Crimean filmmaker Oleg Sentsov was tortured and sentenced to 20 years – now he is free!

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International protests for his freedom. (Photo: Amnesty International / Henning Schacht)

When asked if he understood his sentence, Crimean filmmaker and writer Oleg Sentsov stood up in his glass cage and sang the Ukrainian national anthem. Surprising to some perhaps, because he is an ethnic Russian, although Crimean-born. But he never recognized Russia’s brutal 2014 annexation of his homeland, and he said so. (Film clip below.)

With the testimony of tortured witnesses, a Russian court was sentenced for “terrorism” and sentenced to a series of Siberian prisons until August 2035. Now he is free.

Awarded by PEN in 2017

On Saturday, Russia and Ukraine finalized the exchange of 70 prisoners held in both countries. They include 24 Ukrainian sailors captured off the coast of Crimea last year as well as Sentsov. They returned to Kiev where they were  welcomed by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy and where Sentsov was reunited with his family.

His imprisonment has not been uneventful: at one point, he was beaten for 24 hours to force a confession. When he tried to prosecute for torture, the Russians accused him of sado-masochism and inflicting his own wounds. He and three other Ukrainian freedom-fighters were charged with planning to bomb power lines, bridges, and public monuments.

Over four months ago, he had declared a hunger strike, demanding Russian authorities to free all Ukrainian “political prisoners.” He lost 66 lbs. before ending the strike after 145 days under threats of force feeding. Sentsov, the 2017 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award winner is best known for his internationally acclaimed 2011 (non-political) feature film Gamer

Reacting to the news that Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and dozens of other detainees have been released as a part of prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine, Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said:

“Oleg Sentsov and many others jailed following Russia’s occupation and illegal annexation of Crimea are simply victims of politically-motivated prosecution and they should never have been imprisoned in the first place. While it is a relief that they are now free, it is a travesty to see them being used as human bargaining chips in political deals.

“The conflict in eastern Ukraine opened a new and tragic chapter for human rights in the country and beyond. Following his arrest, illegal transfer to Russia and deeply flawed trial by a military court, Oleg Sentsov spent more than six years behind bars.

“The Russian authorities derisively refused to recognize his Ukrainian citizenship and transported him 3,000 kilometers away from his family and native Crimea to the frost-bitten penal colony at Labytnangi in the far north of Russia.

“No-one should be prosecuted and imprisoned solely for political reasons; we demand justice for all remaining prisoners subjected to these politically-motivated trials, those who had been imprisoned solely for exercising their human rights, should be immediately and unconditionally release.”


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