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Sentsov is no loser

Rescheto Juri Kommentarbild App
Juri Rescheto
August 25, 2015

A Russian court has sentenced Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov to 20 years in prison on terrorism charges. DW's Juri Rescheto says that if the court meant to instill fear in Russians, it missed the mark.

Portrait of Oleg Sentsov
Image: DW/I. Khoroshylov

"Russians, learn how to not be afraid!" Sentsov said in his final speech before the Russian court in Rostov-on-Don. He flashed a victory sign to the cameras, along with a confident smile. Despite being defeated, Sentsov was determined not to be a loser. In that, he succeeded - unlike the judges and the Russian justice system.

Sentsov was arrested in May 2014 in Crimea, after attending a protest against the peninsula's annexation. Just months before, he had also protested in Kyiv's Maidan Square against pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych. During those protests, car tires were set alight and dozens of people died, but in the end, the protesters won. This time, a fire was set in the office of the ruling United Russia party in Crimea and the police arrested several men, including Sentsov.

At first, he was charged with damaging property. But 10 days later the charges were changed to terrorism, and things began to get very serious for Sentsov. The investigators were relying on statements made by one of the defendants who had confessed to arson. Later, he withdrew his confession, saying it had been coerced and that he had been tortured. Sentsov also claims to have been beaten and offered his wounds as evidence. The court mocked him, saying he had inflicted the wounds on himself.

'Show trial'

The investigation went on for a year. The number of witnesses grew, and with them, the seriousness of the charges. Sentsov was accused of forming a terrorist group in Crimea on the orders of the Ukrainian ultra-nationalist party Right Sector, which is banned in Russia. Investigators confiscated films from his home, which they say offer proof of his far-right sensibilities. Never mind that the films "Triumph Over Violence" and "The Third Reich in Color" are famous examples of anti-fascist films. Only later did the defense succeed in excluding the films as evidence against Sentsov.

Juri Rescheto
DW's Juri Rescheto

None of the witnesses were able to confirm the existence of the terrorist group said to be under Sentsov's command. Sentsov's lawyer argued that the charges had been fabricated. The lawyer for one of the other defendants described the case as a "mixture of falsehoods" that would "go down as one of the most embarrassing chapters in the history of Russian justice."

Long sentence

Despite this, Sentsov has been sentenced to 20 years in prison. For a burnt-out office window. Just to compare, a neo-Nazi from the Russian radical group BORN got 24 years for killing 11 people. Human rights activists say the sentence is meant to serve as a deterrent. The message: If you protest against the annexation of Crimea, you will pay a very high price.

But if that's what the judges were hoping to achieve, then they've made a mistake. The evidence is too thin and the sentence is too draconian. It's too obviously a show trial. The destruction of one person's life won't stop Russians from protesting the existing laws and those who make them.

People here get nervous when tons of food is destroyed because it comes from "the enemy," and when essential medicines are banned because they come from the West. When one company after another has to close down because of the crisis. When beggars again become commonplace on Moscow's streets. When the ruble continues to crash, awaking painful memories of the 1990s. When people once again live in fear of their own future in Russia.

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