Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov has been awarded this year’s European Parliament Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

“Oleg Sentsov is a prisoner of conscience, an honest and innocent man who, after opposing the Russian occupation of Crimea, was sentenced to 20 years in jail by Russian courts on fabricated charges of plotting terrorist acts. The EU declared his case to be in breach of international law and the elementary standards of justice. By supporting Oleg Sentsov, the European Parliament has used the opportunity to stay true to its convictions, to the principles of democracy, human rights and dignity, the rule of law and freedom of thought”, said Eduard Kukan MEP, welcoming today’s decision of the Conference of Presidents to award this year’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Oleg Sentsov.

“We nominated Oleg Sentsov for his peaceful protest against Russia’s occupation of his native Crimea, and his hunger strike for the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners imprisoned by Russia. Sentsov has not demanded his own release. He has become the voice of around 70 other innocent individuals perishing in inhumane conditions in Russian jails scattered around the vast country. By awarding him this prize, we are bearing testimony to the fact that they are not forgotten”, added Michael Gahler MEP, the European Parliament’s standing Rapporteur on Ukraine.

“Freedom of thought is the worst nightmare for all breeds of dictators and authoritarian regimes, halting them from controlling their people and hence is a powerful weapon to oppose them. We should not allow freedom and hope to die in silence”, he said.

Oleg Sentsov is a Ukrainian film director, born in 1976. He was detained on 10 May 2014 in Simferopol, Crimea, and convicted to 20 years of imprisonment in a tight security penal colony by a Russian court on charges of plotting terrorist acts against Russian ‘de facto’ rule in Crimea. Human rights watchdog Amnesty International has described the court process as “an unfair trial before a military court”. Oleg Sentsov has not recognised his guilt. On 14 May, he started a hunger strike which lasted over 145 days.

Oleg Sentsov becomes the first European Sakharov Prize Laureate in ten years, since Memorial in 2009, and the first Laureate from Ukraine. The prize will be awarded during the December plenary session of the European Parliament.

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani announced the laureate in the Strasbourg chamber at noon on Thursday, following an earlier decision by the Conference of Presidents (President and political group leaders).

“Through his courage and determination, by putting his life in danger, the film maker Oleg Sentsov has become a symbol of the struggle for the release of political prisoners held in Russia and around the world. By awarding him the Sakharov Prize, the European Parliament is expressing its solidarity with him and his cause. We ask that he be released immediately. His struggle reminds us that it is our duty to defend human rights everywhere in the world and under all circumstances”, said EP President Tajani.

Mr Sentsov is a Ukrainian film director who has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for “plotting terrorist acts” against the Russian “de facto” rule in Crimea. The two other finalists were 11 non-governmental organisations rescuing migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea and Nasser Zefzafi, leader of the Moroccan mass protest movement, Hirak.

The Sakharov award ceremony will be held in Strasbourg on 12 December.

Background

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought 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. 2018 marks 30 years since the Sakharov Prize was first conferred.

Last year, the prize was given to the democratic opposition in Venezuela. It is named in honour of Soviet physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov.