NEW YORK—In anticipation of the meeting between Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin scheduled for July 16, more than three dozen illustrious individuals and organizations have signed an open letter calling on President Trump to raise the case of political prisoners in Russia, and especially that of Oleg Sentsov, with President Putin. Sentsov, a Ukrainian writer and filmmaker, and 2017 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award winner, is currently serving a 20-year sentence in Russia and now on day 58 of a hunger strike.

A list of leading figures in human rights, filmmaking, and the arts, including Amnesty International USA, the European Film Academy, David J. Kramer, and Kerry Kennedy issued an open letter urging President Trump to raise Sentsov’s case and that of all political prisoners in Russia during his meeting with President Putin in Helsinki on July 16, emphasizing the urgency of Sentsov’s situation given his ongoing hunger strike.

“We are deeply concerned that if progress is not made on Oleg’s case very soon, his life will be endangered,” the letter reads. “We were heartened to see the June 18 statement from the State Department that expressed concern for Oleg and a number of other political prisoners in Russia. We believe that your meetings with President Putin represent a critical opportunity to raise Oleg’s case and that of all political prisoners in Russia. We emphasize the urgency of Oleg’s situation in particular; his condition is grave and it is not clear how much longer he can survive.”

Oleg Sentsov was detained in Crimea in May 2014 and sentenced to 20 years in a Russian prison on charges of terrorism on August 25, 2015, in what appeared to many as a politically motivated case in retaliation for Sentsov’s outspoken criticism of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Appeals against the original verdict were rejected by the Russian Supreme Court in November 2015 and June 2016. A request for Sentsov’s extradition to Ukraine was denied in October 2016 on the grounds that he had become a Russian citizen upon the annexation. He is currently serving out his sentence in Prison Colony No. 8, also called “Polar Bear Prison,” north of the Arctic Circle. He began his hunger strike to call for the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia.

“Oleg Sentsov has chosen to risk his life for his fellow political prisoners; his case and that of all political prisoners in Russia must be on the agenda for President Trump’s meeting with Putin,” said Suzanne Nossel, Chief Executive Officer of PEN America. “In this unique moment, President Trump has a critical opportunity to uphold the longstanding American tradition of serving as a voice for human rights in Russia. We hope that the President will not abandon Oleg and his courageous fellow prisoners to the cruelties of the Russian regime.”

In 2017 PEN America awarded Oleg Sentsov the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, and on ​February 26, 2018, organized a Global Day of Action calling for his release.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.


Summer Lopez, Senior Director for Free Expression Programs: