RFE/RL – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Autor)
A court in Ukraine’s Russia-controlled Crimea region has sentenced pro-Kyiv activist Volodymyr Balukh to prison on charges of weapons and explosives possession he says was politically motivated.
The Rozdolne District Court convicted Balukh on August 4 and sentenced him to three years and seven months in prison.
Balukh pleaded not guilty and says the case was groundless.
He is one of dozens of Crimeans whom Russia has prosecuted in what rights groups say has been a persistent campaign to silence dissent since Moscow seized control over the Ukrainian region in March 2014.
The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) said that officers searched Balukh's home in December and found 90 bullets and some explosives in the attic.
The search was conducted shortly after Balukh planted a Ukrainian flag in his yard and affixed a sign to his house that read Heavenly Hundred Street, 18.
The Heavenly Hundred is a term Ukrainians use for the dozens of people killed when security forces sought to disperse protesters in Kyiv whose demonstrations drove Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych from power in February 2014.
After Yanukovych's ouster, Russia seized Crimea by sending in troops and staging a referendum dismissed as illegal by Ukraine, the United States, and a total of 100 countries.
The Russian takeover badly damaged Moscow's relations with Kyiv and the West and resulted in the imposition of sanctions by the European Union, 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.In March 2017, the European Parliament called on Moscow to free more than 30 Ukrainian citizens who were in prison or other conditions of restricted freedom in Russia, Crimea, and parts of eastern Ukraine that are controlled by Russia-backed separatists.
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