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10th Dec 2022

Russia jails Ukraine film-maker in 'Stalinist' trial

  • Sentsov has become a Ukraine cause celebre (Photo: http://solidarityua.info)

Russia has jailed a Ukrainian film-maker for 20 years in what the EU called a “breach of international law and elementary standards of justice”.

A court in Rostov-on-Don, near the Ukrainian border, found 39-year old Oleg Sentsov guilty of terrorism and handed down the sentence on Tuesday (25 August).

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It jailed Oleksandr Kolchenko, a fellow Ukrainian activist, for 10 years.

The trial breached international law because they were detained by Russian forces in Crimea, Ukraine, in May 2014, while organising anti-Russia protests, then transferred to Russia. Russia annexed Crimea. But neither the EU nor the UN recognise the annexation.

It breached judicial norms because it was based on confessions which were, according to Memorial, a Russian NGO, and Amnesty International, obtained by torture.

One tortured witness, Gennady Afanasyev, recanted his testimony in court. But judges ignored it.

Memorial has warned that Afanasyev’s life is now in danger.

Heather McGill, an Amnesty expert on Russia, said the process is “redolent of Stalinist-era show trials of dissidents”. She added that it’s “designed to send a message” in Russia’s “propaganda war against Ukraine”.

The EU has called for Sentsov and Kolchenko’s release.

The US said their release is part of Russia’s compliance with the Minsk agreement, a ceasefire accord to which the EU and US have tied their Russia sanctions.

The foreign ministers of the Baltic States also spoke out.

The Sentsov verdict comes one week after Russia jailed Eston Kohver, an Estonian security officer, for 15 years.

Kohver was also kidnapped from Estonian territory and transferred to Russia, sending the message that Russia is master of its near-abroad.

The sentencing of a third high-profile abduction victim, Ukrainian pilot Nadia Savchenko, is yet to come.

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The Sentsov verdict also comes amid rising criminality inside Russia.

Boris Nemtsov, an opposition leader and former deputy prime minister, was shot dead in Moscow in March in an operation with likely Kremlin support.

Murders of other dissidents, such as Sergei Magnitsky, Natalia Estemirova, and Anna Politkovskaya, have gone unpunished.

Sentsov, in his closing remarks on 19 August, paid tribute to Afanasyev for recanting his statement.

“I’m glad for him because he’ll be able to live the rest of his life and know that he’s a human being who didn’t give in to fear, even though they continue to threaten him, to pressure him, to kick him”, the film-maker said.

“I simply wish for you to no longer be governed by criminals”, he told the Russian public.

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