Oleg Sentsov, a Ukrainian filmmaker imprisoned by Russian forces in 2014, is on the verge of death. More than one hundred days ago, he began a hunger strike to demand that Russian President Vladimir Putin free sixty-four Ukrainian political prisoners being held in Russia. Since then, Sentsov has lost almost 70 pounds and suffered cardiac complications. In early August, he confided to his lawyer that “the end was near” and this week he told his cousin that his limbs are going numb. Unless the international community takes urgent action, his uncompromising commitment to freedom will soon kill him.
Policy makers and human rights activists face an all-too-common decision: Do we raise our voices loudly and in unison now, when it can potentially spare one life, or honor yet another opponent of tyranny with a street name following his death? We’ve got enough streets named after dead democrats and courageous freedom fighters. Let’s make an uproar now if only to say we shed a light on those unfairly held in Russia’s modern gulag.
Sentsov’s trouble began soon after Russia illegally annexed Crimea. He was arrested on May 10, 2014, by Russian FSB security forces for peacefully protesting the illegal Russian takeover of Crimea. From his home in the Crimean city of Simferopol, he was jailed and held incommunicado for three weeks. During this time, prison authorities physically abused him, including by suffocation, and threatened him with torture, rape, and murder in an attempt to get him to “confess” to terrorism. The Russian authorities proceeded to strip him of his Ukrainian citizenship—a blatant violation of international law—and tried him in a military tribunal in Moscow as a Russian citizen. Despite a lack of evidence—including from the main witness against him who retracted his testimony after admitting it had been made under torture—Sentsov was convicted of terrorism and sentenced to twenty years in prison.
Sentsov’s case is far from unique. Convicting political opponents on manufactured charges and bogus evidence is one of the hallmarks of Putin’s regime, and there are more than 183 political opponents currently imprisoned in Russia. In an attempt to wear them down, they are regularly subjected to torture; inhumane transport, including month-long transits in cramped trains with little access to water and sanitation; and imprisonment in “gulag-like” prison colonies.
So far, Putin has managed to repress dissent, and Sentsov’s ongoing struggle is an attempt to change this. Sentsov hopes to force Putin to answer for the numerous Ukrainian activists he has imprisoned. Selflessly, Sentsov has not even demanded his own release; rather, he will only end the hunger strike if all other Ukrainian political prisoners are released, and he is willing to obtain his own freedom through death should Putin choose to ignore his demands.
Unfortunately, Putin appears ready to let Sentsov die. Perhaps Sentsov’s case is a matter of pride. As a Ukrainian prisoner from Crimea, releasing Sentsov to the Ukrainian authorities might undermine Russia’s claim over Crimea. Or perhaps Putin simply wants to show the world that nothing, not even the death of an innocent man, can make him change.
Whatever the case, we must not let Putin have his way. It is time for the international community to stand in solidarity with all of Russia’s political prisoners and take concerted actions to hold Putin accountable. Sentsov’s life depends on it. If we don’t, it’s a defeat for those who believe in human rights and a victory to those who traffic in tyranny.
As an urgent first step, if Sentsov is to be saved, the world must unequivocally call for his immediate release. As Sentsov’s situation has grown increasingly precarious, a handful of organizations and world leaders, including Amnesty International and French President Emmanuel Macron, have already done so. But to get Putin to listen, we need the United States and other countries and organizations that value democracy and human rights to prioritize Sentsov’s case.
Second, Russia must face serious and tangible consequences. Putin has repeatedly demonstrated that he does not act out of compassion or shame, so we must force him to do what is right. The United States should lead the charge by using all the tools in its arsenal—including significantly expanding sanctions—to force Putin to meet our demands for freedom.
Finally, we must not lose sight of what is at stake. Sentsov may be fighting to free Ukrainian political prisoners specifically, but this fight transcends national boundaries. It is a timeless and universal fight for freedom and justice—the very values that our society is built on. Sentsov has not weeks, but fleeting days left. And if he dies, so does a part of our humanity.
