STRASBOURG, France – Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who is currently imprisoned in Russia serving a 20-year sentence for charges of terrorism that have been widely denounced as false by the international community, was awarded on Thursday the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
Sentsov, 42, was arrested following Russia’s annexation of his native Crimean Peninsula in 2014, charged by a Russian court of plotting terrorist acts, ordered to serve 20 years and was currently thought to be in a prison in the far-northern Oblast of Yamalo-Nenets, where he has caught media attention by staging a long hunger strike.
“Sentsov has been awarded the Sakharov Prize for his courage and determination,” Antonio Tajani, president of the European Parliament said. “The Ukrainian filmmaker has become a clear symbol of the importance of releasing political prisoners in Russia and all over the world.”
The Simferopol-born filmographer recently ended a hunger strike after 145 days as his health massively deteriorated.
“His struggle, putting his own life at risk clearly reminds us that our duty is to defend the respect of human rights anywhere in the world,” Tajani added, calling on Russian authorities to release Sentsov immediately.
Sentsov’s case sparked international outcry and calls for him to be returned to his native Ukraine.
Moscow, which quickly installed its regional authorities in Crimea despite protests from Ukraine and the European Union, considers Sentsov to be a Russian citizen.
Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko said he was grateful for Sentsov’s award and hoped it would hasten his release.