Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 06.09.2018
Oleg Sentsov is a Ukrainian filmmaker who was abducted by invaders of Crimea from Muscovy on 11 May 2014. He has been a hostage of Putin’s regime of state terrorism ever since. On 14 May 2018 Oleg Sentsov went on a hunger strike, demanding the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners of war held in the Russian Federation, in Muscovy-occupied Ukrainian Crimea, and in Muscovy-occupied Ukrainian Donbas. The Muscovites are holding over 70 prisoners of conscience, and approximately 200 more prisoners of war and civilian hostages.
September 6 is the 116th day that Oleg Sentsov has been on hunger strike. He says that he will not give up because it is “his only way to fight,” according to Natalya Kaplan, who is Oleg Sentsov’s cousin.
The life of Oleg Sentsov is in grave danger. In violation of international humanitarian law, his kidnappers have removed him from Ukraine and are holding him captive in the far north of the Russian Federation, in Labytnangi in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug. Kremlin authorities have denied Oleg Sentsov his Vienna Convention rights to be seen by Ukrainian consular officials. He has been denied the medical care of Ukrainian or other competent doctors. Amnesty International has been refused access to him. His right to be seen by Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman has been denied. The true state of Oleg Sentsov’s health is unknown but he wrote to his family to tell them that “the end is near.”
A “Save Oleg Sentsov” petition was created to appeal to the US federal government executive to do something to free Oleg Sentsov and the other Ukrainian hostages of Muscovy. The petition exceeded the required threshold to force a response on September 5. Ulyana Suprun, Acting Minister of Health of Ukraine, sent a tweet about the good news: “The Petition calling for the liberation of Oleg Sentsov and all Kremlin captives has attained the 100,000 signatures needed for the White House to respond! Now the US president will consider Oleg's case. Together, we will prevail and free Putin's political prisoners #FreeSentsov”
Lech Wałęsa – hero of the Solidarność movement, 1983 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and former President of Poland – has nominated Oleg Sentsov for the Nobel Peace Prize. "We live in an era of intelligence, but still there are those who solve problems by brute force. They will pass into history sooner, if there are more people like Sentsov,” said Wałęsa.
It is very likely that Oleg Sentsov will be one of the nominees for this year’s Sakharov Prize. The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is presented by the European Parliament annually to individuals who have dedicated their lives to the defence of human rights and freedom of thought. Oleg Sentsov certainly meets this criterion, as he was an activist in the “AutoMaidan” movement in Kyiv during Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity of 2013-14, and he made heroic efforts to bring humanitarian aid to Ukrainian servicemen and their families when they were besieged by Putin’s invasion army in Crimea in 2014. In the European Parliament, Oleg Sentsov enjoys support among MEPs in the European People's Party, the European Conservatives and Reformists group, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, and the indefatigable friend-of-Ukraine Rebecca Harms of the European Green Party. There will be confirmation that Oleg Sentsov is on the shortlist of Sakharov Prize nominees next week, and a decision on the final laureate will be made at the end of October.
Canada’s foreign affairs ministry has called on the Russian Federation to release Oleg Sentsov and has expressed “concern” about his condition. But the Government of Canada has not introduced any sanctions against the Kremlin officials responsible for violating Oleg Sentsov’s rights under international human rights law. Canada has a Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act (Sergei Magnitsky Law), but it refuses to apply its provisions in the case of Oleg Sentsov or in the cases of the 70-plus other hostages being held by the Putin regime. Given Canada’s reputation as a friend of Ukraine and as a champion of the rules-based international order this refusal to execute the laws of Canada is inexplicable.
The European Court of Human Rights has been sitting on an application from Oleg Sentsov for over four years. The Court is believed to be delaying consideration or judgment of whether the Russian Federation is violating Oleg Sentsov’s human rights for political reasons. The Council of Europe is in crisis over Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the massive scale of war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed by Putin’s invader-occupiers in Crimea and in Donbas. The European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe will either continue to stand up for human rights, or they will give in to Muscovy and give up that role. The case of Oleg Sentsov is in many ways “do-or-die” for Europe in the rules-base, human-rights-respecting international order.
The effort to save Oleg Sentsov is not just about one man. He is, after all, on hunger strike for the sake of his comrades: other peaceful people of principle being held hostage by Putin. Oleg Sentsov’s noble struggle against the evil of the Putin regime must be matched by the moral courage of people of principle around the world. Free Sentsov