This article originally appeared on the Atlantic Council’s website
The main photo: Barbed wire and placards with images of Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov are seen after a rally demanding the release of Sentsov, who was jailed on terrorism charges and is currently on hunger strike in Russian jail, in front of the Russian embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo
To governments and legislators of democratic countries, to democracy promotion and human rights organizations, to all democracy-minded people, journalists, and public opinion leaders.
Is the world listening? Does the name Oleg Sentsov cross the consciousness of global leaders every morning they wake up? It should. There is a very urgent task for all of us right now – to save Oleg Sentsov from death in a remote Siberian prison.
Oleg Sentsov, who was arrested and jailed for merely opposing Russia’s takeover of Crimea in 2014 while making a documentary, has been on a hunger strike since May 14. Not a hunger strike to compel a brutal regime to free him, but the selfless act of demanding the release of 64 other Ukrainian political prisoners held in Russian jail cells.
Sentsov is a manifestation of our conscience. And Putin’s repressive machine is methodically killing our conscience at the moment. To save Sentsov is to save the others. Will the world challenge Vladimir Putin, the petty dictator less and less bound by a moral compass, or will Sentsov be another name we celebrate posthumously like a Soviet dissident Anatoly Marchenko?
Since Sentsov began his hunger strike on May 14, many of us have been counting the days of it: Day 1, Day 23, Day 57, Day 107 today… But his health has become so dire that now the countdown goes to minutes, not days.
So, all leaders of the free world, all governments, all legislators, all democracy agencies and human rights organizations, all media outlets, all democracy-minded people worldwide should come together and put Sentsov life as priority Number One, above all other things on their agendas, until he’s released. We will all regret we didn’t do enough to save him if he dies.
It’s Sentsov’s deliberate decision to end his unfreedom with death in order to force the release the other Ukrainian hostages of the Kremlin. It seems like Putin has made his deliberate decision, too — to let Sentsov die as a signal to the world that his regime is unshakable and can care less about a human life.
It appears the Sentsov case is too personal for Putin, some sort of vendetta with those who oppose to him; or perhaps Putin doesn’t have a say here because the Sentsov case was initiated by the FSB and is under its close supervision. Maybe the allegedly all-powerful dictator doesn’t dare to interfere in FSB’s business.
Like Marchenko, Sentsov is determined to give meaning to his own death. Are we ready to lose him though? What else can be more valuable for us, democracy-minded people, than a person’s life?!
So many people in the world have requested, begged, and demanded the Kremlin set Sentsov free. The Kremlin is mercilessly deaf to all statements and pleas to free Sentsov. The international community does a lot in trying to save Sentsov, but it’s still not enough. Are our voices to release Sentsov too scattered and not convincing enough? Are we sending raindrops instead of unifying into the tsunami against the Kremlin?
Last Friday, Vladimir Kara-Murza, twice poisoned in Russia himself, held the second ceremony of opening a new Boris Nemtsov square in memory of his friend, a slain Russian opposition leader. The first unveiling of Nemtsov Plaza took part in Washington, DC and last week it happened in Vilnius. Do we really want to have a reason to push governments of Western countries to start opening Sentsov plazas? Do we want to start advocating for a Sentsov sanction list? Shouldn’t we prefer to have Sentsov alive?!
Let’s all unite our efforts and act right now and act every moment. I urge the U.S and other democracies to try all methods with the Kremlin — both carrots and sticks, but with all means to save Sentsov. Threaten to impose more sanctions, but NOW when Sentsov is still alive. Or promise not to impose some. It can all be re-evaluated later. If Putin wants to exchange him for somebody – start discussing it NOW when Sentsov is still alive. Nothing is more important and urgent right now than Sentsov’s life. I hope I’ll meet him one day to thank him for his fortitude.
Valeria Jegisman of Free Russia Foundation caught up with Maxim Tuula, producer of “The Trial: The State of Russia vs Oleg Sentsov,” during his recent visit to Washington, to talk about the film, the international campaign to support the political prisoner, attitudes towards his case in Russia, and the current state of Sentsov’s health.
