Ukrainian activist Balukh jailed in Russian-occupied Crimea on flagrantly falsified charges
A 46-year-old Volodymyr Balukh, a Ukrainian activist and recognized political prisoner, has been sentenced to 3 years, seven months after a gravely flawed trial which human rights groups have condemned as reprisals for his open opposition to Russia's occupation of his native Crimea – and, effectively, for a Ukrainian flag, according to Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KhPG).
The de facto judge at the Razdolne District Court – Maria Bedritskaya – claimed that all evidence had been collected lawfully, and also imposed a RUB 10,000 fine, KhPG wrote.
Bedritskaya was warned by the defense from the outset that even under Russian legislation a judge faces criminal liability for imprisoning people based on overtly rigged evidence. She chose to ignore the weight of proof that the charges against Balukh are politically motivated and have been fabricated, and even accelerated the handing down of the final verdict, to go on vacation.
Balukh was arrested on Dec 8, 2016 after 90 bullets and several TNT explosive devices were allegedly 'found' in his attic. He had no criminal record, and the constant searches and series of administrative prosecutions he had faced since Russia's invasion of Crimea for his openly pro-Ukrainian position made it inconceivable that he would have stored anything illegal at home. This was one of the grounds for the Memorial Human Rights Centre's decision to declare the 46-year-old a political prisoner well before the trial. There were many other compelling reasons, including scarcely concealed falsifications and procedural irregularities, which the 'judge' has not only refused to consider, but has even been involved in.
During his final address on August 1, Balukh pointed out that there was in fact no criminal case but rather a farce on the part of those instructed to play it to the end. His words were essentially a message for all Ukrainians and anyone mulling betraying their principles and acting against their conscience in return for possibly avoiding arrest.
"What is happening with me is a vivid example of how the state machine works. Nothing is sacred, no legal arguments, nothing has any effect on it, and it's all according to the will of one person or a few people. This is the primary reason why I'm here. The second reason is my love for my Homeland, for everything that I am made of, my nationality, my memory of my forebears, all of whom I know. They were Ukrainians, some worthy people, preserving their traditions. That was how we were raised by our mothers and fathers. My Homeland is same to me as my mother, my family, my children," Crimean Human Rights Group quoted his words on Facebook.
"If I had gone against my own conscience, forgotten my principles, it would have been enough to say I was guilty and break down morally in order to avoid prison," he said.
"I don't want my descendants, by that I mean the children of Ukraine, to one day reproach me for having been a coward, for having shown my weakness. Yes, there were objective reasons, nobody wants to go through what I'm experiencing now. You would understand anyone. But I have nonetheless lived the best years of my life, and at my age, I can't afford cowardice. So what happens, happens."
"The only thing is that I ask my sister to ask my mother to forgive me," Balukh added.