become a "safe [place] for committing different types of crimes," adding that there are "thousands of open cases" related to its use and that Telegram has not cooperated with judiciary officials, Mizanonline reported.

The order asserted that many actions threatening Iran's security, including antiestablishment protests in December and January and attacks on parliament and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's shrine in June 2017, were organized using Telegram.

State TV also suggested that the decision to bar Iranians from using Telegram was motivated by national security concerns.

"Considering various complaints against the Telegram social networking app by Iranian citizens, and based on the demand of security organizations for confronting the illegal activities of Telegram, the judiciary has banned its usage in Iran," a state TV report said.

The court order was also reported by the semiofficial Fars news agency.

It is likely to reinforce concerns about freedom of expression and other basic rights in Iran, where Telegram has been used widely by ordinary citizens as well as politicians, companies, and state media outlets.

The authorities temporarily shut down Telegram in January in an effort to contain antiestablishment protests across the country, but many Iraniains found ways to continue using it.

In recent weeks, officials have been encouraging Iranians to use domestic alternatives to Telegram.

Earlier this month, the Iranian authorities banned the use of foreign messaging apps by government bodies.

Russia is also seeking to prevent its citizens from using Telegram.

With reporting by Mizanonline, Reuters, and Fars

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About This Blog

"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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