The film was released about 1.5 years ago. While you were working on it, you probably had your goals and expectations. Do you feel you have achieved them? Apart from Oleg still being in jail.
When we were making this film we wanted to bring the message about Oleg Sentsov’s case to the widest international audience possible. After a premiere in Berlin, some Russian film critics – friends of ours – told us they didn’t really like the film because they expected more. Since most of them support Oleg Sentsov and know a lot about his case, they expected some kind of revelations. But we didn’t make the film for them. We made it for people who don’t know about Oleg’s case. We wanted to make an internationally relatable film to explain everything and I think it works.
In terms of creativity, I don’t know – for the sophisticated taste it’s not an intricate arthouse film. It’s too simple for that, but we had to choose one way or another. I asked Natalia, Oleg Sentsov’s cousin, whether she liked the film or not, and she said she didn’t think about it in artistic terms, but that it is an important tool to help Oleg’s cause.
However, after our premiere in Berlin, Netflix was looking at the film and whether to take it and they decided not to. And a lot of European channels didn’t take it. They said the film is not relevant to their audiences because it’s Ukraine, and no one knows who Oleg Sentsov is. That is unfortunate.
So it must have come as a disappointment?
Of course we were disappointed because we wanted to make it as big as possible. But we are trying, maybe things will change. When we were making the film, we started a publicity campaign where we recorded messages from European, Russian, and Ukrainian filmmakers to support Oleg’s release. But it was really hard to get feedback from their American counterparts.
Many of them said that they had never heard anything about it and asked why they should care about a Ukrainian filmmaker? Something changed when Johnny Depp joined another global campaign, Imprisoned for Art, and supported Oleg Sentsov. And thanks to Pen America awareness of Oleg’s case has risen in the States.
After the hunger strike began, the American media started writing more about Sentsov, especially after Masha Gessen, the Russian-American journalist, wrote about him in the New Yorker. Her participation in our film screening in New York a few weeks ago attracted a lot of interest and it helped raise awareness.
It seems to me that the international campaign has been quite prominent and far-reaching. A lot of people, including from film industry and international organizations, support Oleg Sentsov’s case. But what is less prominent is political support. What do you think about this and what else can civil society do to put more pressure on politicians?
The Institute of Documentary Film in Prague asked me what they could do to help – should they write an open letter to the Russian Minister of Culture, or to President Putin? But I told them they [Russian authorities] don’t care about you. The only thing you can do is try to make an impact by talking to your politicians, who in turn may try to influence Putin.
French President Emmanuel Macron raised the issue of Oleg’s case during his recent visit to Russia, probably because the French intelligentsia exerted pressure by signing a letter in support of Oleg. Yet it did not lead to any results because Putin was not interested. The president of European Council, Donald Tusk, issued a statement calling for the release of Oleg because our Polish co-producer Dariusz Jablonski and director Agnieszka Holland wrote a letter to Tusk. But again, it didn’t have any effect.
The Czech Institute of Documentary Film asked me what they could do to help and I said the same thing: you need to write the politicians. They showed Oleg’s own film, Gamer, and our film about Oleg at a festival in Karlovy Vary and then wrote an open letter on behalf of all the Czech filmmaking associations to the Czech Parliament, which eventually took up the matter. But again these were cultural figures raising the issue, not the parliament itself.
Of course, there are politicians who are very active in supporting Oleg – for example, the former Bundestag member Marieluise Beck, who even came to our Berlin premiere and was an active participant of our other German screenings. Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid also took part in the interantional campaign and she held a #FreeSenstov sign in her hands – but I wish there were more of them.
Putin will not listen to the Institute of Documentary Film, but he might listen to someone who has an impact on Russian or international politics. So, high-level politicians could probably influence Putin, but he would want to get something in return.
Did you expect that the World Cup would bring more attention to Oleg Sentsov’s case?
