“The end is near”: Grave Fears for the Life of Kremlin hostage Oleg Sentsov
Ukrainian filmmaker and Kremlin hostage Oleg Sentsov is dangerously weak after 87 days on hunger strike in a Siberian prison. Russia is making no move to release him, and in a move of gratuitous brutality is preventing him from receiving the letters of support being sent from all over the world.
Sentsov’s cousin, Natalya Kaplan, wrote the following on August 8:
“Everything is not just bad, it’s catastrophically bad. Oleg has passed me a letter via his lawyer. He is virtually not getting up at all. He writes that the end is near and he’s not talking here of his release. He asks if anybody is still aware of his hunger strike, and is not being passed any letters, not one! He says that he is currently in an information vacuum and doesn’t have any idea at all what’s happening.
The European Court of Human Rights is insisting on his transfer to a civilian hospital, and say that this should be closer to where he’s registered (i.e. Crimea). He has refused, saying that he would simply not survive the transfer [which can take weeks in Russia, with the conditions terrible, and no contact even with his lawyer, making him particularly vulnerable]. In the civilian hospital in Labytnangi, where he has already ended up once in emergency care, he was treated worse than in the prison hospital”.
Sentsov’s lawyer Dmitry Dinze has just visited him in the remote prison in Labytnangi and gave more details about the treatment Sentsov received in the local institution which he says would be hard to call a hospital.
“The chief doctor, when he found out whom they’d brought to him, said that he would tie Oleg to a hospital bed, forcibly fill him with medicines and artificial food. If Oleg refuses, then they’ll thrust the tube with the artificial food in his nose, mouth, or, if it comes to it, in his bum. That’s the kind of doctors they have in Russia. It’s punitive medicine”, Dinze wrote. With such swine there, Sentsov prefers to remain in the prison hospital.
During the meeting on 7 August, Sentsov again reiterated that he would not end his hunger strike. He added that Dinze need not bring him the letters asking him to give it up as he wouldn’t read them. “If I have to die, then I’ll die”.
Dinze told Krym.Realii that Sentsov’s condition is extremely bad, and that problems have again started with his heart because of the heat last week of up to 40 degrees Celsius. His pulse is very weak, his blood pressure low and his heart is not functioning properly. This is against a background of problems that have emerged with his kidneys and liver, and he is suffering from anaemia. They are continuing to fill him with the same medical substances as before, and “he is also taking the minimum amount of nutritional mixture needed to keep him in a more or less conscious state”.
Dinze has also reported information privately received from diplomats who have tried to hold talks behind the scene with Moscow regarding the situation.They have basically been led to understand that Moscow does not plan to release Sentsov, with the idea being that his death will be a lesson to other prisoners.
The problem, as Dinze says, is that Ukraine has proposed any number of exchanges, etc. to secure the release of Sentsov and other prisoners. Russia has ignored all of them, as it is ignoring the calls to free the imprisoned filmmaker from all democratic states, international structures, artists, writers, and thousands of others.
Everything is now in the hands of the presidential administration, and of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
It is possible that the former KGB agent now in power cannot forgive Sentsov for the latter’s words at the ‘trial’ when Sentsov called Putin a “blood-stained pygmy” Putin very clearly tries, as did Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, to conceal his short stature. He is, however, believed to possess vast amounts of illegally gained property and riches in the West, and, given a bit of political will, this would certainly be a means of putting pressure on Putin and his cronies, who are also milking the Russian population and secreting the results of their plunder in western countries.
Oleg Sentsov began his hunger strike on 14 May, with his one demand being the release of Russia’s approximately 70 Ukrainian political prisoners. Russia has since intensified its campaign of lies regarding his state of health, the reasons for his illegal arrest in occupied Crimea and 20-year sentence in Russia. It has also continued to push lies about Sentsov’s citizenship, claiming falsely that he has a Russian, as well as a Ukrainian passport.
