On May 10th 2014, Oleg Sentsov was arrested from Simferopol, the capital of Russian occupied Crimea, by the Russian Federal Security System.
Source- Berlin Film Festival
He is a recognized Ukrainian film director and pro-Ukrainian activist opposing Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The FSD arrested him on the grounds of ‘plotting terrorist activity’, specifically ‘blow up Lenin statue’. He was then taken to Russia and convicted in the Russian Military court where he was sentenced to 20 years. This was on August 25th 2015. As of 2018, he was held in Labytnangi (also called Polar Bear) –a small Siberian town above the Arctic Circle.
Summarizing the story, Russia has imprisoned a potential threat to its nation.
Now let’s elaborate it.
On May 10th, 2014 Oleg Sentsov was arrested from Simferopol, the capital of Russia occupied Crimea, by the Russian Federal Security System. They suffocated him until he passed out. He saw his lawyer only 17 days after the arrest. According to Amnesty International’s report on Oleg Sentsov (which shouldn’t exist in the first place if no Human Rights have been violated), while in detention, he was ‘threatened with rape and murder’ to ‘confess’ organizing ‘terrorist acts’ and possessing illegal firearms. He was then taken to Russia and tried in the Military court. Amnesty further states that “Not a single piece of evidence was presented to the court to prove Sentsov’s personal involvement in the crimes he was accused of”. On the contrary, during his trial, the key prosecution witness confessed to have testified under duress which should have dismissed the case altogether. The key prosecution witness is Hennadiy Afanasyev—one of the other three men arrested with Sentsov on May 10th 2014. In addition to the information cited by Amnesty, KHPG published that while the FSD threatened Sentsov to make him a ‘mastermind’ of terrorist act unless he ‘confessed’, Afanasyev’s testimony was given under ‘torture’. Nevertheless, Sentsov and Kolchenko were convicted. Both men are deprived of Ukrainian rights and those under International Law because Russia insists that since its annexation of Crimea, they ‘automatically’ received Russian citizenship.
Vladimir Putin explicitly said in a conference that Sentsov is not imprisoned because of his opposition to Russian occupation of Crimea but for “taking up other actions, as investigation and court proved” and that “he devoted his life to terrorist activities”. But while in prison, Sentsov was on a hunger strike for 4 months (May 14th - October 6th) in protest of the 60 Ukrainian political prisoners who have been imprisoned by Putin’s government. This reveals the common practice of eliminating opposition in Russia. Given the facts that during his trial not a single piece of substantial evidence was provided to prove the accusations, the key prosecution witness confessed to have testified under duress and that Amnesty was denied request to visit Sentsov (without explanation), Putin’s statement denying the role of Sentsov’s opinions in his imprisonment is difficult to believe.
A questionable pretext for arrest hints at a fearful authority.
If they had sufficient evidence to arrest and detain, how or why could they not prove it in court? If the accusations stand unproven what are Oleg Sentsov and Kolchenko guilty of? Did the political views of an artist trigger Russia’s paranoia?
After three months into his hunger strike which raised serious questions about Sentsov’s health, Amnesty requested to visit Sentsov with an independent medical expert to evaluate his health. In the words of Amnesty International’s Ukrainian director: “In order to dispel all doubts about Oleg’s health condition and the adequacy of medical assistance provided to him, such a visit is imperative”.
Their request was turned down without any explanation. This visit could have been advantageous to Russia in easing doubts regarding its conduct towards Sentsov. However, denying Amnesty’s request has, if anything, alerted human rights organizations and notched the already dubious reputation of a powerful democracy.