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Human rights

Sakharov human rights prize awarded to jailed Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov

  • Director has been detained in Russia since 2014 on charges of conspiracy to conduct terror attacks, which he denies
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 October, 2018, 6:12pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 October, 2018, 6:39pm

The European Parliament on Thursday awarded the Sakharov human rights prize to jailed Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov.

Sentsov was among three finalists for the prize, along with a group of 11 charities rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean and Nasser Zefzafi, head of a Moroccan protest movement who has been in jail since May 2017.

Sentsov’s career as a film director was on the rise when Russia’s annexation of his native Crimea abruptly changed the course of his life.

Since 2015 he has been languishing in a far northern Russian jail after he was convicted of planning arson attacks in the annexed peninsula.

In May the 42-year-old announced a hunger strike, demanding Russia free all Ukrainian political prisoners, and was kept alive by a drip. But he called off the protest after 145 days to avoid being force-fed after extracting no concessions from authorities.

He had lost some 20kg (44 pounds) and his cousin said Sentsov’s life is still in danger because of the damage to his health.

Sentsov made his first film Gamer in 2011, writing, directing and producing it himself on a budget of just US$20,000 raised from his job running a gaming centre in the Crimean city of Simferopol.

It was shown at several film festivals but reviews were generally average.

At the time of his arrest in 2014, he was preparing to make a new film, Nosorog (Rhino) with financing from a German film fund.

He was also an opposition activist and member of the protest group AutoMaidan that held protests against Ukraine’s Russia-backed president Viktor Yanukovych. He took part in the uprising in 2014 that overthrew Yanukovych.

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Sentsov was convicted in 2015 by a Russian military court of carrying out arson attacks on pro-Kremlin party offices in Crimea and plotting more attacks, including blowing up a Lenin statue in Simferopol.

His trial prompted condemnation from Western countries and Kiev.

Supporters say Russia wanted to make an example of him with a particularly harsh sentence.

His mother begged Russian President Vladimir Putin in a letter sent this summer: “Do not destroy his life and that of his loved ones. We are waiting for him at home.”