SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine -- A pro-Ukrainian activist on the Russia-annexed peninsula of Crimea has been sentenced to five years in a penal colony in a verdict assailed by Ukraine as “absolutely arbitrary and illegal.”
The prosecutor overseeing the second trial of Volodymyr Balukh had asked the Russia-controlled Razdolnensky District Court for a four-year prison sentence for the activist, who is currently on hunger strike.
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry immediately blasted the court decision, asking “our partners” to influence the Kremlin to release Balukh and all other “political prisoners.”
Balukh was originally arrested in late 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 three months later, in March, after the warden of the penal facility where he is being held sued him, claiming that Balukh attacked him.
On July 2, local prosecutor Dmitry Shmelev asked the Rozdolne district court for a new, four-year prison sentence for the alleged attack.
Balukh, who started a hunger strike on March 19 to protest the new case, contends the prosecutions are politically motivated.
Balukh was arrested in December 2016, after the 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 annexed Crimea 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. Among those prosecuted are RFE/RL journalist Mykola Semena, who was convicted in September 2017 on separatism charges.