Tuesday, Russian court found Ukraine director Oleg Sentsov guilty of plotting terrorist acts in Crimea.
- Three judges took 20 minutes to hand down the 20-year sentence of Ukraine director Oleg Sentsov.
- The case is being heard in a military court in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don.
Ukraine director Oleg Sentsov and fellow Ukrainian co-defendant Alexander Kolchenko have been held behind bars in Russia since May last year. The men are being tried as Russians, despite never having applied for citizenship. Both are pleading not guilty.
During court hearing, Mr Sentsov and Mr Kolchenko exchanged smiles as the judge read out the verdict and eventually broke into song with a rendering of the Ukrainian national anthem.
Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko wrote a message in facebook, “Hang in there Oleg,” he said. “Time will pass and those who organised this kangaroo court will find themselves in the dock.”
Prosecutors had called for a 23-year sentence for Oleg Sentsov. His co-defendant, 26-year-old left-wing activist Alexander Kolchenko, was found guilty of involvement with a terrorist group and was sentenced to 10 years.
Oleg Sentsov condemned Moscow’s rule in his final trial he gave statement, “Your propaganda is very good, but there are also people like you who understand very well that there are no ‘fascists’ in Ukraine, that Crimea was taken illegally and that your troops are in Donbass,” he said.
According to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, the men are among 11 Ukrainians held in Russian prisons whom Kiev considers to be political prisoners. These include military pilot Nadiya Savchenko who is currently on trial over the deaths of two Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine.
Peter Rutland, a government professor at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, and a specialist in Russian politics said, the arrest and trial of Sentsov and Kolchenko has allowed Russia to continue establishing its claims over Crimea since its annexation in March 2014. “It the Sentsov case doesn’t bode well for reconciliation,” he said. “It implies that prisoner exchanges will become less frequent and that Moscow doesn’t show willingness to compromise.”
Sentov’s lawyer has already said he plans to appeal to Russia’s Supreme Court and then to the European Court of Human Rights, of which Russia is a member. Rutland said this is a small step forward, but the European Court cannot force the release of prisoners.
Oleg Sentsov is a Ukrainian filmmaker, best known for his 2011 film Gamer and his arrest in May 2014 by the Russian Federal Security Service on suspicion of plotting terrorist acts. After the November 2013 breakout of the Euromaidan-protests Sentsov became an activist of “AutoMaidan” and during the following 2014 Crimean crisis he helped deliver food and supplies to Ukrainian servicemen blocked at their Crimean bases. Sentsov has stated that he does not recognize the Russian annexation of Crimea and the “Russian Federation military seizure of the Crimea”.
After holding Sentsov without charges for three weeks, a statement by Russia’s Federal Security Service accused the four Ukrainians of being “part of a terrorist community, to carry out explosions with home-made devices on May 9, 2014 near the Eternal Flame memorial and Lenin monument in Simferopol and to set on fire to the offices of the Russian Community of Crimea public organization and the United Russia party branch in Simferopol on April 14 and April 18, 2014”. Sentsov, Afanasyev, Chirnigo and Kolchenko have also been accused of membership in Ukraine’s nationalist paramilitary group, Right Sector, a claim that both Sentsov and Right Sector deny. Russian prosecutors have stated that Sentsov has confessed to the terrorist plots. But the filmmaker and his lawyer, Dmitry Dinze, who defended Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, denied this and he and Sentsov himself have stated that Sentsov was beaten and threatened with rape to force him to confess. According to Sentsov’s lawyers, investigators refused to open a case on his allegations of torture, suggesting that his bruises were self-inflicted and that he was keen on sado-masochism.
Starting with 19 May 2014, Sentsov was being detained in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison. European directors like Agnieszka Holland, Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, and Pedro Almodóvar have co-signed a 10 June 2014 letter for Russian President Vladimir Putin calling for Sentsov’s release. On 26 June 2014 Russia’s presidential council for human rights appealed to Deputy Prosecutor General Viktor Grin to review the circumstances surrounding the arrests of Sentsov and a fellow Ukrainian activist, ecologist, anti-fascist and anarchist Oleksandr Kolchenko. A reply, posted on the council’s website, says prosecutors found “no grounds” for altering the detention of either suspect. On 7 July 2014 Sentsov’s arrest was extended to 11 October. In October 2014 his arrest was extended to 11 January 2015.
Ukrainian authorities are banned by their Russian counterparts to contact or help Sentsov. According to Sentsov he has been deprived of his citizenship of Ukraine. The European Union and the United States have condemned Sentsov’s detention and have called for his release.IMAGE/AFP