Russia denies that political prisoner Balukh has Ukrainian citizenship after jailing him for not betraying Ukraine
The Russian prison service is treating Volodymyr Balukh as a Russian citizen and refusing to let him see the Ukrainian consul. Balukh is imprisoned for his peaceful opposition to Russia’s occupation of Crimea and was subjected to farcical ‘trials’ as a Ukrainian, so the move now to deny him his citizenship is especially lawless.
The consul was prevented from seeing Balukh on 7 May, with the prison service claiming that, according to their information, Balukh is a Russian citizen. They provided no proof to back this assertion, which is unsurprising, since there can be no proof. Balukh is a Ukrainian citizen, with this even confirmed by the records of the politically-motivated trials to which he has been subjected.
Russia has, unfortunately, already tried to foist its citizenship on Balukh’s fellow Ukrainian political prisoners Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko, claiming that they ‘automatically’ became Russian citizens. In their cases also, Russia cannot produce any evidence that the men agreed to take Russian citizenship, as there is none, and cannot explain why, if the men were considered ‘Russian’, they were tried as Ukrainian citizens. Such forced ‘russification’ has been condemned by the international community and will almost certainly be found to violate the European Convention when the men’s applications are finally considered by the European Court of Human Rights. For the moment, however, Russia is using such baseless claims as a means of denying the political prisoners their fundamental rights.
Balukh’s lawyer, Olga Dinze, was able to see Balukh on 7 May and reports that he has yet again been placed in a punishment cell where the conditions are extremely bad. This is the third time since he arrived at the Russian prison in Torzhok (Tver oblast) around three months ago that Balukh has been placed in such solitary confinement on entirely fabricated grounds.
In the punishment cell, Balukh is refusing to eat anything but bread and water. Dinze warns that his health has noticeably deteriorated, and that he has obvious swelling on the legs which could indicate problems with his kidneys. While still in detention in occupied Crimea, Balukh spent a very long time on either total, or near total hunger strike, and there are very real grounds for concern about the 48-year-old’s state of health.
Balukh has faced persecution since soon after Russia’s invasion for his unwavering opposition to Russian occupation and for the Ukrainian flag he insisted on flying over his home in northern Crimea.
He was initially subjected to absurdly trumped-up administrative prosecutions (see: Sentenced twice for pro-Ukrainian position in Russian-occupied Crimea).
If anybody was in doubt that the aim of these charges was to silence a courageous activist, that ended on 8 December 2016, around nine days after Balukh nailed a plaque renaming his home No. 18 “Heroes of Nebesna Sotnya St’ in memory of the over 100 Maidan activists who were killed during Euromaidan.
Balukh was arrested and remanded in custody after a grossly irregular and unexplained ‘search’ of his home, during which the officers claimed to have found 90 bullets and several TNT explosives. The political nature of this arrest and the shocking falsification were among the reasons why the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre declared him a political prisoner almost immediately.
It is likely that Balukh’s courage and refusal to be silenced, even in detention, prompted the FSB to obtain a longer – 5-year sentence – on equally grotesque charges (details here)
A Russian-controlled ‘court’ in Crimea recently increased this period again, resorting to an open violation of the Russian legislation which is illegally applied in Crimea.
Everything about Balukh’s persecution is illegal, and also immensely cruel. Balukh’s mother is 79, almost blind and has been left to tend for their small farm by herself. As if all of this were not brutal enough, Balukh was moved from a prison colony near Kerch in Crimea to Russia, making it effectively impossible for his mother to visit him.
PLEASE WRITE to Volodymyr! It is vital that he knows that he is not forgotten and the letters are also a warning to Moscow that their behaviour is being watched.
Letters need to be in Russian, unfortunately, and will be passed by the censor, so please avoid any mention of their cases, politics, etc.
If writing in Russian is problematical, you could copy out the following, perhaps with a picture or photo.
Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение.
Мы о Вас помним.
[Hello, I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released. You are not forgotten.]
РФ, 172011 Тверская область, г. Торжок, ул. Старицкая, 79, ФКУ ИК № 4
Балуху, Владимиру Григорьевичу, г. 1971
Or in English:
Russian Federation, 172011 Tverskaya Oblast, Torzhok, 79 Staritskaya St., Prison Colony No. 4.
Balukh, Vladimir Grigorevich, b. 1971