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Tuesday 11 September 2018

Demonstrators attend a protest rally demanding the release of Ukrainian film director Oleh Sentsov in front of the Russian Embassy in Prague in August.

Jailed Crimean film director Oleh Sentsov says that his "limbs are going numb" nearly four months into a hunger strike and that he no longer believes his ordeal in a Russian prison will have a "happy ending," his cousin says.

"There's a fog in my head. Everything is spinning, my body, my head, and my limbs are going numb," Natalya Kaplan -- in a Facebook post on September 11 -- quoted Sentsov as saying in a letter he sent her from prison.

"I have not given up, in any case. It's just that I don't believe in a happy ending to this whole story," she quoted him as saying.

Sentsov, a Crimean native who opposed Russia's 2014 takeover of the Ukrainian peninsula, is serving a 20-year prison term after being convicted of terrorism in a trial that he, human rights groups, and Western governments contend was politically motivated.

Imprisoned in the far northern Yamalo-Nenets region of Russia, Sentsov started a hunger strike on May 14, demanding that Russia release 64 fellow Ukrainians he considers political prisoners.

"My condition is about the same: stably lousy," he wrote, according to Kaplan. "To all the old special effects, hypoxia -- a shortage of oxygen in the organs, mainly the heart and brain -- has been added.... My circulatory system is not handling the job of supplying oxygen to the organism."

"I no longer believe that I will soon walk free and that we will all live happily in Kyiv,” he wrote.

According to Human Rights Watch, which cited a lawyer for Sentsov, he agreed to begin taking an oral nutritional supplement at some point in the past two months, after suffering his first health crisis.

The lawyer said he agreed to take the supplement -- normally given to people who are unconscious or cannot swallow food -- only under the threat of force-feeding, and that he takes only enough to keep him alive.

The plight of Sentsov, 42, has drawn expressions of support from artists around the world and calls from Western governments for his release.

In August, the Kremlin rejected a plea by Sentsov’s mother for a pardon from Russian President Vladimir Putin, and nothing has come of frequent talk of a potential prisoner exchange that would send him home to Ukraine.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has said it will "continue to do its work undeterred," responding a day after U.S. national security adviser John Bolton threatened sanctions if the tribunal investigates alleged war crimes by U.S. personnel in Afghanistan.

A spokesman for The Hague-based court, which investigates genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, told RFE/RL on September 11 that it was an "independent and impartial judicial institution" with the backing of 123 countries.

"The ICC, as a court of law, will continue to do its work undeterred," Fadi El Abdallahhe added.

France issued a statement in support of the court, with a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman saying it "must be able to act and exercise its prerogatives without hindrance."

The United States is among dozens of countries that have not ratified the Rome Statute that established the ICC in 2002.

In remarks on September 10, Bolton called the ICC "unaccountable" and "outright dangerous" to the United States and Israel and other allies.

"For all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us," he told the conservative Federalist Society in Washington. "If the court comes after us, Israel or other U.S. allies, we will not sit quietly," he warned.

The U.S. national security adviser said Washington was prepared to slap financial sanctions and criminal charges on ICC officials if they proceed against any Americans.

"We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States. We will sanction their funds in the U.S. financial system, and we will prosecute them in the U.S. criminal system," Bolton said.

An ICC prosecutor requested in November 2017 to open an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by the U.S. military in Afghanistan, especially over the abuse of detainees.

Bolton said neither Afghanistan nor any other government party to the ICC's Rome Statute has requested an investigation. But he said the ICC could formally open the investigation "any day now."

The head of Afghanistan’s Human Rights Commission suggested that Bolton’s criticism of the ICC could strengthen a climate of impunity in the war-torn country.

"It's very unfortunate because delivering justice to victims will help to facilitate the peace process in Afghanistan," Sima Samar told AP on September 11. "Justice is not a luxury. It is a basic human right.”

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan

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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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