Acclaimed film director Godard declines Russia visit over imprisonment of Oleg Sentsov

Jean-Luc Godard. Photo: 

Political prisoners

Acclaimed director Jean-Luc Godard has declined an invitation to visit Saint Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum because of the detention of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, Le Figaro reported.

Thank you for your invitation, but given the condition of Sentsov’s detention, I do not feel that I can visit the Hermitage (Museum of St. Petersburg) for the moment, regardless of my friendship for the people,” wrote Jean-Luc Godard in the letter to Dimitri Ozerkov, director of the contemporary art department of the Hermitage Museum, who invited him to St. Petersburg.

The 87-year-old director of Breathlessness and Despair adds “stay tuned to the evolution of events.”

A group of artists and intellectuals from around the world, including filmmakers Jean-Luc Godard, Wim Wenders and Aki Kaurismaki, recently urged democracies in an open letter to obtain from Russian President Vladimir Putin the release of filmmaker Oleg Sentsov.

Sentsov is recovering from a 145-day hunger strike which he had launched, demanding to free the Ukrainian political prisoners of the Kremlin, who, like he himself, had been sentenced by Russia for political reasons. There are circa 70 such prisoners. He stopped the strike under threat of force feeding on 6 October 2018. Numerous voices around the world called upon Vladimir Putin to free the Ukrainian filmmaker, in vain.

Oleg Sentsov, a native of Crimea, was arrested on 11 May 2014 shortly after the Russian occupation of Crimea. Together with three other Crimeans, Oleksandr Kolchenko, Gennadiy Afanasyev, and Oleksiy Chirniy, he was accused of “plotting acts of terrorism” and being part of the Right Sector, a far-right Ukrainian organization Russia outlawed. These accusations are based entirely on testimonies of Gennadiy Afanasiev and Oleksiy Chirniy.

Both Afanasiev and Chirniy have stated they were tortured by FSB, and after their “confessions” were sentenced to the least possible punishment for terrorism, 7 years of jail, whereas Sentsov, the “leader” of the “terrorist group,” was sentenced to 20 years and Kolchenko to 10 years. On 31 July 2015 Afanasyev retracted his testimony as given under duress. After that, he was beaten again in prison. Sentsov and Kolchenko have stated repeatedly that they were tortured and beaten, and there is nothing to assume that the same didn’t happen to Chirniy.

The trial being entirely based on forced testimonies, the alleged plot to blow up Lenin’s monument in Simferopol, Crimea which the prisoners are accused of, and the convoluted connection to Right Sector speak of a return of Stalinist show trials in Russia, according to Russian and Ukrainian human rights watchdogs.

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