The Russian propaganda machine is ruthless. A case in point is the sentencing on Tuesday of a Ukrainian filmmaker to 20 years in a harsh prison colony on terror charges by a Russian military court. The sham trial has been condemned by Ukraine, global human rights organizations and top film directors.
Thirty-nine-year-old Ukrainian Oleg Sentsov was convicted for making arson attacks on pro-Kremlin party offices in Crimea last March. He was also alleged to have planned further attacks, including planting a bomb under a statue in the major Crimean city of Simferopol.
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Ukrainian co-defendant Alexander Kolchenko was sentenced to 10 years as a participant in the arson attacks.
Well-known filmmakers from across the world, such as Spain’s Pedro Almodovar and Britain’s Mike Leigh, have made public pleas to Russia regarding Sentsov’s dubious prosecution.
Of note, both men are Ukrainian nationals and legal analysts note that such long prison sentences are unusual in Russia, even in trials with political implications.
Details on Russia’s “show trial” of Ukrainian filmmaker
“The whole trial was designed to send a message. It played into Russia’s propaganda war against Ukraine and was redolent of Stalinist-era show trials of dissidents,” commented Heather McGill of Amnesty International after the verdict was announced.
In a statement a few days ago, rights group Amnesty International condemned the prosecution of Sentsov and Kolchenko as a “show trial” that was “rife with irregularities”. The organization said the two should be tried a civilian court and that Russia should “investigate all allegations of torture and other ill-treatment of defendants and witnesses in the case”.
Sentsov, a Ukrainian who didn’t apply for Russian citizenship, was kidnapped off the street in Crimea in May 2014 by Russian security officers. He was reported in custody in Moscow less than a week later. Sentsov pled not guilty to the charges and continued to deny that a Russian court had jurisdiction over him.
In court, the prosecutors alleged that the men had been planning to destroy a Lenin monument, and were the parties responsible for arson attacks on two pro-Russia organizations in Crimea.
Sentsov flashed a victory sign and he and Kolchenko were singing the Ukrainian national anthem inside their glass enclosure when the sentence was read.
Russian Golden Globe winner Andrei Zvyagintsev was one of the many notables who pressed the Russian authorities to release Sentsov.
Zvyagintsev, whose recent film “Leviathan” was awarded a Golden Globe, wrote a letter published in Novaya Gazeta daily that it was “monstrous to jail a young man, a promising filmmaker”.
He went on to say that Russia should “either release him or only try him for what you can prove irrefutably”.
Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko sent a message of support for Sentsov via Facebook
“Hang in there, Oleg,” he said. “A time will come when those who set this trial for you will land in the dock.”
The government of the UK said the trial was clearly politically motivated. British Minister for Europe David Lidington argued that the charges were “disproportionate”, and expressed worries that the defendants would not receive a fair trial.