Ukrainian director Oleg Sentsov has been found guilty by a Russian court on charges of terrorism and sentenced to 20 years detention. The prosecution in the case had called for a 23-year sentence. Sentsov, who has found support from the European filmmaking community since his arrest, is the helmer of 2011’s Gaamer. He has been on trial in Russia since late July, on an array of charges including terrorism, organization of a terrorist group and arms trafficking. He was specifically accused of arson attacks on pro-Kremlin party offices in Crimea last year and of plotting to blow up a Lenin statue in the peninsula’s main city of Simferopol, AFP has noted.
International filmmakers including Stephen Daldry, Pawel Pawlikowski, Mike Leigh, Bertrand Tavernier, Wim Wenders and Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have rallied around the director. A letter with more than 1,000 signatures that asked again for his release was sent by the European Film Academy to Russian President Vladimir Putin as late as yesterday. A previous plea came from EFA after the key witness in the case retracted his testimony as given “under duress” earlier this month.
Sentsov was arrested by the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation at his home in Simferopol on May 11 2014 after being involved in supporting the Euro Maidan protests in Kiev, and opposing the annexation of Crimea by Russia. He was imprisoned in Russia for over a year before his trial began. The U.S. as recently as mid-July referred to him as a Ukrainian hostage being held by Russia.
One of Sentsov’s attorneys previously said they expected a negative outcome, but hoped that Sentsov could eventually be exchanged for “people important to Russia.”
In July, Sentsov told a judge in Rostov-on-Don, “I do not recognize the authority of this court.” His final statement pre-verdict included the following regarding Russian rule, AFP reported, “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, speaking of the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine. Sentsov’s co-defendant, Alexander Kolchenko, was also sentenced today, to 10 years. After the verdict this afternoon, both men sang the Ukrainian national anthem in the military court in Rostov-on-Don, according to local reports.
On Monday, more than 1,000 signatures were gathered by the European Film Academy to renew the call to release Sentsov. Representatives of the Polish Film Academy, the German Film Academy, the Austrian and the Czech Film Academies as well as the Union of Russian Filmmakers were all party to the letter.