His only fault is that he comes from Crimea, he loves his homeland and he hopes to see it liberated, within Ukrainian borders, and not subjugated to Russia. For this reason Oleg Sentsov, in prison for the past four years, is voicing the release of approximately 70 fellow nationals detained in Moscow’s prisons since Russia invaded Crimea, ruthlessly subjugating it in defiance of international law and of Ukraine’s national sovereignty. Today, while in prison in bad health conditions as a result of a months-long hunger strike, Oleg was awarded the Sacharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament.
A message for all. Oleg Sentsov, 42, is a Ukrainian film director (his film “Gamer”, was released in 2011). He was arrested on May 10 2014 in Simferopol and sentenced to 20 years in prison for “plotting terrorist acts” against the Russian “de facto” rule in Crimea. He held a hunger strike past May that was interrupted only a few days ago after the threat of forced nutrition. Sentsov has become a symbol of the battle conducted with tens of Ukrainian citizens illegally arrested and given long prison sentences by the Russian occupation forces in the Crimean peninsula. The Sacharov Prize to Sentsov recognizes – declared the president of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani announcing the this year’s winner during the plenary in Strasbourg – “the courage and the determination of the Ukrainian film director.” “By awarding him the Sakharov Prize – Tajani said – the European Parliament is expressing its solidarity with him and his cause. We ask that he be released immediately. His struggle reminds us that it is our duty to defend human rights everywhere in the world and in all circumstances.”
The candidates. The Prize will be awarded – in all likelihood in the absence of the winner – in the Parliament in Strasbourg on 12 December. The other finalists, who will be invited to the award ceremony, were 11 NGOs protecting human rights and saving migrant lives across the Mediterranean Sea and Nasser Zefzafi, the leader of Hirak, a mass protest movement in the Rif region in Morocco. This year’s nominees (nominations are made by EP political groups or Members of the European Parliament; nominees are selected by the Conference of group leaders represented in Strasbourg) included, inter alia, Seyran Ates, German lawyer of Turkish origin, fighting against political and religious extremism and the oppression of women; Caesar, the code name of a former Syrian military photographer who smuggled more than 55,000 pictures out of Syria exposing the war atrocities; Dewayne Johnson, a former groundskeeper from the US who has just won a landmark case against Monsanto, the first person to obtain a compensation; AfriForum, an NGO that aims to protect the rights of minorities in South Africa, with a specific focus on the rights of Afrikaners; Mary Wagner, a Canadian activist who has been arrested on multiple occasions and accused of “disturbing the business” of an abortion clinic in Toronto.
The goals. The Sacharov Prize, established exactly 30 years ago, in 1988, is named after Russian scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov who devoted his entire life to bring freedom and democracy in the Soviet Union. This recognition is one of the tools of the Euro-Assembly to uphold the respect of human rights, which is one of the core values of the European Union. “Any violation of these rights undermines the democratic principles upon which our society is based, whether they take place within or outside the EU.” The award is therefore awarded annually “to individuals who have made an exceptional contribution to the fight for human rights across the globe.”
The world map of violations. In 2017 the EU Parliament awarded the Sacharov Prize to the democratic opposition in Venezuela; the year before it went to Nadia Murad Basee and Lamiya Haji Bashar, who survived the enslavement of the Islamic State (ISIS). In 2016 it was awarded to Saudi blogger Raif Badawi. The laureates of the past thirty years trace a sad world map of human rights violations across the globe- wars, torture, violence of all kinds, anti-democratic laws. As an example, past recipients of the Prize include, Malala Yousafzai (2013, Pakistan), Primavera araba in vari Paesi (2011), Guillermo Fariñas (2010, Cuba), Hauwa Ibrahim (2005, Nigeria), fino a Ibrahim Rugova (1998, Kosovo), Oslobodjenje (1993, Bosnia-Herzegovina), the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo (1992, Argentina), Alexander Dubček (1989, Slovakia), Nelson Mandela (the first laureate, 1988, South Africa).