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Ukrainian film director Oleh Sentsov is seen inside a Russian courtroom on July 27, 2015.

Rights group Amnesty International says it has been denied access to Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov, who is serving a 20-year prison term in Russia and has been on a hunger strike the past 81 days.

Oksana Pokalchuk, Amnesty International’s Ukraine director, on August 2 said the effort by Russian authorities “denying us the right to visit Oleh Sentsov is indefensible.”

Amnesty said it was given no reason for the rejection.

Sentsov, a vocal opponent of Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea, was sentenced in 2015 for conspiracy to commit terrorism, charges he and human rights groups say were politically motivated.

He has been on a hunger strike since mid-May in a penal colony in Russia's northern region of Yamalo-Nenets and has demanded that Russia release 64 Ukrainian citizens he considers political prisoners

Sentsov's lawyer, Dmitry Dinze, on July 27 said Sentsov was pale and lies down constantly because he has difficulty moving. Russian authorities have insisted Sentsov's condition is stable with no “negative dynamic.”

“After almost three months on hunger strike, there are grave concerns for his health,” Amnesty's Pokalchuk said.

She said Amnesty representatives were planning to visit Sentsov accompanied by an independent medical expert to help evaluate his condition.

“Amnesty International calls for Sentsov’s immediate release and demands that, while detained, he has access to qualified health professionals," Pokalchuk added.

Several groups have called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to pardon Sentsov, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters the Ukrainian film director would have to ask for a pardon himself before it could be considered. Sentsov has so far said he would not ask for a pardon.

Four foreigners died and three more were injured in the horrific attack in Tajikistan on July 29.

Days after a deadly attack on a group of foreign cyclists in a remote region of Tajikistan, information remains scarce on the possible road to radicalization of the suspects -- at least some of whom were said to have died in a shootout with security police and subsequently turned up in a video pledging loyalty to the militant group Islamic State (IS).

And Tajik authorities, who have publicly blamed not IS but a banned Islamic political party, appear eager to keep it that way.

An RFE/RL correspondent was detained by security forces on August 1 during a reporting trip to the southern town of Norak, the hometown of two of the suspects, and interrogated before having his electronic materials deleted and being forcibly taken to the capital, Dushanbe.

No legal grounds were given for the erasing of the materials, which included audio recordings of relatives and a former teacher of the suspects.

In the brutal July 29 attack on the foreigners, a car rammed into the group of cyclists before multiple attackers emerged from the vehicle and stabbed survivors, killing two Americans, a Swiss, and a Dutch national. Three other foreigners were injured in the attack before the assailants sped off.

WATCH: Amateur Video Said To Show Attack On Foreign Cyclists In Tajikistan (WARNING: Disturbing content)

Amateur Video Said To Show Attack On Foreign Cyclists In Tajikistan
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IS claimed responsibility for the deadly incident and released a video showing five men -- at least some of whom appeared to resemble four men identified by Tajik officials as suspects killed in a confrontation with security forces -- pledging allegiance to IS's leader.

But the government has clung to its assertion that the ringleader was an "active member" of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), which was Central Asia's only registered Islamic political party until the Tajik government banned it in 2015. It had tens of thousands of members when it was outlawed, and has since been labeled a "terrorist" organization by Dushanbe.

A screen grab from a video that purportedly shows the men who attacked foreign cyclists in Tajikistan.
A screen grab from a video that purportedly shows the men who attacked foreign cyclists in Tajikistan.

The RFE/RL correspondent, Orzu Karim, had conducted interviews with relatives of two of the government suspects and a former teacher in Norak before being stopped by security officials on August 1.

Karim identified himself as a reporter before the nearly two-hour police questioning.

After his video camera and audio recorder were confiscated, police erased Karim's interviews and drove him the 90 or so minutes to Dushanbe without letting him gather up his belongings at a nearby hotel. Neither would they allow Karim to be taken to his hometown, which lies the opposite direction from Norak.

Tajik journalist Orzu Karim (file photo)
Tajik journalist Orzu Karim (file photo)

Karim reported seeing one foreign journalist and two Tajik reporters being similarly questioned at the police station, although he was initially unable to contact them to hear their accounts of being in custody.

Authorities there have waged numerous campaigns to discourage young people from turning to radicalism, particularly in the face of figures suggesting that hundreds of young Tajiks were joining IS to help wage war in Syria and Iraq.

But the attack this week on the cyclists on a road near the Pamir Highway was the first of its kind on foreigners in Tajikistan, which borders Afghanistan, China, and fellow post-Soviet republics Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

Post-Soviet Central Asia's poorest country, Tajikistan's politics have been dominated since 1992 by President Emomali Rahmon.

Rahmon's administration on August 1 announced the creation of a "tourist police" corps to ensure "public order and the security accompaniment of tourists" as well as to "prevent crime" generally.

Official Tajik statements have all but ignored any IS component in the attack in favor of initial suggestions that members of the technically defunct IRPT were involved.

Some IRPT leaders have been jailed on charges that rights groups have publicly questioned, while others have fled to exile and continue to urge international support for removal of Tajikistan's ban on the party's activities.

With reporting by RFE/RL Tajik Service correspondent Khiromon Bakoeva.

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"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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