Ukrainian Filmmaker Sentenced to 20 Years in High-Security Russian Penal Colony

The US State department calls the conviction a "clear miscarriage of justice."

Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov at a hearing at Moscow's Lefortovo District Court in December, 2014. Photo via: Ukraine Business.
Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov at a hearing at Moscow's Lefortovo District Court in December, 2014. Photo via: Ukraine Business.

A Russian military court has found Oleg Sentsov, 39, guilty on terror charges, sentencing the Ukrainian filmmaker to 20 years in a high-security penal colony, according to the Guardian. The trial has been condemned by the Ukrainian government, members of the film community, and human rights groups.

The European Film Academy posted a signed letter with 1,000 supporters, including Mr. Turner director Mike Leigh, filmmaker Wim Wenders, director Béla Tarr, Maia Workshops director Graziella Bildesheim, and Swiss artist Marina Belobrovaja.

Sentsov was accused of organizing attacks on pro-Kremlin offices in Crimea, which was seized by Russian forces this past March. Russian authorities also claimed Sentsov was planning additional attacks, including the destruction of a Lenin statue in Simferopol, a disputed city on the Crimean peninsula.

The statue of Vladimir Lenin being torn down in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Photo: Igor Chekachkov, courtesy AP Photo.

A statue of Vladimir Lenin being torn down in Kharkiv, Ukraine.
Photo: Igor Chekachkov, courtesy AP Photo.

“Hold on, Oleg,” urged Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko on Twitter, as translated by AFP. “The time will come when those who organised the trial against you will find themselves in the dock.”

Amnesty International issued a statement calling the verdict a “blatant injustice after a patently unfair trial marred by credible allegations of torture.”

“This is a clear miscarriage of justice,” echoed US State Department spokesperson John Kirby in a statement.

Sentenced alongside Sentsov was Alexander Kolchenko, a 25-year-old activist who received a 10-year prison term. Both men were tried as Russian citizens, even though they had never applied for citizenship.

Sentsov is best-known for his feature film debut, Gamer, a tale of an increasingly-isolated teenage video game champion. The movie appeared at the Rotterdam International Film Festival in 2012.

Oleg Sentsov at the Rotterdam Film Festival in 2012. Photo: Rotterdam Film Festival.

Oleg Sentsov at the Rotterdam Film Festival in 2012.
Photo: Rotterdam Film Festival.

The filmmaker claims that he was tortured when he would not confess to the charges. AFP reports that in October, Sentsov’s lawyer, Dmitry Dinze, told the press that Russian authorities threatened to rape and murder his client, and “suffocated [him] to the point of fainting.”

According to BBC News, Dinze says the Russian court claimed that Sentsov’s bruises were self-inflicted.

“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,” said Sentsov in his final trial statement.

Both defendants defiantly whistled the Ukrainian national anthem during their sentencing. Sentsov’s family told BBC News that he will appeal the verdict.

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