Canada Must Stand Up for Ukrainian Political Prisoners, Says UCC. Oleh Sentsov Declares Hunger Strike

Oleh Sentsov

Np-Un National Affairs Desk/RFE/RL.

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) has called upon the Government of Canada to take a strong stand in support of Ukrainian political prisoners illegally jailed by Russia. The UCC calls on Canada to immediately implement sanctions against Russian officials responsible for these deplorable violations of inalienable human rights.

In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, UCC National President Paul Grod outlined that “the Russian regime has illegally imprisoned over 50 Ukrainian citizens, including Oleh Sentsov, Volodymyr Balukh, Oleksandr Kolchenko, Stanislav Klikh, and many others.” Grod called on Prime Minister Trudeau to “demand that Russia immediately release these Ukrainian political prisoners and that Canada utilize the Magnitsky Act to implement sanctions against Russian officials responsible for gross violations of human rights.”

The UCC also called upon Canada, which holds the G7 Presidency in 2018, to ensure that one of the priorities of the upcoming G7 Leaders Summit focus on ending Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

On May 14, Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison in a farcical show trial, declared a hunger strike. In a letter to his lawyer, Sentsov stated, “The only condition for ending it is the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners held by Russia. Together to the end. Glory to Ukraine!”

His lawyer, Dmitry Dinze, told RFE/RL late on May 16 that he had spoken with Sentsov, who is being held in the far-northern Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region, and that Sentsov told him he had timed his hunger strike to correspond with Russia’s hosting of the 2018 soccer World Cup championship from June 14 to July 15.

“During our meeting, he told me: ‘If I die ahead of the championship or during it, there will be an outcry in favor of other political prisoners,’” Dinze said.

Sentsov is demanding the release of 64 Ukrainian citizens that he considers to be political prisoners in Russia. Dinze said Sentsov was not demanding his own release, although the Memorial human rights group has declared him a political prisoner and international organizations have called for his release.

The 41-year-old Sentsov, a native of Crimea, is serving a 20-year prison term after being convicted on terrorism charges that he and human rights groups say were politically motivated. He was arrested in Crimea in May 2014 and accused of planning arson attacks on pro-Russian organizations in the annexed Ukrainian region.

Dinze said Sentsov had been “preparing” for his hunger strike for the last six weeks by refusing food parcels from relatives and reducing his consumption to the minimum.

Sentsov has been visited by human rights officials of the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) and he rejected their pleas that he cancel his protest, Dinze said. Sentsov has been moved into an isolated cell and is being monitored by doctors.

Sentsov’s cousin, Moscow-based journalist Natalya Kaplan, told RFE/RL that Sentsov’s effort might be in vain because “Ukraine is not doing enough to secure the release of its political prisoners.”

Ukrainian activist Volodymyr Balukh, illegally imprisoned by the Russian occupation authorities in Russian-occupied Crimea, has been on a hunger strike for over 50 days in protest of his illegal detention.

“The UCC expresses its deep solidarity and profound admiration for the courage of Sentsov, Balukh and all other Ukrainian political prisoners, victims of a repressive, brutal Russian regime that routinely and systematically flouts international law, universal human rights, and wages wars of aggression against its neighbours,” said the UCC in a statement, May 17

“In October 2017, the Justice for Victims of Foreign Corrupt Officials Act (Magnitsky Act) received Royal Assent and became the law of the land in Canada. The Magnitsky Act provides ‘for the taking of restrictive measures in respect of foreign nationals responsible for gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.’ To date, the Government of Canada has taken no action against Russian officials responsible for the illegal imprisonment and violation of human rights of Ukrainian political prisoners,” added the UCC in its statement.