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Russian jailing of Ukrainian filmmaker denounced

August 25, 2015

The jailing of Oleg Sentsov for 20 years for arson attacks in Crimea has been criticized by the EU as a "violation of international law." Washington has also demanded the director's immediate release.

Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov watches from a defendants' box as he attends a court hearing in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, July 21, 2015 (Photo: REUTERS/Sergey Pivovarov)
Image: Reuters/S. Pivovarov

Oleg Sentsov was accused of heading a terrorist group that planned and executed attacks in Crimea after it was annexed by Russia in March last year.

Fellow Ukrainian and co-defendant of Sentsov Alexander Kolchenko was sentenced to 10 years in prison by a Russian military court in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don on Tuesday.

But their jailing was quickly condemned by Washington and Brussels. US State Department spokesman John Kirby said the pair were "targeted by authorities because of their opposition" to Russia's land grab. They had been sentenced on "groundless allegations," he added.

In a separate statement, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini insisted that "Russian courts were not competent to judge acts committed outside the internationally-recognised territory of Russia," alluding to a United Nations resolution declaring the seizure of Crimea as invalid.

Sentsov, who is best known for his 2011 film "Gamer," has been a fierce critic of Russia's involvement in Ukraine and its annexation of the peninsula that followed a controversial referendum. The 39-year-old filmmaker was picked up by Russian security forces in May 2014.

Both men - who were tried as Russian citizens despite not applying for Russian citiizenship - denied the charges against them. They are among 11 Ukrainians who have been held by Russian authorities on charges of terrorism and conspiracy.

Sentsov vociferously condemned Moscow's "occupation" of Crimea in his final trial statement: "Your propaganda is very good, but there are also people like you who understand very well that there are no 'fascists' in Ukraine, that Crimea was taken illegally and that your troops are in Donbass," he said, referring to the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine.

Verdict condemned

Human rights groups and prominent film directors also slammed Russia and criticized the decision as politically-motivated.

Top European filmmakers, including Wim Wenders, Stephen Daldry, Agnieszka Holland and Mike Leigh, have called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to order Sentsov's release.

Russian film director Andrei Zvyagintsev, whose film "Leviathan" won a Golden Golbe award, said Monday that it would be "monstrous to jail a young man, a promising filmmaker."

Prior to the court's verdict, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko had called for Sentsov and Kolchenko's immediate release.

Amnesty International said the trial was fake and "rife with irregularities," in a statement ahead of Tuesday's hearing. The rights group demanded the men be tried in a civilian court and that Russia must "investigate all allegations of torture and other ill-treatment of defendants and witnesses in the case."

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shs/jil (AFP, AP)

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