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Ukrainian filmmaker's 20-year jail sentence in Russia draws fire abroad

Ukrainian filmmaker's 20-year jail sentence in Russia draws fire abroad
Supporters of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov protest in front of the Russian Embassy in Kiev after a Russian military court sentenced him to 20 years in jail. (Efrem Lukatsky / Associated Press)

A Russian military court on Tuesday sentenced a promising young Ukrainian filmmaker to 20 years in prison on charges of terrorist activity, prompting accusations from rights groups, fellow directors and Western governments of a Kremlin move to punish critics.

Filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and Crimean environmental activist Alexander Kolchenko were accused of plotting to carry out terrorist attacks in Crimea, the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula seized and annexed by Russia in March 2014.

The two men, both natives of Crimea, were said by Russian prosecutors to be planning to blow up a monument to Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin and to destroy the offices of Russian agencies on the peninsula.

The military court in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, the nearest regional capital to the seized Crimean region, sentenced Sentsov to 20 years and Kolchenko to 10 years, both terms to be served in a maximum-security prison.

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In a statement from its London headquarters, Amnesty International called the trial of the two Crimeans "fatally flawed" and marred by "credible allegations of torture."

Amnesty's Eurasia researcher, Heather McGill, said the military court process was "redolent of Stalinist-era show trials of dissidents."

The Obama administration also criticized the action against the two men, saying it was based on "groundless allegations" aimed at discrediting voices against the Kremlin's seizure of the strategic Black Sea territory.

"This is clear miscarriage of justice. Both Ukrainians were taken hostage on Ukrainian territory, transported to and imprisoned in Russia, and had Russian citizenship imposed on them against their wills," U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said in Washington.

Britain's minister for Europe, David Lidington, called the trial politically motivated and the charges "disproportionate" to the charges.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko posted a message of support on his Facebook page for the 39-year-old filmmaker.

"A time will come when those who set this trial for you will land in the dock themselves," Poroshenko wrote, urging Sentsov to "hang in there."

The director is among about a dozen Ukrainians in Russian custody whom Kiev officials consider political prisoners. Poroshenko demanded that Moscow release all Ukrainian "hostages," noting that a Feb. 12 peace plan endorsed by both former Soviet republics calls for all prisoners of war to be freed.

Sentsov drew acclaim at the Berlin Film Festival three years ago for his debut feature "Gamer," about a Ukrainian boy who is drawn to the world of video games to escape real life.

Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev, whose film "Leviathan" won a Golden Globe last year and was nominated for the best foreign film Oscar, was among the prominent European directors to come to Sentsov's defense. Zvyagintsev called the sentence against his Ukrainian colleague "monstrous."

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