Today, Ukrainian writer and filmmaker Oleg Sentsov was awarded the prestigious European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. Currently serving a 20-year prison sentence in Siberia on trumped-up terrorism charges, Oleg Sentsov was represented at the ceremony by his cousin Natalya Kaplan and his lawyer Dmitriy Dinze.
Playwright and English PEN member Tom Stoppard, who has been writing to Oleg Sentsov in prison, said:
As Oleg Sentsov is awarded the Sakharov Prize, we are reminded of his extraordinary strength, selflessness and resolve in the face of adversity. The Russian authorities may want us to forget about him, we never will. We will continue to campaign until he is released.
When first announcing the award, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani praised Oleg’s Sentsov ‘courage and determination’, adding that he had ‘become a symbol of the struggle for the release of political prisoners held in Russia and around the world’. Today, Antonio Tajani reiterated the European Parliament’s solidarity with Oleg Sentsov and the other political prisoners held in Russia and called once again for his immediate release.
Receiving the award, Natalia Kaplan described Oleg Sentsov as a ‘goal-oriented person with an acute sense of justice’. Reminding the world of his plight, including his allegations of torture and ill-treatment, his harrowing prison conditions and hunger strike, she then read his statement:
I cannot be present in this room right now but you can hear my words. Even if someone else is saying them, words are a person’s main tool and often his only one too, especially when everything else has been taken from him.
It is not so important how long you lived, but how. No matter when you die, more importantly it’s how, and for what.
For me it is a real undeserved honour to even be compared to [Andrei Sakharov] (…). I hope that I can still have time to do something in order to feel that I have deserved this award.
PEN’s campaign on behalf of Oleg Sentsov continues and culminated earlier this year in global protest, as he spent 145 days on hunger strike, calling for the release of all Ukrainian prisoners imprisoned in Russia on politically motivated grounds. He most recently featured in this year’s Day of the Imprisoned Writer campaign, with PEN Centres across the world advocating for his release.
PEN urges the Russian authorities to release Oleg Sentsov immediately as a matter of urgency. The organisation further calls on the authorities to return all Ukrainian nationals arrested in Crimea and now held in Russia to Ukraine, as required by international law, and free all held solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression.
Oleg Sentsov is among the writers we’re asking supporters to send Season’s Greetings this year. Find out more and get involved.
Best known for his 2011 film Gamer, Oleg Sentsov was arrested four years ago and sentenced to 20 years in prison on 25 August 2015 on spurious terrorism charges after a grossly unfair trial by a Russian military court, marred by allegations of torture. PEN International believes that he was imprisoned for his opposition to Russia’s occupation and illegal ‘annexation’ of Crimea.
PEN Centres the world over have been actively calling for Oleg Sentsov’s release. They sent appeals to the Russian authorities, organised events, took part in solidarity campaigns and protests, organised film screenings, coordinated petitions, collated messages of support, and took part in social media actions, amongst other things. PEN was also proud to publish three of Oleg Sentsov’s short stories in English, translated by Dr Uilleam Blacker.
The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, named in honour of Soviet physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov, is awarded each year by the European Parliament. It was set up in 1988 to honour individuals and organisations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms. Highlights of today’s ceremony are available here.
For more information about the state of freedom of expression in Russia, please see PEN International, PEN Moscow and St Petersburg PEN’s joint report entitled Russia’s Strident Stifling of Free Speech 2012-2018.