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Crimean Court Begins Hearing Appeal By Pro-Ukrainian Activist

Volodymyr Balukh
Volodymyr Balukh

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine – A court in Russia-controlled Crimea has started to hear the appeal of a pro-Ukrainian activist against his five-year prison term.

Volodymyr Balukh, who has been on hunger strike since March, refused to leave his cell on October 3 to attend the hearing via video link at the Supreme Court of Crimea.

The court rejected a motion filed by Balukh's lawyer, Olga Dinze, to allow her client in the courtroom and started the hearing without his presence.

Balukh was originally arrested in December 2016 and convicted on a weapons-and-explosives possession charge in August 2017.

His conviction, and nearly four-year prison sentence, was reversed on appeal and returned to a lower court, which issued the same verdict and sentence in January.

The new case against Balukh was started in March, after the warden of the penal facility where he is being held sued him, claiming that Balukh attacked him.

In July, a court found Balukh guilty in the second case, which his supporters dismissed as politically motivated, and sentenced him to five years in prison.

Balukh was arrested after Russian security agents allegedly found explosives and ammunition in his house.

The search was conducted shortly after Balukh planted a Ukrainian flag in his yard and affixed a sign to his house honoring those killed in Kyiv in 2013 and 2014 during the street protests that ousted the country’s pro-Russian president.

Russia illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region in March 2014, about a month after the president, Viktor Yanukovych, fled the country.

Since that time, Russia has moved aggressively to prosecute Ukrainian activists and anyone who questions the annexation.