The Ukrainian writer and filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, winner of 2017 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award has been on hunger strike since May 14, 2018 to urge the Russian authorities to release all Ukrainian nationals currently imprisoned in Russia on politically motivated grounds. Oleg Sentsov was arrested four years ago and sentenced to 20 years in prison on spurious terrorism charges after a grossly unfair trial by a Russian military court, marred by allegations of torture.

PEN fears that Oleg Sentsov was imprisoned for his opposition to Russia’s occupation and illegal ‘annexation’ of Crimea and calls on the Russian authorities to release him immediately. Should there be grounds for prosecution on charges of terrorism, these should be heard by a civilian court under Ukrainian law. The organization further calls on the Russian authorities to respect Oleg Sentsov’s human rights, including the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment as it pertains to hunger strike, and his right to medical attention.

Take action!

Please send appeals:

  • Urging the Russian authorities to release Oleg Sentsov immediately; should there be grounds to prosecute Oleg Sentsov on charges of terrorism, these should be heard by a civilian court under Ukrainian law, as required by international humanitarian law. Any testimony obtained through torture or other ill-treatment must be excluded from proceedings;
  • Calling on the Russian authorities to respect Oleg Sentsov’s human rights, including the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment as it pertains to hunger strike, and his right to medical attention;
  • Urging the Russian authorities to order an independent and impartial investigation into Oleg Sentsov’s allegations of torture and other ill-treatment. Anyone against whom there is sufficient admissible evidence of responsibility should be brought to justice;
  • Calling on the Russian authorities to return all Ukrainian nationals arrested in Crimea and now held in Russia to Ukraine, and free all held solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression

Send appeals to:

Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation
Yuri Yakovlevich Chaika
Prosecutor General’s Office
ul. B. Dmitrovka, d.15a
125993 Moscow GSP- 3
Russian Federation

Human Rights Ombudsman of the Russian Federation
Tatiana Nikolaevna Moskalkova
ul. Miasnitskaia, 47
107084, Moscow
Russian Federation

Send copies to the Embassy of Russia in your own country. Embassy addresses may be found here: reach out to your Ministry of Foreign Affairs and diplomatic representatives in Russia, calling on them to raise Oleg Sentsov’s case in bilateral fora. 

***Please send appeals immediately. Check with PEN if sending appeals after June 17, 2018. ***

Please inform PEN of any action you take and of any responses you receive.


PEN members are encouraged to:

  • Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the case of Oleg Sentsov and freedom of expression in Crimea;
  • Share information about Oleg Sentsov and your campaigning activities via social media; please use #FreeSentsov;
  • Organize public events, press conferences and demonstrations;
  • Celebrate Oleg Sentsov’s work through film screenings and readings

Please let us know about your activities and send us reports so that we can share them with other Centers.


Best known for his 2011 film Gamer, Ukrainian filmmaker and writer Oleg Sentsov has been on hunger strike since May 14, 2018. In a statement shared by his lawyer, Oleg Sentsov declares an ‘indefinite hunger strike’ and that ‘the sole condition for its cessation is the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners located in the territory of the Russian Federation.’ According to media reports, he told his lawyer that he is prepared to die should his demand be ignored.

Oleg Sentsov took part in the EuroMaidan demonstrations that toppled former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014. He helped deliver food to Ukrainian soldiers following Russia’s occupation and illegal ‘annexation’ of Crimea in February-March 2014.  He said he was arrested by the Russian security services at his apartment in Crimea on May 10, 2014. He reported being subjected to a brutal three-hour ordeal involving beatings, suffocation, and threats of sexual assault. To PEN’s knowledge, his allegations have yet to be investigated by the Russian authorities.

His arrest was officially recorded on May 11, 2014 on the grounds of ‘suspicion of plotting terrorist acts’ and membership of a terrorist group (the Ukrainian right-wing group Pravyi Sektor, Right Sector). He was taken to Russia on May 23, 2014 where he spent over a year in pre-trial detention. He was eventually charged with the establishment of a terrorist group, politically-motivated arson, and conspiring to blow up a statue of Lenin, all of which he denied.

Following a trial widely condemned outside of Russia, in which a key prosecution witness retracted his statement, saying it had been extracted under torture, Oleg Sentsov was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison by the military court of Rostov-on-Don on August 20, 2015. His sentence was upheld on appeal on November 24, 2015. In October 2016, the Russian authorities denied a request for extradition to Ukraine on the grounds that he had become a Russian citizen following Russia’s occupation and ‘annexation’ of Crimea. He is currently being held in the prison colony of Labytnangi in Siberia.

PEN denounces serious flaws in judicial proceedings against Oleg Sentsov, including his lengthy pre-trial detention, the failure to investigate his allegations of torture as well as the fact that he was tried by a Russian military court and is now being held in Russia. Under international law, Crimea constitutes occupied territory and as the occupying power, Russia is obliged not to transfer civilian prisoners out of the territory. Trying civilians in military courts also violates international human rights norms.

In April 2015, the United Nations Human Rights Committee expressed concerns at ‘allegations that Oleg Sentsov has been deprived against his will of his Ukrainian nationality, tried in Moscow as a citizen of the Russian Federation and subject to legal proceedings that fail to meet the requirements of Articles 9 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.’  It called on Russian authorities to investigate all allegations of serious human rights violations and to ensure that appropriate and transparent procedures are in place for Crimean residents to revisit their decision concerning their nationality.

Oleg Sentsov is the winner of the 2017 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award.

Freedom of expression in Crimea

Following the Russian occupation and illegal ‘annexation’ of Crimea in March 2014, the Russian authorities and the de facto Crimean authorities have pursued a crackdown on independent media, opposition politicians, and activists. Fourty-three people expressing dissent have been forcibly disappeared since the ‘annexation’; six have since been found dead, while the whereabouts of 17 remain unknown. None of these disappearances have been effectively investigated and nobody has been held accountable. Ukrainians criticising Russia have also been subject to restrictive Russian legislation.

PEN continues to call for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Ukraine.

For further details contact Aurélia Dondo at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338 Fax  +44 (0) 20 7405 0339 e-mail: [email protected]