Oleg Sentsov was imprisoned, together with three other opponents of Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea, in May 2014. All four men were held incommunicado for up to three weeks, first in Simferopol (Crimea), then in Moscow, before the ‘confessions’ of two of the men: Gennady Afanasyev and Oleksiy Chyrniy were shown on Russian TV at the end of May. Both Sentsov and civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko have consistently denied all the charges, and have also spoken of the torture they were subjected to. Sentsov, in particular, stated from the outset that the FSB had told him that if he didn’t ‘confess’, he would be made the ‘mastermind’ of a terrorist plot and get 20 years.
Russia’s FSB [security service] asserted on 30 May 2014 that the four men were members of a ‘Right Sector ‘terrorist’ plot who had been planning terrorist attacks on vital parts of Crimea’s infrastructure. The FSB claimed, for example, that the men had been planning to blow up railway bridges, although there are none in Crimea.
There was never any proof that a terrorist organization had existed, nor of any plans to commit the grandiose attacks on Crimean infrastructure which the FSB claimed. In fact, the supposed acts of sabotage mentioned initially were quietly forgotten before the trial, and only two Molotov cocktail attacks at night on the empty offices of two pro-Russian organizations were presented as ‘terrorist acts’.
Those two incidents are undisputed, but there is no evidence that Sentsov even knew about either of them, and similar acts of protest in Russia are treated as hooliganism or vandalism, and incur, at most, a suspended sentence.
Sentsov and Kolchenko were sentenced on August 25, 2015, with Sentsov convicted of ‘organizing a terrorist organisation’ (Article 205.4 § 1 of the Russian Criminal Code), and two episodes treated as ‘terrorist acts committed by an organized group’ (Article 205 § 2a). He was sentenced, as the FSB had threatened, to 20 years’ imprisonment, Kolchenko to 10 years.
Afanasyev and Chyrniy had been ‘tried’ separately with each getting a 7-year sentence (the minimum, in return for confessing and testifying against the others).
Not only was there no real evidence against any of the men, but Afanasyev found the courage, when brought to the court on 31 July, 2015, to retract the testimony previously given against Sentsov. He stated clearly that all his testimony had been a lie, extracted through torture. This was simply ignored by the Rostov Military Court whose judges provided the sentences required in a trial condemned by prominent Russian human rights activists as “absolutely Stalinist” and “ideologically motivated state terror” against opponents of Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea.
Sentsov and Kolchenko were soon declared political prisoners by the authoritative Memorial Human Rights Centre, as, after his statement in court, was Afanasyev. Sentsov is also an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, and has received a number of awards from PEN America and other writers’ or human rights NGOs.
Please contact politicians in your country and ask them to help place effective pressure on Moscow to end its torment of Oleg Sentsov and 70 other Ukrainian political prisoners.
This can directly save Sentsov’s life.
Please also write letters to him! Even if the letters are withheld from Sentsov, they are an important message to the Kremlin and need to keep coming.
It is best not to mention the hunger strike, their ‘cases’ or politics at all. The letters should not weigh more than 100 g and it would be good to give a return address since they will probably want to reply.
Only letters in Russian are accepted unfortunately. If this is a problem, please just cut and paste the following, perhaps with a nice photo.
Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на ваше освобождение в самом ближайшем будущем.
Мы о Вас помним.
[Hello, I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released. You are not forgotten.
РФ, 629400 Ямало-Ненецкий автономный округ, город Лабытнанги, улица Северная 33.
Сенцову Олегу Геннадьевичу, 1976 г.р.
[Russian Federation, 629400, Yamalo-Nenetsky autonomous okrug, Labytnangi, Severnaya St, 33
Sentsov, Oleg Gennadievych, b. 1976]
Please do not forget the other prisoners! It is next to impossible to write to political prisoners held in occupied Crimea, but there are many either on ‘trial’ or imprisoned in Russia. The hyperlinks give addresses where these are available.