This is what Sentsov was hoping for when he started the hunger strike. He started his hunger strike just few weeks before the World Cup to attract attention to the Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. Our friends in Moscow were handing out leaflets to the soccer fans who came to Russia. We thought that if even five out of a hundred fans took the leaflets, and started to think about it, then that’s something. Unfortunately, nothing happened. The World Cup and the case of Oleg Sentsov turned out to be two different universes, not really connected to each other. But let’s see what happens after the end of the World Cup, there is still hope that Putin will do something.
In the film, Oleg Sentsov says that the majority of the population in Russia believes the state propaganda, but one-third understands what is really going on. So the majority of people believe that Oleg is guilty, but there are those who try to stand up for him in Russia. It must take courage to do that in Russia. How do you assess the support for Oleg in Russia?
Well, I think one-third is an exaggeration and that it’s much fewer people, but still this is the thinking part of the Russian population, people who really question the order of things. The Russian filmmakers, they continue to support Sentsov because they feel the blame is partly on them since this is their government who is doing this, yet they can’t do anything about it.
There is a documentary made by Radio Liberty that shows activists handing out leaflets about Oleg to people on the streets of Moscow. Many people don’t take the leaflets, those who do don’t really want to know anything about it. They also say they won’t take one because he is Ukrainian. When they see the word Ukraine, they don’t even read it because it is the enemy – they are so brainwashed.
But the worst part is when people clearly understand what is going on, but close their eyes to this injustice.
Do you think they are just afraid to stand up, or that they just don’t care?
They are not afraid, they work for the regime. They support Putin, if it works for Putin, injustice is not a problem to them. Maybe some people are afraid, but I don’t think fear is the main factor here.
Once I happened to have a conversation with a former FSB officer who said it’s Sentsov’s own fault because he didn’t have to stick out. He clearly realizes Oleg is not a terrorist and that it’s a show trial. But it’s normal to him, it is normal to many people. It’s all right to have this kind of injustice if it has a purpose. And for me that is the worst part.
How is Oleg Sentsov’s health at the moment, do you keep in touch with him?
It is deteriorating, of course, because it’s been 61 days. At this point, the changes in your body become irreversible. Even if he stops the hunger strike, he may not fully recover. He has lost about 20 kilograms and his health is clearly deteriorating.
I’m going to ask a difficult question and you don’t have to answer it. Do you think Oleg did the right thing to go on a hunger strike?
It is his choice and I respect it. There is a discussion among Russian filmmakers about whether we should ask for a pardon from Putin or should not because we have to respect his decision. I respect his choice, and I wouldn’t convince him to stop. I wouldn’t do it myself because my family just wouldn’t let me, because it is a serious risk I would be taking. But he is absolutely convinced he is going to win and I hope Oleg will win. In any case, he has achieved what he was trying to do. He has brought attention to the issue of Ukrainian political prisoners, but if he has to pay with his life – it is a very high price.
Maxim Tuula is an Estonian film producer whose work also includes “My Friend Boris Nemtsov.” The interview with Tuula took place on 13 July 2018. Photo credits: snapshot from “The Trial: The State of Russia vs Oleg Sentsov,” and Alexei Salomatov
In the spring of 2014 in Crimea, Russian federal security service arrested Ukrainian citizen Oleg Sentsov due to suspicion of terrorism.
Oleg is a film director. During the period of the Russian annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, he was an auto Maidan activist, carrying food and supplies to the Crimean military units blocked by Russian troops.
In August of 2015, he was sentenced for 20 years in prison. Oleg did not admit to his guilt; he stated that he was tortured to make him plead guilty. Court sessions had a lot of legislation infringements. Materials within the criminal case contain signs of falsification.
Oleg is recognized as a political prisoner by Memorial (the most respectful Human Rights NGO in Russia). Apart from him, there are 71 more Ukrainian citizens in Russian prisons arrested on political motives. Oleg says there are about 64 Ukrainians; data may vary, and one of the lists of Ukrainian citizens held in Russia as political prisoners is presented by OVDinfo – a Russian human rights organization.
