1. Who is Oleg Sentsov?
A Ukrainian director born in Simferopol. He is now 41. His first feature film Гамер(Gamer) enjoyed significant success at film festivals all over the world. In the spring of 2014 he was arrested and in August 2015 sentenced to 20 years of penal servitude in a high security prison [in Russian: a “strict regime colony”]. He is accused of terrorism.
2. Why is everyone talking about him now?
On May 14, Sentsov declared a hunger strike, demanding the release of Ukrainian political prisoners who are being held in Russian prisons. He did not include himself on that list. Today, May 28, is the 15th day of his hunger strike.
Sentsov intends to carry out his hunger strike to the end. He is in danger of dying.
3. What specifically was Sentsov accused of?
Organizing terrorism – both acts that had happened and that were being planned. This referred to acts already committed by others (not Sentsov), apparently nighttime arson on the windowsill and door of the offices of United Russia.
4. How was Sentsov's guilt proven?
Not a single proof of his guilt was found or presented to the court. The singular “proof” was the testimony of two people who were caught red-handed (see point 5). What is more, Sentsov prior to his arrest knew only one of the two men.
5. Why is this proof insufficient?
First, because any person could so accuse any other person. To call this “proof” is to twist language.
Second, testifying against Sentsov was in the interest of the two who were caught red-handed: they both made deals (this was confirmed by one of their lawyers) with the investigators and, although their own guilt was proven, they received shorter terms: seven years each.
Third, Sentsov repeatedly said that, while he was being tortured (all three were tortured), they demanded that he testify that some instigator of the 2014 Maidan protests was the terrorist group’s organizer. Which he was not. In the alternative, the investigator threatened to declare that he, Sentsov, was the organizer. They immediately threatened him with a 20-year term in a high security prison. And it was this sentence, word for word, that the court subsequently handed down.
Finally, fourth, one of Sentsov’s so-called “collaborators,” Gennady Afanasyev, recanted his testimony in court, saying that there was no truth in it, and that it was given under duress. Of course, this had zero impact on the court. Thus, Sentsov was sentenced to prison on the word of one concrete person that he did not even know, Alexei Chirny.
6. And what about the video, “Sentsov captured red handed?”
This video is a perfect example of a propagandistic lie. Despite the title, the person appearing in it is someone completely different, which any viewer can see. This person was in fact caught red-handed. And he is Alexei Chirny, who gave false testimony against Sentsov.
7. Why would the FSB be after Sentsov?
There is no clear answer. Probably, in the spring of 2014 they needed a trial of some sort of “Crimean terrorists,” which would serve as justification for the policies of Russian authorities on Ukrainian territory. Sentsov was chosen as he was a famous person and a Maidan activist who lived and worked in Crimea and its surrounding areas. Of course, had Sentsov cracked under torture, the “face” of the process might have been someone else.
8. Why do they not exchange Sentsov for Russian prisoners of war, like they did with Savchenko?
Because, according to Russian law, he was declared to be a Russian citizen, just like the anti-fascist Alexander Kolchenko who was sentenced alongside him. To free him would be to admit that Sentsov is not a terrorist and that the court and investigators lied. Russia’s powers that be would not take that step.
9. Could they, in the prison, force feed Sentsov?
In theory, no. Russian law does not allow this.
[Update: apparently they can.]
10. What can be done in such a situation by those who are worried about Sentsov’s fate?
That is unclear. But at least they can share information about his case and repost this.
[In the US, you can write or call your representative or senator. The Voice Project also has an online petition.]
Anton Dolin is a Russian journalist, film critic and scholar.
Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.
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