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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Russian Court sentences Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov to 20 years in prison

Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and civic activist
Oleksandr Kolchenko in the courtroom
(Image: The Moscow Times)
Russian Court in the city of Rostov-on-Don has sentenced Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov on August 25 to 20 years in prison, accusing him in organizing and carrying out terrorist attacks against Russian officer during Russian annexation of Crimea in 2013. Oleg Sentsov’s co-defendant Oleksandr Kolchenko, prominent Ukrainian Crimea based civic activist, was also declared guilty and accused of participating in terrorist activity on the territory of Crimean Peninsula and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The accusations of the Russian court lack evidence against the defendants, while the detainees were also tortured during the process and investigation, what was documented by their lawyers. The harsh verdict was strongly criticized by the lawyers, civil rights and human rights activists and international community.

Here is the report of Kyiv Post about the Tuesday’s court session and declaring the verdict.

Kyiv Post, Allison Quinn – KYIV: A court in the Russian regional capital of Rostov-on-Don handed down a crushing 20-year sentence in a maximum security prison to Ukrainian Oleg Sentsov on Aug. 25 in a terrorism trial some see as revenge for the filmmaker’s opposition to the Kremlin’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea.

Also in court for sentencing was Alexander Kolchenko, a civic activist in Crimea, who was sentenced to a 10-year term. Both men were accused of plotting terrorist acts in Crimea following Russia’s illegal annexation of the peninsula and its annexation via a sham referendum in March 2014.

The verdict triggered an uproar among Russian journalists on social media, with many pointing out how absurd it was for Sentsov to be found guilty while Yevgeniya Vasilyeva, a former defense official in a massive corruption case, got out on early release.

“On the same day, Sentsov got 20 years and Vasilyeva was granted early release. And we, as usual, will forget and, as usual, forgive,” wrote blogger and photographer Mitya Aleshkovsky.

President Petro Poroshenko immediately tweeted words of support. “Hang in there, Oleg. The time will come when those who organized this against you will find themselves in the prisoner's box,” Poroshenko wrote.

Sentsov and Kolchenko seemed to have expected the verdict, however. They were seen laughing as it was read out in the court room, according to a live broadcast of the trial on Ukrainian television. Both men broke into song after the verdict, singing the words “soul and body we will lay down for our freedom” from the Ukrainian anthem.

Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov
(Image: CBC)
According to Russian prosecutors, Sentsov and Kolchenko were behind two small arson attacks on the offices of Russian political party United Russia and the Russian Community in Crimea civic organization in Simferopol on April 14 and April 18, 2014, respectively. Sentsov faced the heavier sentence because prosecutors said he was the organizer of the attacks.

Sentsov has maintained throughout his trial that the charges against him were fabricated. He took part in Ukraine’s EuroMaidan public protests in late 2013 and early 2014, and was arrested last May while he was attending a pro-Ukrainian rally in Crimea. He was then taken to Russia to stand trial.

Sentsov is the most well-known of four Ukrainians arrested at that time – the others being Kolchenko, Gennady Afanasyev, and Alexei Chirnigo. The four were accused by Russia’s Federal Security Service of plotting to carry out terrorist attacks in Crimea.

Afanasyev and Chirnigo have already been sentenced to seven years in jail for terrorism, but both have refused to testify in the cases against Sentsov and Kolchenko, claiming via lawyers that they were tortured while in detention to extract evidence.

Sentsov also claimed earlier that he had been subjected to torture while in detention ahead of his trial.

Before the Aug. 25 sentencing, Amnesty Ukraine media officer Bogdan Ovcharuk slammed the court proceedings, saying that allegations that Sentsov had been tortured while in detention hadn’t been properly investigated.

“The lack of investigation into the torture (claim) is another manifestation of disregard for the standards of a fair trial in this case,” Ovcharuk said.

Amnesty International also says the trial itself is illegal, and the Ukrainians should either be released or charged under Ukrainian law. It said that under international law the removal or deportation of citizens of an occupied territory is prohibited, and the criminal laws of the occupied country should remain in force.

“Any (guilty verdict) will be a loss for Russia, because the case against these Crimean people is clearly fabricated to punish them for their opposition to the occupation of Crimea,” Ovcharuk said.