Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah Urge U.S. to Call on Russia to Release Ukrainian Director
Wim Wenders, Salman Rushdie, Agniezska Holland and Margaret Atwood are also among the 86 industry figures calling for action by new U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Entertainment industry figures and writers, including Comedy Central's Trevor Noah, TBS star Samantha Bee, Wim Wenders, Agnieszka Holland, Salman Rushdie and Margaret Atwood, are among nearly 90 prominent artists that are calling on U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to pressure Russia for the immediate release of Oleg Sentsov, the Ukrainian filmmaker imprisoned in Siberia on terrorism charges.
The charges are widely considered to have been created to silence his criticism of Russia's annexation of the Crimea.
The call, backed by literary human rights organization PEN America, comes on the third anniversary of Sentsov's sentencing to a 20-year prison term by a Russian military court.
The open letter to Tillerson, signed by 86 writers, directors and television personalities, marks the latest stage of a long-running campaign to free Sentosv, who has denied all charges against him.
Tillerson's position as America's chief foreign diplomat and his long-time close contacts with Russia through oil industry projects when he was head of Exxon Mobile could offer leverage with the Kremlin, campaigners believe.
Tillerson is known for his close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin, which in 2013 awarded him an Order of Friendship. The award was the main subject of scrutiny during Senate appointment hearings before he assumed office following Donald Trump's election as U.S. President in November.
Last year, Johnny Depp lent his name to the campaign to free Sentsov, who was seized by Russian agents from his home in Crimea in 2014 and flown to Moscow on charges of plotting terrorist acts against Russian forces that had seized the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula.
"Oleg Sentsov has shown unflinching courage in the face of brutal treatment," the letter to Tillerson states. "A multitude of Russian artists and writers have come to his defense; it is critical that we join them to raise our voices to protect the values of freedom of speech, including the right to dissent. In your ongoing discussions with Russian officials, we urge you to raise Oleg Sentsov’s case, and to advocate for his immediate release."
British producer and campaigner Mike Downey, who is also deputy chair of the European Film Academy, told The Hollywood Reporter: "It’s three years to the day since Oleg’s arrest and the campaign for his release began. The mobilization of PEN and the support of artists and filmmakers from Europe and the U.S. for this letter to Rex Tillerson has given an extra boost to the Oleg Sentsov campaign. The European Film Academy and PEN intend to work together in future to strive for the release of Sentsov."