Ukrainian Filmmaker Sentenced To 20 Years On Terror Charges
A court in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don has sentenced to 20 years in prison an acclaimed Ukrainian film director who had been accused of masterminding terrorist attacks in Crimea.
Oleh Sentsov, who opposed Russia's March 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula, was arrested in May of that year on suspicion of planning the fire-bombings of pro-Russian organizations in Crimea.
Last week, prosecutors asked the North Caucasus District Military Court to sentence the director to 23 years in prison for allegedly organizing a terrorist group, planning terrorist attacks, and illegally acquiring explosives.
The 39-year-old director denies all charges against him, saying they are politically motivated, and told the court on August 19 that a "trial by occupiers cannot be fair by definition."
Sentsov's lawyer, Vladimir Samokhin, had called for his client's acquittal -- saying all the charges are groundless.
The prosecution of Sentsov and another Ukrainian activist, 26-year-old Oleksandr Kolchenko, has been widely criticized as retaliation for their outspoken opposition to Russia's annexation of Crimea.
Kolchenko was sentenced to 10 years. Prosecutors had been seeking a 12-year jail term for Kolchenko, who has admitted to setting fire to the offices of the ruling United Russia party, but has rejected terrorism charges and has claimed his case is politically motivated.
Sentsov and Kolchenko were arrested along with two other Ukrainian citizens -- Oleksiy Chyrniy and Hennadiy Afanasyev -- in May 2014.
Earlier, Chyrniy and Afanasyev had been found guilty of involvement in a terrorist cell and sentenced to seven years each in prison.
The latest appeal by the European Film Academy on August 19 included the signatures of 15 filmmakers, including Britain's Ken Loach and Germany's Wim Wenders, saying they were "deeply worried" by the prosecutions.
"We are shocked that the accusation of Oleh Sentsov having committed 'crimes of a terrorist nature' is still being upheld," the letter, addressed to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said.
Sentsov's cousin, Moscow-based journalist Natalya Kaplan, has described the charges as trumped up.
"The prosecutors failed to provide any solid proof of the defendants' guilt," Kaplan told RFE/RL's Russian Service on August 24. "I think this trial is the beginning of serious repression in Russia. Current repressions are mild, but if they started talking about such long prison terms in Sentsov's case, the worst is ahead."
Kyiv and NATO have accused Russia of direct military intervention in Ukraine, where fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists has killed at least 6,400 people since April 2014.