Russian Supreme Court Upholds Ukrainian Director's 20-Year Prison Sentence

Oleg Sentsov - H 2015
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Oleg Sentsov - H 2015

Oleg Sentsov, who has denied all charges, had appealed the sentence.

Russia's Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected an appeal by Ukrainian director Oleg Sentsov against a 20-year prison sentence.

Sentsov, who opposed Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula, was seized at home in May 2014 and flown to Moscow, where he was charged with plotting terrorist attacks against pro-Russian groups.

The director, who won acclaim for his feature debut Gamer in 2012 at the Rotterdam Film Festival, vigorously denied the charges, but was convicted by a military court in the South of Russia.

The Military Collegium of the Russian Supreme Court, sitting in Moscow, accepted prosecution arguments that Sentsov's conviction and that of an accomplice, Alexander Kolchenko, who was sentenced to 10 years, should stand, Russian state news agency TASS reported.

The European Film Academy has been campaigning for Sentsov's release. A last-minute appeal by the EFA to Oscar-winning Russian film director Nikita Mikhalkov, who is close to Russian president Vladimir Putin, to intervene on Sentsov's behalf went unheeded.

Mikhalkov, who is head of the Russian Union of Cinematographers, won best foreign-language Oscar in 1995 for Burnt by the Sun.

Sentsov's lawyer Dmitry Dinze earlier said that if the sentence was confirmed, he would "be pressing for Sentsov and Kolchenko's transfer to Ukraine" to serve the remainders of their prison terms there, but said "this is hard to achieve, since the judges believe them to be Russian citizens." Dinze also hopes that the pair may be exchanged in a prisoner exchange.

The EFA has vowed to fight on.

Mike Downey, deputy chair of the organization, which represents directors and producers in Europe and hosts annual awards held each December, said: "The European Film Academy regrets very much this decision by the Russian Supreme Court."

He added: "We will now escalate our campaign to keep the subject of Oleg Sentsov on the agenda until he is released. The fight goes on."

In a response to a personal appeal from Polish actor Daniel Olbrychski sent late on Monday, Mikhalkov said he had spoken out in Sentsov's defense last year during the Moscow Film Festival. "Understanding that there could be judicial errors, I support my colleagues in Russia and abroad, requiring a fair solution," he said. "But for this we must have objective information from both sides. I'd like to think that everything the defense says about Sentsov is true and can justify his case. I think that the most we can do is to seek fairness and objectivity of the investigation."