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In Light of Hunger Strike, PEN America Demands Oleg Sentsov's Immediate Release

Russia

June 1, 2018

Vladimir Putin
President of Russia
23, Ulitsa Ilyinka
Moscow
103132
Russia

Cc: Gianni Infantino, President, FIFA

Dear President Putin,

We, the undersigned artists, writers, filmmakers, and activists, join PEN America to call for the immediate and unconditional release of the wrongfully imprisoned Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov. In light of Sentsov’s ongoing hunger strike, our request is urgent.

Oleg Sentsov, the 2017 recipient of the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, has been held prisoner by the Russian government for more than four years. In May 2014, he was detained in his native Crimea and brought to Moscow on unsubstantiated allegations of terrorism. Numerous governments and human rights organizations have identified these allegations as politically charged, groundless fabrications orchestrated in retaliation for Sentsov’s outspoken criticism of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. On August 25, 2015, Sentsov was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Sentsov himself says he was tortured during his detention in an unsuccessful attempt to extract a false confession. One of the defendants, Hennadij Afanasjew, later retracted his own testimony against Sentsov, saying he was brutally tortured into saying Sentsov was part of a terrorist organization. Two appeals of the verdict have been rejected, as has a request for Sentsov to be extradited to Ukraine. Sentsov has always maintained his innocence.

On May 14, Sentsov declared an indefinite hunger strike, stating that “the one and only condition for its termination is the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners that are currently present on the territory of the Russian Federation.” This brave yet dangerous decision was not taken lightly; in the northern Siberia penal colony where Sentsov is held, and with his health already weakened, it is uncertain how long he can survive. Thus, the need for action is urgent.

As Russia prepares to host the World Cup in the coming weeks, the eyes of the world will be on the country. Sentsov’s campaign will rightly draw attention to the injustice of his detention and that of dozens of other political prisoners in Russia. He has told his lawyer he is willing to die to bring global attention to his cause. In the spirit of this unifying global event, we therefore urge you to take this opportunity to make a powerful statement by releasing Oleg Sentsov immediately and unconditionally. His life depends on it.

Sincerely,

Chimamanda Adichie
Christiane Amanpour
Kwame Anthony Appiah
Margaret Atwood
Paul Auster
Rosanne Cash
Michael Chabon
Sandra Cisneros
J. M. Coetzee
Teju Cole
Michael Connelly
Molly Crabapple
Lydia Davis
Jennifer Egan
Louise Erdrich
Jonathan Franzen
Philip Gourevitch
John Green
Lev Grossman
Daniel Handler
Mary Karr
Phil Klay
Nicole Krauss
Chang-rae Lee
Jonathan Lethem
Janet Malcolm
Colum McCann
Ian McEwan
Jay McInerney
Claire Messud
Rick Moody
Paul Muldoon
Herta Müller
Eskinder Nega
B. J. Novak
Susan Orlean
George Packer
Gregory Pardlo
Robert Pinsky
Francine Prose
Victoria Redel
Salman Rushdie
George Saunders
Alice Sebold
Gary Shteyngart
Patti Smith
Andrew Solomon
Stephen Sondheim
Alec Soth
Art Spiegelman
Patrick Stewart
Rose Styron
Colm Tóibin
Calvin Trillin
Scott Turow
Anne Tyler
Ayelet Waldman
Tobias Wolff

Originally published by PEN America

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