World intellectuals implore politicians to boycott World Cup until Russia frees Ukrainian political prisoners

Fragment of poster to boycott the World Cup by Andriy Yermolenko 

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An open letter published on Open Democracy is appealing to leaders of governments, the teams of which will play at the Finals of the World Cup in Russia, to boycott the event which is set to start on 14 June. The letter has been signed by intellectuals, politicians, diplomats, cultural figures, human rights activists, and journalists. Among them are internationally known figures such as journalist and historian Anne Applebaum, historian Timothy Snyder, journalist Edward Lucas, politicians Rebecca Harms and Marieluise Beck, film directors Askold Kurov and George Genoux, writers Yuriy Andrukhovych and Oksana Zabuzhko, veteran Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev, and many others.

Addressing the leaders of the 31 countries, the teams of which will compete in Russia (Australia, Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Uruguay, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Iceland, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland), the letter reminds that Russia is holding 70 Ukrainian political prisoners in custody. Many of them have been convicted under torture and using false evidence. It is for their release that Oleg Sentsov has launched a hunger strike on 14 May, timing it to coincide with the World Cup. Here is the full text of the appeal:

The main football event of the year, the World Cup, is drawing closer. It will take place in Russia despite this country occupying the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, unleashing a war in eastern Ukraine, supporting the brutal dictator Assad and war crimes in Syria, curtailing the democratic rights of its own citizens, repressing the indigenous population of occupied Crimea – the Crimean Tatars, interfering in the elections of western countries and unleashing a disinformation campaign against them.

Your excellencies, the list of Russia’s crimes can be continued, however, one stands out. On 14 May, the jailed Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who had resisted the occupation of his native Crimea in 2014, announced a termless hunger strike. The only condition for ending it is the “release of all Ukrainian political prisoners held on the territory of the Russian Federation”. There are at least 70 such prisoners, and the number increases each day.

Oleg was sentenced to 20 years in a penal colony as a result of a falsified trial. Other political prisoners have been convicted in a similar manner: on the basis of false “confessions” obtained under torture, fake witnesses, planted ammunition. The latter was the reason for the arrest and conviction of Volodymyr Balukh, a Crimean farmer who rejected the occupation of Crimea and kept raising a Ukrainian flag over his house. Balukh is holding a termless hunger strike for over 70 days since 19 March, balancing between life and death. Also on hunger strike, in solidarity with Sentsov, are Oleksandr Kolchenko and Oleksandr Shumkov. The number of arrests and sentences grows with each day. Just on 4 June, Ukrainian journalist Roman Suschenko was sentenced to 12 years of “severe regime” imprisonment in Russia on baseless mystery “spying” charges. All these tragedies go unnoticed by the world.

Russia has established a real repression machine in occupied Crimea. Civic activists among Crimean Tatars are being arrested in droves and accused of terrorism. Also accused of terrorism is the 19-year old Ukrainian Pavlo Hryb, whom the FSB kidnapped while he was on a trip to Belarus. The list of political prisoners is long and each name in it represents a shattered fate and children left to grow up without parents (see more information here).

Your Excellencies, all of these Ukrainians became victims of Russia’s undeclared war against Ukraine. In authoritarian Russia, their purpose is to be broadcast on state TV playing the role of “enemies,” “terrorists,” and “extremists,” inciting the hatred of Russians towards Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars, and ramping up support for Vladimir Putin’s aggressive politics.

Oleg Sentsov has declared that he intends to hold the hunger strike until the fatal end. This is a realistic scenario: one has to only recall his letter from prison, where he wrote about Ukrainian political prisoners: “If we are destined to become nails in the lid of the tyrant’s coffin, then I would like to be such a nail. Just know that this nail will not bend.” And he told his lawyer: “If I die before the World Cup or during it, then there will be a [public] resonance in favor of the other political prisoners.”

A hunger strike is the only weapon that the imprisoned filmmaker has to counter the horrendous injustice against 70 Ukrainian citizens.