On the 14th of May 2018, Oleg went on hunger strike with the demand for the release of all Russian political prisoners of which are Ukrainian citizens.
Stanislav Zimovets (a Russian citizen and Russian political prisoner, arrested during the anti-Putin demonstration on the 26th of March 2017), Alexander Shumakov (a Ukrainian citizen and Russian political prisoner), Alexander Kolchenko (a Ukrainian citizen and Russian political prisoner, treated by the Russian court as an accomplice of Oleg Sentsov), Stanislav Klih (a Ukrainian citizen and Russian political prisoner) also went on a hunger strike in support of Oleg’s demand. Moreover, a Ukrainian citizen and Russian political prisoner in Crimea Vladimir Baluh has been on a hunger strike for 2.5 months, against the illegal verdict.
The only person in Russia who is capable of meeting Oleg’s demand is Putin. Until the demand is met, those gone on hunger strike will continue and will die eventually.
On 14 June this year, the European Parliament adopted a resolution that, in particular, demanded: “that the Russian authorities immediately and unconditionally release Oleg Sentsov and all other illegally detained Ukrainian citizens in Russia and on the Crimean Peninsula”.
Oleg Sentsov is a Ukrainian filmmaker who lived in Crimea. He stayed there after Russia had annexed the Crimean Peninsula; shortly after the annexation, Sentsov was arrested, forcibly “granted” a Russian citizenship, falsely charged with terrorist activities and sentenced to 20 years.
On 14 May 2018, Sentsov went on an indefinite hunger strike demanding to release all Ukrainian political prisoners held in Russia and Crimea – there are more than 70 of them. Sentsov is dying right now.
Out of 627 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), 485 voted for the resolution, 76 voted against, and 66 abstained. Here is a full list of MEPs voted against the resolution on political prisoners in Russia and Crimea. It is hardly a coincidence that almost all the MEPs listed here represent the pro-Putin “red-brown alliance”.
|Georgi PIRINSKI||Bulgarian Socialist Party||Centre-left||S&D|
|Kateřina KONEČNÁ||Komunistická strana Čech a Moravy||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|Neoklis SYLIKIOTIS||Progressive Party of Working People||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|Marie-Christine ARNAUTU||Front national||Far-right||ENF|
|Nicolas BAY||Front national||Far-right||ENF|
|Joëlle BERGERON||Independent [Front national]||Far-right||EFDD|
|Dominique BILDE||Front national||Far-right||ENF|
|Marie-Christine BOUTONNET||Front national||Far-right||ENF|
|Steeve BRIOIS||Front national||Far-right||ENF|
|Aymeric CHAUPRADE||Les Français Libres [Front national]||Far-right||EFDD|
|Jacques COLOMBIER||Front national||Far-right||ENF|
|Mireille D’ORNANO||Les Patriotes [Front national]||Far-right||EFDD|
|Sylvie GODDYN||Front national||Far-right||ENF|
|Bruno GOLLNISCH||Front national||Far-right||NI|
|Jean-François JALKH||Front national||Far-right||ENF|
|France JAMET||Front national||Far-right||ENF|
|Patrick LE HYARIC||Front de Gauche||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|Gilles LEBRETON||Front national||Far-right||ENF|
|Dominique MARTIN||Front national||Far-right||ENF|
|Bernard MONOT||Front national||Far-right||ENF|
|Sophie MONTEL||Les Patriotes [Front national]||Far-right||EFDD|
|Joëlle MÉLIN||Front national||Far-right||ENF|
|Younous OMARJEE||L’union pour les Outremer||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|Jean-Luc SCHAFFHAUSER||Rassemblement bleu Marine||Far-right||ENF|
|Mylène TROSZCZYNSKI||Front national||Far-right||ENF|
|Marie-Christine VERGIAT||Front de Gauche||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|Marie-Pierre VIEU||Front de Gauche||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|Stefan ECK||Independent [Partei Mensch Umwelt Tierschutz]||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|Cornelia ERNST||Die Linke||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|Sabine LÖSING||Die Linke||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|Jörg MEUTHEN||Alternative für Deutschland||Far-right||EFDD|
|Martina MICHELS||Die Linke||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|Martin SCHIRDEWAN||Die Linke||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|Helmut SCHOLZ||Die Linke||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|Gabriele ZIMMER||Die Linke||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|Nikolaos CHOUNTIS||Popular Unity [Syriza]||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|Georgios EPITIDEIOS||Golden Dawn||Far-right||NI|
|Lampros FOUNTOULIS||Golden Dawn||Far-right||NI|
|Stelios KOULOGLOU||Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left)||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|Kostadinka KUNEVA||Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left)||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|Konstantinos PAPADAKIS||Communist Party of Greece||Far-left||NI|
|Dimitrios PAPADIMOULIS||Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left)||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|Sofia SAKORAFA||Independent [Syriza]||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|Eleftherios SYNADINOS||Independent [Golden Dawn]||Far-right||NI|
|Sotirios ZARIANOPOULOS||Communist Party of Greece||Far-left||NI|
|Luke Ming FLANAGAN||Independent||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|Mara BIZZOTTO||Lega Nord||Far-right||ENF|
|Mario BORGHEZIO||Lega Nord||Far-right||ENF|
|Angelo CIOCCA||Lega Nord||Far-right||ENF|
|Eleonora FORENZA||Lista Tsipras-L’Altra Europa||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|Danilo Oscar LANCINI||Lega Nord||Far-right||ENF|
|Curzio MALTESE||Lista Tsipras-L’Altra Europa||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|Giancarlo SCOTTA’||Lega Nord||Far-right||ENF|
|Barbara SPINELLI||Independent [Lista Tsipras-L’Altra Europa]||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|Marco ZANNI||Independent [Movimento 5 Stelle]||Far-right||ENF|
|Andrejs MAMIKINS||“Saskaņa” sociāldemokrātiskā partija||Centre-left||S&D|
|Marcel de GRAAFF||Partij voor de Vrijheid||Far-right||ENF|
|André ELISSEN||Partij voor de Vrijheid||Far-right||ENF|
|Olaf STUGER||Partij voor de Vrijheid||Far-right||ENF|
|Auke ZIJLSTRA||Partij voor de Vrijheid||Far-right||ENF|
|João FERREIRA||Partido Comunista Português||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|António MARINHO E PINTO||Partido Democrático Republicano||Centre-right||ALDE/ADLE|
|Marisa MATIAS||Bloco de Esquerda||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|João PIMENTA LOPES||Partido Comunista Português||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|Miguel VIEGAS||Partido Comunista Português||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|Xabier BENITO ZILUAGA||PODEMOS||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|Javier COUSO PERMUY||Izquierda Unida||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|Tania GONZÁLEZ PEÑAS||PODEMOS||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|Paloma LÓPEZ BERMEJO||Izquierda Unida||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|Maria Lidia SENRA RODRÍGUEZ||Alternativa galega de esquerda en Europa||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|Lola SÁNCHEZ CALDENTEY||PODEMOS||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|Estefanía TORRES MARTÍNEZ||PODEMOS||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|Miguel URBÁN CRESPO||PODEMOS||Far-left||GUE-NGL|
|Janice ATKINSON||Independent [UKIP]||Far-right||ENF|
|Steven WOOLFE||Independent [UKIP]||Far-right||NI|
This post first appeared at Tango Noir site.
On May 4th, Oleg Sentsov, the film director, announced a limitless hunger strike with the demand to release all Ukrainian political prisoners from Russian prisons (64 people total). On May 31st, Ukrainian activist OlexanderKolchenko announced the hunger strike with a demand to release film director Oleg Sentsov. VolodymyrBalukh, OlexanderShumkov, Stanislav Zimovets also went on hunger strike.
On June 2nd, acts of solidarity both with Sentsov and the political prisoners in Russia with the demands to release them took place in more than 70 cities in Europe, Asia, America and Australia. Updated information on these acts of solidarity can be found here.
All these events have made the issue of political prisoners in modern Russia relevant again.
