Authors, television hosts, and other creative allies joined PEN America in a letter calling on U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to press for the immediate release of Oleh Sentsov, a Ukrainian writer and filmmaker imprisoned in Russia`s Siberia on terrorism charges widely considered to be a groundless attempt to silence his criticism of Russia`s annexation of Crimea.
Sentsov, who is the writer and director of two short films as well as the 2011 feature film Gamer, which screened at the 2012 International Film Festival Rotterdam, was active in protesting Russian incursions in Crimea and Ukraine more broadly. Sentsov`s ”voice of opposition in Ukraine made him a ripe target for Russian stifling of dissent,” the letter reads.
”Given President Putin`s brazen willingness to flout human rights norms and the rule of law, and his relentless targeting of dissenting writers, artists, activists, and politicians, it would be irresponsible to ignore Sentsov`s plight.”
PEN America`s letter comes on the third anniversary of Oleh Sentsov`s arrest and disappearance from Crimea on May 10, 2014. Sentsov surfaced in Moscow and later said he had been tortured in an unsuccessful effort to extract a confession. His trial was riddled with irregularities, and the lead prosecution witness later recanted his testimony, saying it had been made under duress. Sentsov is currently serving a 20-year sentence in a Siberian penal colony.
The charges against him have been decried by human rights groups worldwide as fabrications intended to shut down and intimidate opponents of Russia`s intervention in Ukraine. Sentsov is the father of two young children.
”Oleh Sentsov put his artistic career at risk to take a stand for his country and against Russian invasion,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America. ”The baselessness of the charges against him and President Putin`s refusal to face up to the injustice are marks of the cruelty and indifference that characterizes this regime. Sentsov should be freed, reunited with his young children, and allowed to continue his creative work as a filmmaker.”
Sentsov was honored with the 2017 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award at the annual PEN America Literary Gala on April 25. The award was accepted by Sentsov`s cousin, Natalya Kaplan, who was joined in New York by Ukrainian Parliamentarian Mustafa Nayyem and human rights expert Halya Coynash. After learning of the award, Sentsov sent a letter from prison that was read at the event by actor Alan Cumming. Dozens of writers, artists, and activists — including actress Meryl Streep and composer Stephen Sondheim — have since joined the campaign for Senstov`s freedom, launching online May 11 with the hashtag #FreeSentsov.