Czech NGO comes out in support of jailed Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov

Oleg Sentsov, photo: ČTK/AP/STR

Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who was sentenced to twenty years in jail in a political trial after protesting against Russia’s annexation of Crimea, has been on a hunger strike in a Russian prison for over three months now. Amidst growing international concern for his health, the Czech NGO People in Need has launched a campaign calling for his release. I asked Zuzana Gruberová of People in Need to tell me more.

Oleg Sentsov,  photo: ČTK/AP/STR
“We decided to support Oleg because he has been on a hunger strike for more than three months and we have messages from his cousin that his state of health is really getting worse, he can barely stand and his pulse is very low – like 40 beats per minute – but he is determined to continue in this protest until his demand is met – which is the release of all 64 Ukrainian political prisoners being held on Russian territory –or until the very end. We decided to support his case because we know that he was unjustly charged and convicted in a process that was politicized and Instagram was the platform that we decided to use.”

So what did you ask people to do?

“We asked people to take a picture and add a hashtag Oleg in Need. We have printed them on a printer and will send the pictures to the prison where Oleg Sentsov is being held.”

So there’s a chance he will actually get them?

“We hope they will get there in time, because it has been more than three months, 93 days since he went on hunger strike, so we feel the sooner we send them, the better.”

And what was the public reaction?

“The response was bigger than we expected. We collected more than 200 pictures, not only from the Czech Republic but also from abroad. And some well-known public figures joined in, for instance Marek Hilšer, the former presidential candidate, the famous Czech singer Tomáš Klus or actress Jana Plodková and of course a lot of ordinary people from the Czech Republic who just want to stand up for the principles that Oleg wants to protect by his action.”

Is this a message to the Russian authorities or is it simply a show of moral support for Sentsov –do you feel there is any chance at all of getting him released at this point?

“I would see this primarily as a message of moral support for the case that Oleg is fighting for because he is standing up not only for himself but mainly for the other prisoners who are being imprisoned for their opinions, which is a terrible thing, if you think about it –to be stripped of your freedom and dignity because of your opinions. And the other layer that I see is to bring together the people who feel that this case is important. They can somehow get together and express that view by supporting a person who is standing so firmly behind his beliefs.”