The European Parliament awarded on Thursday (25 October) the prestigious Sakharov human rights prize to Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who has been jailed by Russia.
Sentsov was among three finalists for the prize, along with a group of 11 charities rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean and Nasser Zefzafi, the head of a Moroccan protest movement who has been in jail since May 2017. Sentsov has been nominated by the centre-right EPP group.
Since 1988, the European Parliament has awarded the Sakharov Prize to individuals and organisations that defend human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Sentsov, a Ukrainian film director, convicted to 20 years in prison for “plotting terrorist acts” against the Russian “de facto” rule in Crimea. Amnesty International has described the court process as “an unfair trial before a military court”.
He is currently imprisoned in the Far Northern Yamalo-Nenets region of Russia where he started a hunger strike on 14 May, demanding that Russia release 64 Ukrainians that he considers political prisoners in Russia.
He ended his hunger strike on 6 October, saying he had to do so to avoid being force-fed by the prison authorities.
Announcing this year’s laureate, Parliament President Antonio Tajani said: “Through his courage and determination, by putting his life in danger, the filmmaker 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 in all circumstances.”
Commission spokesperson Mina Andreeva congratulated Sentsov on behalf of the EU executive. She said Sentsov had shown “incredible” courage during his imprisonment and hunger strike. She added that he was convicted in breach of elementary standards of justice.
Today the @Europarl_EN awarded the Sakharov prize to Oleg #Sentsov. We @EPPGroup nominated him for his protest against the Russian occupation of Crimea. His sentence in Russia was a fabrication and he should be released immediately. #SakharovPrize pic.twitter.com/wZ5mWxYCRc
— Manfred Weber (@ManfredWeber) October 25, 2018
On Russia, the European Parliament has been divided, key votes have shown. However, a majority, including EPP, has always supported texts critical of Russia’s assertive and sometimes aggressive acts and policies.
On 12 December, the Sakharov Prize award ceremony will take place in Strasbourg. There have been previous cases when the prize winner had been honoured in absentia. Last year the European Parliament awarded the prize to jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Daniel Ceballos, whose wife Patricia Gutierrez came to receive it.