Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov has reached 100 days into his hunger strike. The chair of the European Film Academy, Agnieszka Holland, talked to DW about his sacrifice in solidarity with other political prisoners.
The Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov was arrested in May 2014, charged by the Russian state of heading a terrorist group that plotted attacks in Crimea. Sentsov denies the accusations.
He has been sentenced to 20 years in prison, following "an unfair trial on politically-motivated charges," writes Amnesty International.
The European Film Academy (EFA) also calls for Sentsov's immediate release. EFA's current chairwoman, Polish director and screenwriter Agnieszka Holland, has participated in many protest actions in support of her Ukrainian colleague.
Read more: Oleg Sentsov, imprisoned filmmaker
DW: Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov is on the 100th day of his hunger strike. Do you know anything about his current situation?
Agnieszka Holland: No, I don't. We had been hoping that maybe there would be some reaction coming after the meeting between Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin. But we don't have any up-to-date news now...
Everybody's trying: the European Union, the German government, Emmanuel Macron. But it looks that Vladimir Putin has decided that he doesn't need to show a nicer face. And he wants Oleg to bow, to be humiliated. And if Oleg doesn't want to be humiliated, if he refuses to ask for a pardon for the crimes he didn't commit, Putin is deciding to let him die.
Last week the Kremlin rejected his mother's request for clemency.
Exactly. And the Kremlin asked Oleg to ask for a pardon himself, claiming that's how the procedure works, but it's not true. It's not the rule. There were severe cases with Pussy Riot, with [Mikhail] Khodorkovsky when the person in question didn't ask for clemency. Because asking for clemency also means that you admit to your guilt and Oleg has never admitted his guilt.
Amnesty International and some other organizations analyzed the situation and came to the conclusion that he never committed the crimes he was accused of. So it's a kind of a vicious circle.
Agnieszka Holland at the European Film Awards ceremony in 2017. Russian filmmaker Alexander Sokurov (right) has also called for Sentsov's release
Oleg certainly will not ask for clemency and certainly will not accept his liberation if his comrades are not liberated as well. And Putin doesn't feel that he needs to make some token gesture, to show the world that he's not a brutal and cruel leader. So if he doesn't feel that he needs to show it, he's not showing it. It means: All his actions are based on his political interests and he doesn't feel that the West is strong enough to punish him for such actions.
So I'm quite pessimistic, yes. But on the other hand, you know, everything is in the hands of one man and he sometimes is quite capricious. So let's hope that his capriciousness is this time positive.
You were talking about Oleg Sentsov's demand to free all political prisoners from Ukraine...
Yes, his protest regards not only his own detention but the detention of all Ukrainian political prisoners. Most of them are just the hostages of the situation. They didn't commit the crimes they are accused of. So he wants to show solidarity with them, knowing that he at least is not anonymous, because he's a filmmaker; he has several friends in different countries and he has been adopted by the European Film Academy. He will not die in silence at least.
So he is making a kind of sacrifice, fighting for the others who are not as well known and recognizable. And he hopes that at least he will put some light on the situation of the Ukrainian political prisoners kidnapped by Russia or arrested in Russia.
The EFA has pleaded for his immediate release several times, and opened a bank account to collect donations for the coverage of legal expenses and to support his children. Are further actions planned?
We are waiting now; our field of action is limited. We can write letters and we can organize protests, which we have been doing for many festivals or our ceremonies. We are doing these actions to remember Oleg and to fight for Oleg and to help Oleg.
As the European Film Academy, our members have connections, including governmental connections in different countries. We are trying to use our connections to have some kind of influence on the local politicians.
We are collecting some money and we are trying to use social media to spread knowledge of the situation as much as possible and to ask for support but that is what we can do. We cannot change the tyrant's mind. You have to do what you can do and then just pray that it will have some effects and that this will be not too late.
And you're still convinced that public pressure is appropriate in this case?
I don't know any other way. The best combination is public pressure combined with diplomatic pressure. And this combination has shown to be the most effective in the past.
And it's also important for Oleg himself to know that he's not forgotten, that he has people in several countries who are thinking about him and trying to help.
And behind that it's some kind of a moral statement. We don't want to forget our colleague who is in distress, who is unjustly arrested. We are doing it also for ourselves. So we don't feel totally powerless and amoral.
Academy Award-nominated director and screenwriter Agnieszka Holland, born in 1948, is one of Poland's most prominent filmmakers. She is best known for her political contributions to her country's cinema, with films including Europa Europa (1990) and In Darkness (2011).
She has been chair of the board of the European Film Academy since 2014. The institution unites more than 3,200 film professionals and aims to promote Europe's film culture.