RUSSIA: Court Sentences Oleg Sentsov Ukrainian Filmmaker To 20 Years For Terrorism
Oleg Sentsov, the Ukrainian film-maker held in Russia on terror charges, has been sentenced to 20 years hard labour in a case decried by human rights groups and Western governments.
Mr Sentsov’s co-accused, Alexander Kolchenko, was also sentenced to 10 years in prison at the North Caucasus military district court in Rostov-on-Don. Prosecutors originally asked for 23 years for Mr Sentsov and 12 for Mr Kolchenko.
The sentence follow a controversial trial that has been condemned in the West as an effort to put pressure on the Ukrainian government.
Mr Sentsov, a film-maker known mostly for his 2011 film Gamer, was arrested by Russian security services in his native Crimea in May 2014.
The director was accused of organising terror attacks against pro-Russian groups in the region, which had been annexed from Ukraine by Russian troops two months earlier.
He and Mr Kolchenko deny the charges, and say they have been prosecuted for their support of the Maidan revolutionary movement that overthrew Viktor Yanukovych, the former president of Ukraine, in February 2014.
The alleged crimes included a plot to blow up a statue of Lenin in Simferopol, the Crimean capital, and torching or attempting to torch the local offices of pro-Russian parties including United Russia, Vladimir Putin’s ruling party.
Amnesty International condemned Russia’s handling of the case, which it says has been marred by multiple irregularities including allegations of torture of both the accused and prosecution witnesses.
One key prosecution witness, Gennady Afanasyev, refused to stand by his original testimony incriminating the two men, saying it had been extracted under duress.
In August, more than 1,000 members of the European Film Academy, including Wim Wenders, Mike Leigh, and Ken Loach, signed an open letter to Mr Putin calling for the men’s release.
In a statement, Amnesty International called Tuesday’s verdict “a blatant injustice after a patently unfair trial”.
“This whole trial was designed to send a message. It played into Russia’s propaganda war against Ukraine and was redolent of Stalinist-era show trials of dissidents,” it said.
Petro Poroshenko, the president of Ukraine, condemned the sentence and promised to hold those responsible to justice.
“Stay strong, Oleg. The time will coming when the organisers of your show trial will find themselves in the dock,” he wrote on Twitter.
The British government condemned the “disproportionate and politically motivated charges.”
“Oleg Sentsov claims to have been tortured in pro-trial detention and both men were denied access to their layers for more than four days after their transfer from Crimea to Moscow,” said David Lidington, the Minister for Europe, in a statement.
The case is one of several recent instances of foreign citizens facing hefty sentences in what critics describe an effort to pressure neighbouring governments.
Last week Eston Kohver, an Estonian security official, was sentenced to 15 years for espionage by a court in Pskov.
Estonian and European officials condemned the case, saying that Mr Khover was abducted from inside Estonian territory by a Russian secret service grab squad and denied a fair trial.
On Friday, the Rostov regional court decided Nadia Savchenko, a Ukrainian army helicopter pilot charged with murdering two Russian journalists, will be tried in a remote border town.
Lawyers for Miss Savchenko, who says she was brought into Russia against her will by Russian agents, had asked for the trial to be held in Moscow. No date for the trial has yet been set.
Mark Feygin, one of Miss Savchenko’s defence team, described the Sentsov verdict as a “prologue” to the upcoming trial and confirmation that his client’s fate has already been decided.
“These are both political cases. There is absolutely no hope of an acquittal,” he said.
Mr Feygin said that the only chance for any prisoner in such a case is “high level political negotiations.”
Kremlin watchers have described all three cases as part of a systematic strategy to gain leverage over neighbouring governments, especially in Russia’s continuing confrontation with Ukraine.
“It is one element in a multilayered umbrella strategy of blackmail and hostage taking,” said Lilia Shevtsova, a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institute.
“In Ukraine, they are also wooing elements of the elite to create a split; raising the energy and gas question, where Ukraine is very vulnerable; and they always also have the military option. It all maintains pressure on Kiev,” she said.