Russia: Free Oleg Sentsov

By | May 10, 2017 at 4:17 pm | No comments | Campaigns | Tags: ,

Russia: Free Oleg Sentsov

May 10 marks three years since prominent Ukrainian writer and filmmaker Oleg Sentsov was arrested and sentenced to 20 years in prison on terrorism charges after an unfair trial by a Russian military court, marred by allegations of torture. PEN International fears that Oleg Sentsov was imprisoned for his opposition to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and calls on the Russian authorities to release him immediately. Should there be grounds for prosecution on charges of terrorism, these should be heard by a civilian court under Ukrainian law.

Please send appeals:

  • Urging the Russian authorities to release Oleg Sentsov immediately;
  • Should there be grounds to prosecute Oleg Sentsov on charges of terrorism, these should be heard by a civilian court under Ukrainian law, as required by international humanitarian law. Any testimony obtained through torture or other ill-treatment must be excluded from proceedings;
  • Calling on the Russian authorities to order an independent and impartial investigation into Oleg Sentsov’s allegations of torture and other ill-treatment. Anyone against whom there is sufficient admissible evidence of responsibility should be brought to justice.

Send appeals to:

Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation

Yuri Yakovlevich Chaika
Prosecutor General’s Office
ul. B. Dmitrovka, d.15a
125993 Moscow GSP- 3
Russian Federation

Human Rights Ombudsman of the Russian Federation
Tatiana Nikolaevna Moskalkova
ul. Miasnitskaia, 47
107084, Moscow
Russian Federation

Send copies to the Embassy of Russia in your own country. Embassy addresses may be found here.

Please reach out to your Ministry of Foreign Affairs and diplomatic representatives in Russia, calling on them to raise Oleg Sentsov’s case in bilateral fora. 

***Please send appeals immediately. Check with PEN International if sending appeals after August 10, 2017. ***

Please inform PEN of any action you take and of any responses you receive.

Publicity

PEN members are encouraged to:

  • Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the case of Oleg Sentsov and freedom of expression in Crimea;
  • Share information about Oleg Sentsov and your campaigning activities via social media;
  • Organize public events, press conferences and demonstrations;
  • Celebrate Oleg Sentsov’s work through film screenings and readings. Read his letter smuggled out of prison in September 2016 as well as the moving message he sent PEN America in April 2016.

Please let us know about your activities and send us reports so that we can share them with other Centres.

Send a message of support

If you would like to send a message of support to Oleg Sentsov and his family please contact Aurelia.dondo@pen-international.org for more details.

Background 

Best known for his 2011 film Gamer, Ukrainian filmmaker and writer Oleg Sentsov took part in the EuroMaidan demonstrations that toppled former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014. He helped deliver food to Ukrainian soldiers following Russia’s occupation and annexation of Crimea in February-March 2014.

Oleg Sentsov said he was arrested by the Russian security services at his apartment in Crimea on May 10, 2014. He reported being subjected to a brutal three-hour ordeal involving beatings, suffocation and threatened sexual assault. To PEN International’s knowledge, his allegations have yet to be investigated by the Russian authorities.

His arrest was officially recorded on 11 May 2014 on the grounds of “suspicion of plotting terrorist acts” and membership of a terrorist group (the Ukrainian right-wing group Pravyi Sektor, Right Sector). He was taken to Russia on 23 May 2014 where he spent over a year in pre-trial detention. He was eventually charged with the establishment of a terrorist group, politically-motivated arson and conspiring to blow up a statue of Lenin, all of which he denied.

Following a trial widely condemned outside of Russia, in which a key prosecution witness retracted his statement, saying it had been extracted under torture, Oleg Sentsov was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison by the military court of Rostov-on-Doon on 20 August 2015. His sentence was upheld on appeal on 24 November 2015.

In July 2016 the Russian authorities published an updated list of “terrorists and extremists” from Crimea that included Oleg Sentsov. In October 2016, they denied a request for extradition to Ukraine on the grounds that he had become a Russian citizen following Russia’s occupation and annexation of Crimea. The Ukrainian authorities are still prevented by their Russian counterparts from contacting Oleg Sentsov.

PEN International denounces serious flaws in judicial proceedings against Oleg Sentsov, including his lengthy pre-trial detention, the failure to investigate his allegations of torture as well as the fact that he is being held in Russia. Under international law, Crimea constitutes occupied territory and as the occupying power, Russia is obliged not to transfer civilian prisoners out of the territory. Trying civilians in military courts also violates international human rights norms.

In April 2015, the United Nations Human Rights Committee expressed concerns at “allegations that Oleg Sentsov has been deprived against his will of his Ukrainian nationality, tried in Moscow as a citizen of the Russian Federation and subject to legal proceedings that fail to meet the requirements of Articles 9 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”.  It called on the Russian authorities to investigate all allegations of serious human rights violations and to ensure that appropriate and transparent procedures are in place for Crimean residents to revisit their decision concerning their nationality.

Oleg Sentsov is the winner of the 2017 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award. His cousin Natalya Kaplan, who accepted the award on his behalf, stressed that “Oleg is but one of 44 Ukrainian prisoners who are incarcerated in Russia today. He is very concerned for his fellow political prisoners. He asks that, when you speak of him, you don’t forget the others.”

Freedom of expression in Crimea

Since the Russian occupation and annexation of Crimea in February-March 2014, most opponents of the annexation have been harassed into exile or silenced, while media freedom in Crimea has been severely restricted.  The Russian authorities have also introduced Article 280.1 to the Russian Penal Code, which penalises anyone making public calls that “harm the territorial integrity of Russia” with up to five years in prison. Several people have been sentenced in Russia in relation to material posted online. Most charges pertained to remarks about Crimea being part of Ukraine.

On December 19, 2016, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 71/205 on the “situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol”. The resolution refers to Crimea being under the “temporary occupation” of the Russian Federation, reaffirms the non-recognition of its “annexation”, and affirms the applicability of the Geneva Conventions. It further calls on the Russian Federation “as an occupying power” to bring an immediate end to “all the abuses against residents of Crimea,” and to ensure proper and unimpeded access to the peninsula.

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