Who are political prisoners? The definition by the “Memorial” Human Rights Center, which is deeply involved with this issue, is: “Political prisoners are the two categories of people who are subject to criminal prosecution (on a politically motivated basis).
The first group is those oppressed solely for the practice of their civil rights, and for being of a particular nationality, religion or another group, for their beliefs and views (also known as prisoners of conscience, according to Amnesty International).
The second group is those persecuted due to significant violations of the law, selectively, or according to the political motivation of the authorities.
An extensive definition can be found in the Guide to the Definition of a Political Prisoner issue (In Russan).
According to “Memorial”, there are more than 50 political prisoners in Russian prisons today, more than 100 people persecuted for their religious convictions and more than 70 people with clear signs of politically motivated cases. Here you can find the Sentsov’s case analysis on the “Memorial” website (In Russian).
The “Bolotnaya Square case” became the first large politically motivated case in modern Russia. The “political prisoners” term returned in current journalistic and activist vocabulary due to this case. The absolute evidence of falsification of the case, inhumane treatment conditions, and the feeling of belonging in every sense of the word (a lot of people participated in the “white-striped protests” and many of them were on Bolotnaya Square on May 12, 2012) provoked a lot of outrage. This led to a protest and a solidarity campaign, both quite effective and noticeable, being brought to life. It is important to note that many of those affected by the “Bolotnaya Square case” are former political prisoners now engaged in human rights activities and provide assistance to political prisoners and those persecuted for political reasons.
Ivan Nepomnyashiy, ex-political prisoner:
“It was very important for us to know, – during the trial and after the verdict – that there are many people who consider the case and the sentence to be absurd and fabricated, and that they appealed to the authorities to recognize this and to make us free. And this is the minimum we can do now for Oleg Sentsov, OlexanderKolchenko and many others who are unfairly detained in Russian prisons.”
The ongoing issue has another important aspect: five people went on a hunger strike. The management of Sentsov’s penal colony has already declared that they are ready to use forced feeding and infusions. The hunger strike is one of the extreme measures available for those in prison. It is easy to remember the hunger strike of Anatoly Marchenko, the Soviet dissident, and the tragedy at the end of it. The hunger strike of Vasily Aleksanyan, one of the “Yukos’ case” political prisoners was not successful either. It is still unclear whether the Russian government is ready to react to such actions. But one point is obvious – this situation is very dangerous for the life of political prisoners.
Sergey Sharov-Delaunay, human rights defender:
“The authorities are not going to drop back, for sure. The only way to force it is to make the intense pressure on this power rise from the inside, and from the outside, all over the world. For the outside pressure, which is really important for Ukrainian authorities, as well, it is necessary for us to support the demands of Oleg Sentsov. This is the starting point for everything. Without it, this demand will never become actual or satisfied.“
That is the reason that urgent and regular acts of solidarity are becoming more important than ever. Join the #SaveSentsov campaign!
On May 14, 2018, Oleg Sentsov went on an indefinite hunger strike, demanding the release of 64 Ukrainian political prisoners held by Russia in pre-trial detention centers and penal colonies. Today marks the 16th day of his hunger strike.
Four years earlier, in May 2014, the Russian Federal Security Service arrested the Ukrainian film director Sentsov along with dozens of others. Russian officials claimed that all of the detained activists, including Oleg Sentsov, were Russian citizens.
Sentsov was accused of setting the United Russia party office on fire as well as of participating in the activities of a Ukrainian nationalist organization the Right Sector banned in Russia for extremism. In 2015, Sentsov, who is a resident of Crimea, was sentenced to 20 years in prison. In 2016, he was sent to the Russian Arctic region of Yakutia, and in October of 2017 transferred to a maximum security penal colony in the city of Labytnangi in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District. This “Polar Bear” colony was established to hold especially violent and dangerous criminals. Its prisoners are forced to work in 12-hour shifts, in violation of the Russian labor law. The hard labor manual projects usually include making chicken-wire, cinder blocks, barb wire and other construction materials. At least two of the colony’s executives have been under criminal investigation for corruption and abuse of authority. Among violations continuously reported by prisoners is physical abuse and torture.
