The sakharov prize goes to ukrainian director sentsov

The Ukrainian filmmaker Sentsov, imprisoned in Russia, receives the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Expression. He has been in a Siberian penal camp for four years.

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought this year goes to the Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov. With the award, the European Parliament honors special commitment to human rights.

20 years in prison

Sentsov had campaigned against the illegal annexation of his homeland, the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, by Russia in 2014. He was then sentenced by a Russian court to 20 years in prison for allegedly planned terrorist attacks. He is reportedly currently in a prison camp in Siberia.

Hunger strike in the penal colony

After several months of hunger strike in a penal colony, Sentsov’s health is so bad that his life is in danger. With the protest action he wanted to achieve that all political prisoners imprisoned in Russia are released from Ukraine. 

Sentsow was born in Simferopol on the Crimean peninsula in 1976, studied economics in Kiev in the 1990s and later took directing courses in Moscow. In Simferopol he ran a computer club, which was also the subject of his first and only film in 2011, "Gamer". His second film project is entitled "Rhinoceros".

Sentsov was nominated by the conservative EPP parliamentary group, which includes the CDU and CSU. In addition to him, the Moroccan government critic Nasser Zefzafi and a group of various organizations that rescue refugees in the Mediterranean from distress were nominated. Last year the Venezuelan opposition was honored.

Solidarity of the European Parliament

Many members of the European Parliament supported the decision to award the award to Sentsov. With this award, the European Parliament wishes to express its solidarity with him and his cause. "We demand that Oleg Sentsov is released immediately because his health is critical," said Parliament President Antonio Tajani. The CDU European politician Michael Gahlert said that Sentsov had campaigned for freedom of expression. He protested against the fact that his homeland was occupied and annexed by Russia. He had been convicted for this and therefore deserved support.

A clear message to Russia

With the Sakharov Prize for Sentsov, the European Parliament sent a clear message to Russia. And that is: The annexation of Crimea four and a half years ago has not been forgotten. The EU Parliament stands by Ukraine and the untouchability of the Ukrainian borders, said the SPD MEP Arne Lietz.

Commitment to human rights

The European Parliament has awarded the Sakharov Prize annually since 1988, honoring particular commitment to human rights. The award, endowed with 50,000 euros, will be presented on December 12th. It is unlikely that Russia will allow the imprisoned award winner to leave the country. 

The Sakharov Prize commemorates the Soviet physicist, dissident and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov (1921-1989). Previous winners included Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, former South African President Nelson Mandela, the father of the Prague Spring, Alexander Dubcek, as well as Yazidi activist Nadia Murad and Congolese gynecologist Denis Mukwege.

With information from Karin Bensch-Nadebusch, ARD-Studio Brussels

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