A military court in Russia's Rostov-on-the-Don has sentenced Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov to 20 years of hard labor in a high-security prison on charges of planning a “terrorist attack” in Crimea. Sentsov’s co-defendant, Alexander Kolchenko, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. RuNet Echo rounds up the Internet's reactions to the trial, the sentences, and their implications for access to justice in Russia.
Sentsov, a native of Crimea, is an independent film director and pro-Ukrainian activist. He denies all charges made against him and claims that the case is “politically motivated and falsified.” Sentsov has also said that after having been detained by Russian law enforcement, he was tortured, beaten, and threatened with rape while in custody. Russian prosecutors have also disregarded Sentsov's Ukrainian citizenship, claiming he was a Russian national since Crimea “became part of Russia.”
According to the investigation, in the spring of 2014 (shortly after the Russian annexation of Crimea), Oleg Sentsov “gave orders to his co-conspirators” to blow up a Lenin statue in the city of Simferopol in Crimea. Investigators also claimed that Sentsov planned another attack on Simferopol’s eternal flame monument. Kolchenko has been accused of firebombing a United Russia office in Simferopol, a charge he has admitted to, while denying the accusations of “terrorism.”
Earlier in August, more than a thousand members of the European Film Academy, including prominent film directors like Wim Wenders, Ken Loach, and Mike Leigh signed an open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin calling for the release of the two men.
When the sentence was read on August 25, the defendants’ only reaction, according to the onlookers, was to smile and start singing the Ukrainian national anthem in the courtroom, as seen in a video that was shared widely on social media.
— Maxim Eristavi (@MaximEristavi) August 25, 2015
Sentsov has received praise for his conduct in court during the trial, and especially for his poignant “last words” statement befote the verdict was read. Daniel Baer, US Ambassador to OSCE, even coined a new term, “Sentsovian” to express regard for the filmmaker's poise.
Sham trial; sham verdict; sham "court". http://t.co/Rt8wJkHj3t Neologism: Sentsovian: (adj) possessing courage, poise, dignity under duress
— Daniel Baer (@danbbaer) August 25, 2015
Sentsov's final statement was quickly pulled apart into viral quotes shared by Internet users. Some of them even ended up on t-shirts.
— Andrii Olefirov (@AndriiOlefirov) August 25, 2015
— Euromaidan Press (@EuromaidanPress) August 25, 2015
Последнее слово Олега Сенцова разобрали на цитаты pic.twitter.com/tN7Lp4es4Y
— апатия в апатитах (@eskovoroda) August 25, 2015
Oleg Sentsov's final words have been made into quotes [T-shirt: “Why bring up a new generation of slaves?”].
Shortly after the verdict became public, Ukrainians and Russians organized pickets in support of Sentsov and Kolchenko in Kyiv, Kharkiv, and even Moscow. Multiple photos from the gatherings popped up on social media.
— Hromadske Int. (@Hromadske) August 25, 2015
— Грани.Ру (@GraniTweet) August 25, 2015
The few remaining humans came out for individual pickets in Moscow [poster: “Your (jail) terms will be longer”].
— IT Sector Харьков (@itsector) August 26, 2015
#Kharkiv now near the Russian consulate rally in support of O. Sentsov and A. Kolchenko.
Online reactions from Ukrainian and Russian users were mostly those of shock and anger, although not surprise. Ukrainian officials, like President Petro Poroshenko and UN Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev, were quick to condemn the verdicts.
Тримайся, Олеже. Прийде час, і ті, хто організував над тобою судилище, самі опиняться на лаві підсудних! pic.twitter.com/GwBTIIgSuh
— Петро Порошенко (@poroshenko) August 25, 2015
Hang in there, Oleg. The time will come, and those who organized this sham trial will be sitting in the dock themselves!
— Yuriy Sergeyev (@Yuriy_Sergeyev) August 25, 2015
Users compared Sentsov's harsh sentence with other crimes as well as the fates of individuals who they thought got off scot-free when they should have been punished.
А российскому сержанту Зайцеву, который в Крыму украинского майора Карачевского убил, два года всего дали
— MaryEl (@maryel2002) August 25, 2015
And Russian sergeant Zaitsev, who killed Ukrainian major Karachevsky in Crimea, only got two years.
Сенцову за поджог двери Единой России — 20 лет. Кадырову за участие в войне против русских — президентство, звание Героя, иммунитет, деньги
— Руслан Левиев (@RuslanLeviev) August 25, 2015
Sentsov got 20 years for setting a United Russia door on fire. Kadyrov, for participating in a war against Russians, got a presidency, a Hero status, immunity, money.
Some marvelled at the coincidence of Sentsov's verdict going public in Russia the same day that a former Defense Ministry official Evgeniya Vasilyeva was freed from prison on parole, after serving only four months of her five-year jail term for real estate fraud.
Васильевой УДО и вернуть 300 миллионов рублей Сенцову 20 лет строго режима бляди
— Никотинка с Бровями (@Yoghikitt) August 25, 2015
Parole and 300 million back for Vasilyeva
20 years of high-security prison for Sentsov
Не могу избавиться от мысли, что они специально два таких суда назначили на один день. Чтобы поглумиться.
— Владимир Варфоломеев (@Varfolomeev) August 25, 2015
I can't help but think that they scheduled these two court hearings for the same day on purpose. As a mockery.
Echo of Moscow journalist and columnist Yulia Latynina surprised many when she said on air that she thought the Russian state had “fairly serious proof” of Sentsov's guilt and that it was justified in going “berserk” and “imprisoning a man not for what he did but for denying he did it.” After a wave of consternation from social network users and fellow journalists, Latynina relented and conceded that the sentence was “insane” and that she was “ashamed” that her country was “punishing people with 20 years” in jail for being “patriots of Ukraine.”
Some RuNet users saw Sentsov and Kolchenko's trial as a fitting illustration of the overall struggle for justice in Russia, often exemplified by the fact that the statue of Themis, the goddess of Justice, in Moscow is missing the proverbial blindfold.
Украинский терроризм звучит так же, как российское правосудие.
— Дно Новороссии (@NANOROSSIA) August 25, 2015
Ukrainian terrorism sounds very similar to Russian justice.
Напомню, что у российской Фемиды нет повязки на глазах pic.twitter.com/lz8iN4nuDH
— Руслан Левиев (@RuslanLeviev) August 25, 2015
May I remind you that the Russian Themis has no blindfold over her eyes.