Sentsov’s story is just one of the many reported and documented instances of horrific violations of human rights unleashed on the inhabitants of the Crimean Peninsula in the aftermath of its invasion and annexation by Russia. Since 2014, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), has received hundreds of such complaints, and while their biggest spike was in 2014, the number is growing again.
In 2014, 21 people were abducted in Crimea by the Russian proxies. More than 10 persons abducted between 2014-2016 are still missing. Other crimes reported in Crimea are arbitrary arrests and detention, most for political purposes of neutralizing and intimidating opposition and dissent. Russia has labeled extremist and abolished the regional ethnic legislative body of the indigenous Crimean Tatars, the Mejlis.
The Russian annexation of 2014 has plunged the entire peninsula into a new reality of totalitarian repression. With the Russian military, however, came Russian business. The position of the E.U., U.S., and Canada toward such ventures has been clear from the start. Sanctions have been introduced against a number of Russian individuals and companies operating in Crimea. Western businesses are explicitly banned from association with those on the sanctions list. They are also banned from investing in Crimea, or any of the related energy, transport, tourism projects.
On November 18, 2015, Colliers International signed a Federal contract with Russia’s Vnesheconombank worth 2.3 million rubles ($36,800) to provide marketing research services for the repurposing of historic buildings in St. Petersburg for a hotel complex developed by the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group. This deal was signed against the backdrop of two students detained by the FSB in Crimea on November 19, 2015, for reportedly vandalizing billboards with portraits of Putin. Around the same time, on November 24, 2015, the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court has sent two other Crimean residents, Oleg Sentsov and Olexander Kolchenko, to prison for 20 and 10 years respectively.
On November 11, 2016, Colliers International signed another state contract worth 1,18 million rubles ($18,430), this time with the Simferopol International Airport of Crimea. The contract was to perform analysis of the economic feasibility of establishing an office center in the new terminal of the airport. The new terminal opened in April 2018.
Colliers International performed this contract as Russian forces conducted mass raids and unwarranted searches of the homes of Crimean Tatars (on November 17, 2016) and detained their community leaders. These searches have been documented and publicized by IlmiUmerov, Deputy Chair of the Tatar Mejlis. On November 14, 2016, persons who presented themselves as agents of the Russian FSB and officials from the Crimean Prosecutor Office, yet failed to produce a legal warrant, cut off electrical power, and raided and searched the Khan Dzhami mosque in Evpatoria. The imam of that mosque was accused of storing and distributing literature banned in Russia. Subsequently, he became the target of a smear campaign carried out in the local press.
On August 15, 2017, Colliers International, signed yet another state contract with Vnesheconombank, this time to provide business management consulting services. The contract was worth 2.95 million rubles ($ 50.000). This happened a day after several Crimean residents, including Lilya Gemeji, had been arrested in Simferopol for solitary pickets in support of the arrested Server Karametov. A week later, on August 24, 2017, two Ukrainian Cultural Center associates Halyna Baloban and Olena Popova were detained and searched by police at the Simferopol train station. The two were suspected of engaging in the illegal activity of celebrating the independence of Ukraine.
Now, just what type of companies are the Collier International, LLC, and its partners? Two companies are registered in Russia under the name of Colliers International LLC, — one in Moscow with registration number INN 7728150075, and another in St. Petersburg, registered under INN 7825453815. Both are owned by Cyprus Checot Holdings Ltd and are part of the Canadian Colliers International, which operates over 500 offices worldwide and specializes in commercial real estate services.
The Rossiya Bank which operates the airport in Simferopol has been on the list of entities sanctioned by Canada and the E.U. since March 2014. The Russian state-owned Vnesheconombank has been on the sanctions list since July 2014.
An attempt by the Municipal Scanner to contact a Colliers International office in Moscow and clarify its corporate position on violation of the E.U. and Canadian sanctions law has yielded no response.