Russian prosecutors in the Crimean peninsula have requested a 23-year prison sentence for a local filmmaker who has been charged with conspiring to commit “terrorist attacks.”
Oleg Sentsov, who is native to Crimea, went on trial in July along with co-defendant Oleksandr Kolchenko in the city of Rostov-on-Don where they were accused of organising a “terrorist group,” planning attacks and being in possession of explosives.
Russian authorities have also claimed Sentsov was a member of Ukraine’s far-right paramilitary group Right Sector.
Both Sentsov and Kolchenko, who were arrested with two other Ukrainian nationals in May 2014, have denied the charges.
While the other two Ukrainians - Gennady Afanasyev and Alexei Chirnigo - were sentenced to seven years each, Kolchenko could be sentenced for 12 years.
Sentsov’s lawyer Vladimir Samokhin has called the charges “groundless,” while critics of the trial claim Sentsov is being targeted for being a vocal opponent to last year’s annexation of Crimea by Russia from Ukraine.
During the takeover of Crimea by Russia in March 2014, Sentsov was active in delivering food to Ukrainian servicemen who were trapped in military bases in Crimea.
Before the annexation, Sentsov had also joined the AutoMaidan movement against Ukraine’s former pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled Kiev after months of anti-government protests by pro-EU demonstrators.
According to prosecutors, Sentsov had previously confessed to the charges, but it was later said that Sentsov had done so under torture and threat of rape.
A number of prominent European filmmakers - including Stephen Daldry, Mike Downey, Agnieszka Holland, Dariusz Jablonski, Aki Kaurismaki, Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, Wojciech Marczewski, Daniel Olbrychski, Volker Schloendorff, Bela Tarr, Bertrand Tavernier, Andrzej Wajda, Wim Wenders and Krzysztof Zanuss - have called on Russia to release Sentsov.
“Having observed the trial and especially the fact that the key witness for the prosecution has retracted his testimony as ‘given under pressure and duress,’ we are shocked that the accusation of Oleg Sentsov having committed ‘crimes of a terrorist nature’ is still being upheld,” a joint letter issued by the European Film Academy said.
“The entire Oleg Sentsov year of imprisonment without trial, and the trial itself is a total fiasco, a cross between a series of trumped up charges and Stalin’s ‘show trials’ of the 1930s,” the European Film Academy’s deputy chairman Mike Downey told Variety.
“Witnesses have been coerced, evidence tampered with and the entire case for the prosecution is built on a house of cards. If justice is truly done this week in Rostov-on-Don, Sentsov will walk free," Downey said.
"The likelihood of this happening is getting more and more remote given the legal system in Russia. The European Film Academy will never stop campaigning for Oleg and we will work tirelessly until he gets the justice he deserves."