As a Russian court sentenced Ukrainian director Oleg Sentsov to 20 years in prison, the filmmaker, along with his co-defendant Alexander Kolchenko, started defiantly singing their country’s national anthem:
Sentsov is accused of planning a terrorism plot in Crimea, shortly after the Ukrainian region was annexed by Russia in March, 2014. He denies the charges made against him, and critics say they are politically motivated. He has received widespread international support during his trial, from Western governments and filmmakers including Mike Leigh, Pedro Almodovar, Ken Loach and Wim Wenders. Sentsov is known for his 2011 film “Gamer.”
Prosecutors say Sentsov was involved with two arson attempts ordered by Ukrainian right-wing extremists, and that he is being tried as a Russian citizen, which he automatically became after Crimea—formerly part of Ukraine—was annexed. The Ukrainian government maintains he is a political prisoner who has been kidnapped.
Amnesty International described the trial as as “redolent of Stalinist-era show trials.” The prosecution’s witness recanted his testimony, saying it was extorted by torture, according to the Guardian. Sentsov also said he had been tortured, whereas prosecutors claimed his bruises were a result of sadomasochistic sex. He remained defiant throughout the trial, saying that he would not “beg for leniency.” He added that “a court of occupiers cannot be just by definition.”
The trial’s outcome was expected, as Russian courts rarely hand out innocent verdicts. Sentsov’s lawyers hope that a prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine could eventually free him.
Representatives of both the UK government and the US mission to the OSCE have expressed their concern over the case and the verdict. The European Film Academy expressed “shock” at the trial’s outcome. Sentsov has even gained the support of the Russian film community, including Nikita Mikhalkov, who has close ties to president Vladimir Putin.