Radio Liberty

The report that Volodymyr Balukh is in severe pain after being beaten in prison has not been confirmed or refuted, but only because both his lawyer and Archbishop Kliment, his civic defender, were prevented from visiting him on September 15.

On September 14, Akhtem Chiygoz, the Crimean Tatar Mejlis leader who was himself held prisoner for nearly three years in the same Simferopol SIZO [remand prison], reported that Balukh had been taken out of his cell by the head of the SIZO Sergei Berezhnoy who ordered him to get on his knees. He refused, after which he was kicked to the concrete floor, and beaten around the head, liver area and legs. According to his information, Balukh was, as a result, suffering pain to the head and liver, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group wrote.

Read alsoCrimean activist Balukh reportedly in serious condition

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Balukh's lawyer immediately contacted the duty officer at the SIZO who asserted that there had been no incidents at all. The lawyer said he wished to ascertain this for himself, and was told that he could come the next day (Saturday) and, if the head of the SIZO agreed, see Balukh.

The lawyer arrived early on Saturday, and was forced to wait for Berezhnoy's arrival. When the latter finally arrived, he refused permission to see Balukh until Monday, claiming that this was because it was the weekend. He further asserted that he had seen Balukh, and that everything was fine with him. Since the information that Chiygoz received suggests that Berezhnoy was responsible for the reported ill-treatment, his acknowledgement that he saw Balukh could hardly be deemed reassuring.

After Archbishop Kliment arrived, he and the lawyer phoned the Crimean Penitentiary Service but were very rudely refused permission, with the excuse also being that it was the weekend.

There was a conflicting report on September 15 from journalist Anton Naumlyuk, who had been informed that the CCTV camera in Balukh's cell had broken, after which staff, together with the head of the SIZO Sergei Berezhnoy, had carried out a search. Balukh had been taken out of the cell, with Naumlyuk saying that a verbal altercation ensued, with Berezhnoy accusing him of breaking the camera, and that Balukh had then been taken in handcuffs to a punishment cell. Neither he nor Chiygoz name their sources, for obvious reasons, however Chiygoz clearly believes that Naumlyuk has simply believed those who carried out the alleged beating.

Balukh went on total hunger strike on March 19 in protest at his first politically-motivated sentence. He was persuaded after 25 days to take what is essentially a bare minimum to slow down the collapse of his organs and probably to prevent force-feeding. He had then resumed the full hunger strike on June 23 in protest at a second fabricated 'criminal case,' initiated while he was already imprisoned. He has since again reverted to a minimal amount. He is evidently weakened by almost six months with virtually no food and has for some time complained of chest pain, and, more recently, pain in the area around the liver. Lawyer Olga Dinze recently reported that he is forced to take painkilling medication due to severe pain.