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European Parliament demands Russia Free Oleg Sentsov & 70 other Ukrainian political prisoners

Halya Coynash

There are countless reasons why the 2018 World Cup should not provide its host country Russia with an image success, but one is extremely urgent.  Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov has now been on hunger strike for over a month and has made it clear he will not give up until all Ukrainian political prisoners held in Russia and occupied Crimea are released. 

It seems unlikely that the adoption of this hard-hitting European Parliament resolution was deliberately scheduled to coincide with the launching of the World Cup, but certainly the timing could not have been more appropriate.  The resolution on Russia, notably the case of Ukrainian political prisoner Oleg Sentsov (RC-B8-0288/2018) was supported by 455 MEPs, a hefty majority.

Russia is currently flouting the UN International Court of Justice and all international bodies, and will not release over 70 Ukrainian political prisoners just because of this European Parliament resolution.  It is, nonetheless, very important, not least because Moscow has used its friends and control over the media to try to spread lies about Sentsov, about Crimean Tatar and other Crimean Muslim prisoners held in Crimea and others. 

The resolution notes that Sentsov’s case has been “widely criticised as a politically motivated act of repression”.  It calls it “one of the most emblematic cases of the many Ukrainian and Russian citizens jailed on political grounds”.

As of June 2018, over 70 Ukrainian nationals are illegally held prisoner.

A list and brief details about each can be found here:  Russia is holding over 70 Ukrainian Political Prisoners of War

With respect to the arrest and trial of Oleg Sentsov and civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko, the MEPs point out that the men “opposed the illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by Russia”.

Russia is treating both men as Russian citizens although they hold Ukrainian citizenship.

The authors mention the allegations of torture used to extract testimony which was then used as proof.   In this case, only two of the men: Gennady Afanasyev and Oleksiy Chyrniy gave the testimony demanded by their torturers, with Sentsov consistently refusing.  Later, during the trial of Sentsov and Kolchenko, Afanasyev retracted his testimony, stating clearly that it had been obtained through torture.

The men were tried “ by a military court for crimes over which civilian courts have full jurisdiction”, with the trial itself “marred by numerous and grave procedural violations"

The resolution therefore strongly condemns the judgement handed down against Sentsov and Kolchenko on 25 August 2015, and the 20-year sentence against Sentsov and 10-year sentence against Kolchenko.  Their cases are in breach of international law and of elementary standards of justice. 

The resolution also mentions Volodymyr Balukh (the Crimean activist imprisoned for a Ukrainian flag), probably because he is also on hunger strike.  It does however demand that “the Russian Federation act in accordance with its international obligations, and to immediately release Oleg Senstov and other unlawfully detained Ukrainian citizens, now numbering over 70 individual cases”.  It twice stresses that this is in implementation of  the agreed Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements which speaks of all those illegally held being released on an all for all basis.

The authors note that Sentsov’s state of health has deteriorated, and call on the Russian authorities to ensure that “all medical treatment provided to Oleg Sentsov is done in compliance with medical ethics, including the principles of confidentially, autonomy and informed consent, and that no unwanted treatment or force feeding is executed which may amount to torture or ill-treatment”.

There was unfortunately no consensus on the original motion which called for a European Magnitsky Act to which Russian officials, responsible for systematic human rights abuses, would be included.  

The MEPs urge Russia to ensure unconditional and unimpeded access to international human rights observers and monitoring missions and call on the UN and other international bodies “to monitor the human rights situation in Crimea more closely and to take appropriate measures”. 

More details about the persecution of Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko and addresses for writing to them here:

Sentsov’s life on the line in defence of all Russia’s Ukrainian political prisoners means no World Cup as usual

Oleg has been placed in emergency care once already and has now been on hunger strike since 14 May.  It is imperative that the attention given to the World Cup taking place in Russia is used to highlight the world to the danger to his life, and to Russia’s ongoing imprisonment of over 70 Ukrainian political prisoners. 

Please help by contacting media and politicians in your country, and also using social media and other avenues to highlight the situation.  The Kremlin will release Oleg Sentsov and the others if it starts hurting too much to keep them imprisoned.  We need to all work to ensure that this happens.

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