For several weeks now, the portrait of Ukrainian director Oleg Sentsov decorates the facade of the European Parliament. But Europe is not Russia – where he is considered to be a terrorist. Even the prestigious Sakharov Prize “For Freedom of Thought” has not yet hastened his release from a strict regime, nor the release of the other Ukrainian political prisoners, who are detained in Russia. The director is due to be awarded the European Parliament’s prize on December 12.
December 10 is one more special date – the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights celebrated around the world – this may trigger multiple actions against violations.
A demonstration near the European Parliament will take place calling for the release of all Ukrainian prisoners of the Kremlin. In Russia itself, there are more than 70 such political prisoners, and this figure excludes the hostages and prisoners of war from the Donbass and the Crimean conflicts, and the 24 Ukrainian sailors recently detained in the sea of Azov.
When Sentsov is awarded the prize, a new project developed by the European Union together with the Russian human rights society “Memorial” will be presented – a complete list of all political prisoners in Russian prisons will be made available for the public.
Ukrainian activists vow to hold the protest actions around the world until Russia makes concessions.
In August 2015, the North Caucasian District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don sentenced Sentsov to 20 years in a penal colony accusing him of terrorist activities in Crimea.
Despite the numerous calls to exchange Sentsov and other prisoners for pro-Russian separatists detained in Ukraine and talks about possible presidential pardon , the director will not be able to come personally to Strasbourg to receive his prize. “The European Parliament appealed to the Russian authorities to permit Oleg Sentsov to come to Strasbourg and receive this prize himself, but most likely this will not happen. “We are now actively trying to get permission for the delegation of the European Parliament to visit Oleg Sentsov. This would be the first time when a foreign delegation visits Oleg Sentsov”, said MEP Rebecca Harms earlier in Kyiv.
CHANCE FOR FREEDOM?
Sentsov is an advocate for political prisoners other than for himself, but talks about his possible release and discussion of possible scenarios are ongoing. One of them is that the Kremlin prisoners can be exchanged for jailed pro-Russian separatists. Before the Russian president can grant a formal pardon it is possible that his release can happen, as occurred with the Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko.
Another option is that Russia will try to barter Ukrainian prisoners for infrastructural preferences for the Crimea, in particular, resumption of the the supply of water to the peninsula. Crimeans have been suffering from water shortage since annexation. The awarding of the Sakharov Prize to Sentsov is likely to be a powerful signal that may trigger positive changes for the fate of other political prisoners.