Your Majesties! You, the powerful of this world, have another weapon. One of the dreams of Vladimir Putin is to use the presence of foreign dignitaries at the tribunes of the World Cup to embellish his image of a “strong leader” and as visual support for his politics of repressions and wars. You can take the side of the filmmaker who was sentenced for protesting the occupation of his native Crimea by joining the political boycott of the World Cup, inviting others to follow your lead if you have already done this, and calling upon Russia to fulfill the demands of Oleg Sentsov and release all Ukrainian political prisoners. History shows that leaders of authoritarian states prefer to put on a mask of mercy before sports events.

Signed by: 

    1. Willem Aldershoff, former head of unit, European Commission, analyst international affairs, Brussels, Belgium
    2. Alim Aliev, program director, Crimean House, Ukraine
    3. Victoria Amelina, writer, Ukraine
    4. Yuriy Andrukhovych, writer, Ukraine
    5. Ivan Andrusiak, writer, Ukraine
    6. Anne Applebaum, journalist, historian, USA
    7. Antoine Arjakovsky, historian, France
    8. Larysa Artiugina, film director, project leader NGO NewDonbas, Ukraine
    9. Kateryna Babych, No Borders Project, Committee of Solidarity with Crimean Hostages, Kyiv, Ukraine
    10. Marieluise Beck, former State Secretary, Alliance ’90/The Greens (Germany)
    11. Мark Bielorusets, translator, Ukraine
    12. Andriy Bondar, writer, Ukraine
    13. Kateryna Botanova, journalist, curator, Switzerland/Ukraine
    14. Stephen Blank, Senior Fellow, American Foreign Policy Council, USA
    15. Maksym Butkevych, human rights defender (No Borders Project, Committee of Solidarity), Ukraine
    16. Artem Chapeye, writer, Ukraine
    17. Simas Čelutka, Head of European Security Programme, Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis, Lithuania
    18. Yevgen Chernykov, actor, Ukraine
    19. Halyna Coynash, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, Ukraine
    20. Mustafa Dzhemilev, Crimean Tatar leader, political prisoner during the USSR
    21. Danilo Elia, journalist, Rai – Radiotelevisione italiana, National Public Broadcasting of Italy
    22. Michel Eltchaninoff, philosopher, France
    23. Andrew Fesiak, International Director, Final Cut Media, Ukraine
    24. Leonid Finberg, sociologist, cultural researcher, director of Center for Studies of History and Culture of Eastern European Jewry, Ukraine
    25. Gregory Frolov, director of Free Russia House, Kyiv, Ukraine
    26. Svetlana Gannushkina, human rights defender, Russia
    27. Nina Garenetska, musician, Dakhabrakha band, Ukraine
    28. Georg Genoux, Theatre/film director, Germany/Ukraine
    29. Anastasiya Gernega, Chairperson, NGO Touchpoint, Ukraine
    30. Iryna Gorban, art-manager, Ukraine
    31. Marko Halanevych, musician, Dakhabrakha band, Ukraine
    32. Rebecca Harms, MEP, Alliance ’90/The Greens (Greens)
    33. Markéta Hejkalová, writer, Czech Republic
    34. Ola Hnatiuk, University of Warsaw, PEN Club member, Poland
    35. Yaroslav Hrytsak, historian, Ukraine
    36. Jakub Janda, Director, European Values Think-Tank, Prague, Czech Republic
    37. Andrey Khadanovich, litterateur, Belarus
    38. Borys Khersonsky, writer, Ukraine
    39. Oleksandra Koval, head of the Publishers’ Forum NGO, Ukraine
    40. Maxym Kurochkin, playwright and screenwriter, Ukraine
    41. Askold Kurov, filmmaker and producer, Russia
    42. Myroslav Laiuk, writer, Ukraine
    43. Philippe de Lara, professor of political science, France
    44. Anastasia Levkova, writer, journalist, Ukraine
    45. Danylo Lubkivsky, Deputy Foreign Minister of Ukraine (2014), Diplomatic advisor to the Prime Minister of Ukraine (2015-2016)
    46. Edward Lucas, London, UK
    47. Olesya Mamchych, writer, Ukraine
    48. Myroslav Marynovych, former Soviet political prisoner, Ukraine
    49. Juraj Mesik, global risks analyst, Slovakia
    50. Diana Matsuzaki, journalist, Hungary
    51. Marina Meseguer, journalist, Spain,
    52. Patryk Michalski, journalist, Poland
    53. Vitalii Moroz, Internews Ukraine, Ukraine
    54. Mustafa Nayyem, member of Parliament of Ukraine
    55. Oleksandra Nazarova, psychologist, Ukraine
    56. Andriy Nikitchyuk, Euromaidan Press, Ukraine
    57. Tetiana Okopna, translator, Ukraine
    58. Oleksiy Panych, philosopher, Ukraine
    59. Tetiana Pechonchyk, Human Rights Information Center, Ukraine
    60. Kateryna Petrovska, writer, Ukraine, Germany
    61. Nataliia Popovych, Co-Founder, Ukraine Crisis Media Center
    62. Anzhela Prazdnichnykh, medical doctor, Belgium
    63. Antje Rempe, Germany, President of the association for partnership between the twin cities of Kharkiv and Nuremberg
    64. Mykola Riabchuk, writer, Ukraine
    65. Oleksandra Romantsova, Center for Civil Liberties, Ukraine
    66. Olexander Scherba, Ukrainian Ambassador to Austria
    67. Anton Sliepakov, musician, Dakhabrakha band, Ukraine
    68. Arkadiy Shtypel, poet, translator, Russia
    69. Roman Shutov, EaP Strategic Advisor, Baltic Centre for Media Excellence, Ukraine
    70. Alya Shandra, Euromaidan Press, Ukraine
    71. Konstantin Sigov, Director of the European Humanities Research Centre, National University of “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy”, Ukraine
    72. Ostap Slyvynsky, writer, Ukraine
    73. Bohdana Smyrnova, filmmaker, New York/Kyiv
    74. Timothy Snyder, professor of history at Yale University, USA
    75. Alice Stollmeyer, Executive Director, Defending Democracy, Belgium
    76. Maksym Strikha, professor of physics, writer, Ukraine
    77. Sergiy Sydorenko, European Pravda, Ukraine
    78. Joanna Szostek, researcher, Royal Holloway University of London, Great Britain
    79. Liudmyla Taran, writer, Ukraine
    80. Tetyana Teren, journalist, Ukraine
    81. Halyna Tkachuk, writer, Ukraine
    82. Olena Tsybulska, musician, Dakhabrakha band, Ukraine
    83. Halyna Tytysh, journalist, Ukraine
    84. Andreas Umland, Senior Fellow, Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation, Ukraine
    85. Oleksandr Vilchynskyi, writer, Ukraine
    86. Pavlo Volvach, writer, Ukraine
    87. Natalia Vorozhbyt, playwright and screenwriter, Ukraine
    88. Maryna Vroda, director and writer, Ukraine
    89. Wira Wowk, writer, translator, PEN Club member, Brazil
    90. Volodymyr Yermolenko, UkraineWorld, Internews Ukraine, Hromadske.ua, Ukraine
    91. Pavlo Yurov, independent director and actor, Ukraine
    92. Iryna Zabiiaka, translator, Kyiv, Ukrainereza Semotamová, Writers in Prison Committee of the Czech PEN Centre, Czech Republic
    93. Oksana Zabuzhko, writer, Ukraine
    94. Yevgeniy Zakharov, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, Ukraine
    95. Alla Zamanska, TV Director, Ukraine
    96. Serhiy Zhadan, writer, Ukraine
    97. Bohdan Zholdak, writer, Ukraine

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