Oleg Sentsov: Fight for justice must not be in vain
Over four months ago Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov declared a hunger strike, demanding Russian authorities to free all Ukrainian “political prisoners.” He has lost 30 kg since the beginning of his hunger strike. His action has sparked protest in his support across the globe. The voices of his supporters are mostly directed at Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, to remind him that Oleg Sentsov should never have spent a single day in prison and his fight for justice should not be in vain.
Key facts about Oleg Sentsov
The story of Oleg Sentsov starts on the night of 10 May 2014, when members of the Russian security service (FSB) arrested him at his home in Simferopol, the capital of Russian-occupied Crimea. They put a plastic bag over his head and suffocated him until he passed out. They threatened him with rape and murder to force him to “confess” to organizing bombings and other “terrorist acts” as well as to possessing illegal firearms. Sentsov was able to see his lawyer only 17 days into his detention, when he was transferred from Simferopol to Moscow together with other suspects in his case.
This was the beginning of an extremely cynical show trial. Sentsov’s relatives and lawyer believe he was detained for being a pro-Ukrainian activist who peacefully resisted the Russian occupation of Crimea. No single piece of evidence was presented to the court to prove Sentsov’s personal involvement in committing the crimes he was accused of. At the court hearings, Sentsov adamantly maintained he is innocent. The case against him should have collapsed when the key prosecution witness stated in court that he testified against Sentsov under duress. But all of this didn’t prevent a Russian military court from sentencing Sentsov to 20 years in prison.
Since then, Sentsov was transferred to several prisons in Russia. Prison transfers in Russia are known for their inhumane conditions. In November 2017, Sentsov’s lawyer reported that his client has developed heart problems after being exposed to extremely cold temperatures. His latest destination is a penal colony in Labytnangi, a small Siberian town above the Arctic Circle. After several months in Labytnangi, Sentsov lost two teeth and has started losing his hair – the severe climate there is not suitable for Sentsov according to his lawyer.
The kind of hell Sentsov has been through is far too much for any person, let alone an innocent one. He is protesting for others unfairly convicted to be released, but he himself also deserves freedom.
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What are Sentsov’s demands?
Oleg Sentsov is demanding to release all Ukrainians that have been either arrested or convicted in Russia on politically-motivated grounds. There is no particular list of these individuals, but Ukrainian and Russian human rights groups have determined that there are at least 70 such individuals (and their number is changing constantly over time). Among them are Sentsov’s co-defendant Aleksandr Kolchenko who is serving a 10-years sentence; Crimean Tatar human rights defender Emir-Usein Kuku who faces a sentence of to up to 25 years in prison; and Stanislav Klykh, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison and was subjected to forced psychiatric treatment that resulted in severe deterioration of his mental health.