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Hollywood stars including Naomi Watts, Oscar-winning actor and director Christoph Waltz and director Guillermo del Toro have pleaded with Russia not to let hunger-striking Ukrainian director Oleg Sentsov die in prison.
The latest appeal to release Sentsov — who has been on hunger strike since May 14 — came Friday in a joint announcement by members of the Venice Film Festival jury.
Del Toro — whose The Shape of Water won four Oscars last year including best picture and director — and fellow jury members Watts and Waltz, begged the Kremlin to release the filmmaker in an appeal published ahead of the Venice film festival wrapping Saturday.
Three years ago a Russian military court sentenced Sentsov to 20 years in prison on terrorism charges in his native Ukraine that he vigorously denies.
Today marks the 120th day of his hunger strike and the director says he will continue until the first of more than 60 Ukrainian political prisoners are released or he dies.
The Venice statement noted that Sentsov had lost 30 kilos (66 pounds) since beginning his protest. The director was accused of plotting to blow up a statue of Lenin and setting fire to the door of a Russian political party headquarters in his hometown of Simferopol in 2014 when Russian forces occupied Ukraine’s Crimea region.
He has been refusing food in protest of the imprisonment of more than 60 Ukrainians on what he claims are political grounds. Human rights group Amnesty International denounced his trial as “Stalinist.”
Earlier this summer Sentsov agreed to take a daily vitamin and nutrient supplement to avoid being force fed by authorities in the Siberian prison colony where he is incarcerated.
The Venice statement said that Sentsov had been “imprisoned and tortured…after a trial that clearly did not respect the rights of the defense.” They urged Russia to release him immediately “so that Oleg is not left to die.”
The appeal follows repeated calls by Russian and international filmmakers and groups such as the European Film Academy and literary and human rights agency PEN America for Sentsov’s release.
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