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EU Calls For Release Of 'Illegally Detained' Ukrainians In Crimea, Russia

Activist Volodymyr Balukh was sentenced by a court in Russia-controlled Crimea on January 16 to three years and seven months in prison in a retrial on charges of weapons and explosives possession.

The European Union has called for the release of Ukrainian citizens being held "illegally" in Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula whose 2014 seizure by Moscow triggered international condemnation and Western sanctions targeting Russia.

In a January 19 statement, Maja Kocijancic, the spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, cited the case of pro-Kyiv activist Volodymyr Balukh, who was sentenced by a court in Russia-controlled Crimea on January 16 to three years and seven months in prison in a high-profile retrial on charges of weapons and explosives possession.

Kocijancic noted that Balukh was "known to have opposed the illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by the Russian Federation" and that the EU does not recognize the court's jurisdiction.

"International human rights observers must be granted full, free, and unhindered access to the peninsula, and the European Union expects all illegally detained Ukrainian citizens in the illegally annexed Crimean Peninsula and in Russia to be released as swiftly as possible," Kocijancic said.

Russia's seizure of Crimea badly damaged Moscow's relations with Kyiv and the West and triggered sanctions by the EU, 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.

The European Parliament in March 2017 called on Russia to free more than 30 Ukrainian citizens who were in prison or otherwise detained in Russia, Crimea, and parts of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russia-backed separatists.

In her January 19 statement, Kocijancic also cited the case of Crimean Tatar activist Bekir Degermendzhi, who was detained in November in the Crimean city of Simferopol on what the spokeswoman called "dubious charges" related to alleged extortion.

Degermendzhi, who remains in custody, suffers from asthma, a condition his lawyers say has worsened since his detention.

"In view of the critical medical condition he suffers, it is essential that he is immediately granted access to appropriate medical care," Kocijancic said.

She added that the EU "remains committed to fully implementing its policy of nonrecognition of the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol."

With reporting by the Crimean Desk of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service
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