UFA, Russia -- A jailed leader of the Bashkir Youth Union (BYI) has announced via the Internet that he will continue his hunger strike "until I die," RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reports.
Artur Idelbayev began the hunger strike on February 25, a day after he was arrested and taken into custody for fraud and other criminal offenses. The arrest came a day before Idelbayev was expected to be nominated in Ufa, the capital of the Russian republic of Bashkortostan, as the new leader of the semi-official pan-Bashkir Congress (Kurultai).
But Bashkir Congress Chairman Ilgiz Sultanmuratov, whom the nationalists wanted to replace for "betraying the Bashkir national agenda," survived a confidence vote in his leadership by a vote of 20 to 16.
On March 1, another prominent BYI activist, Ayrat Dilmukhametov, was detained in Ufa. He is still being held.
On March 3, four BYI activists started a hunger strike to protest "police pressure" on Bashkir nationalists and to demand the release of Idelbayev and Dilmukhametov. By March 11, the number of the hunger strikers had reached 150.
On March 13, after Bashkortostan's president, Rustam Khamitov, spoke with the hunger strikers by phone, they suspended their protest for 10 days but said they would resume it if their demands are not met.
In his open letter on the Internet, Idelbayev wrote that he was very sorry for his children, whom he had hoped to see grow up, and for his wife and his parents. At the same time, he said he could not choose two opposing courses of action and would continue his hunger strike until the end.
"My gravestone itself will be a memorial to the stance Bashkirs have adopted against police lawlessness," Idelbayev wrote. Read more in Tatar here