To mark writer and filmmaker Oleg Sentsov’s 100th day on hunger strike and following reports that he has been denied access to correspondence – including from his own family – PEN International and English PEN, in partnership with Save Oleg Sentsov, Amnesty UK, and the Belarus Free Theatre delivered messages of support from all over the world to the Russian Embassy in London, urging the authorities to ensure that Sentsov is allowed to receive them.
PEN Ukraine, PEN Sweden, PEN America, PEN Denmark, PEN Canada, Lviv UNESCO City of Literature and the Free Word Association hosted simultaneous actions in support of Oleg Sentsov, with Sentsov’s cousin Natalia leading the events in Kiev.
Sentsov's cousin Natalia led events in Kiev.
Several PEN Centres collated messages of support and coordinated advocacy actions, reaching out to their membership and sending letters to the Russian authorities or government members in their countries.
Supporters joining the action include Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, Svetlana Alexievitch and Tom Stoppard, Stephen Fry, Ian Rankin, Margaret Atwood and Yann Martel. Read their messages below.
Standing with Sentsov at Moscow's Pushkin Square. Political gatherings of more than one person are banned in Russia: activists take turns standing alone.
Sentsov has been on hunger strike since 14 May 2018 and is reportedly in a critical condition. According to his lawyer and family, he was taken to intensive care on 15 June. His heart and kidney problems have considerably worsened. He has low haemoglobin level, resulting in anaemia and a slow heartbeat, and has lost 30 kilogrammes.
Best known for his 2011 film Gamer, Oleg Sentsov was arrested four years ago and sentenced to 20 years in prison on 25 August 2015 on spurious terrorism charges after a grossly unfair trial by a Russian military court, marred by allegations of torture. PEN International fears that he was imprisoned for his opposition to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. PEN International and its Centres around the world have been calling for his immediate release.
Messages of support for Oleg Sentsov
I write to you today in the hope that this letter reaches you somehow. I know that you are not receiving your letters. It is too cruel a thought to imagine that you lost your freedom so suddenly and without cause, that you are kept so far away from your family and children, that even as they’ve taken everything from you, they won’t allow even our words of support to reach you. They fear our words; they fear the knowledge that across the world, people are allied to your cause. I am writing in the hope that one day soon you will be free and able to see how many of us have stood with you from the beginning, that we read the news looking for your name, that we fear the worst but never surrender our hope. I want you to see the impact of your determination and sacrifice on so many around the world. The clumsy lies and manoeuvring of the Russian authorities only renews our resolve. In their attempts to silence you, what they have done is amplify your voice across borders. Today you exist in a cell that must feel soundproof. If only you could know that all around the world people are calling your name, decrying the behaviour of the Russian government, and calling for your freedom.
Your courage gives us all courage. We need you. Don’t give up.
At this time I am thinking of Oleg Sentsov, who is risking his very life on behalf of political prisoners. We should remember that freedom of speech is a human right and needs to be defended with rigour and passion. Oleg may be imprisoned but his message remains free and his voice spans many continents, carried by all of us.
Do not think that you are forgotten. Do not think that we don't care. Do not think that they are winning. Do not think that your fight is for nothing. We remember, we care, they will not win, your fight is noble and brave and inspiring. I stand with you in solidarity.
a Canadian writer
As your fellow artist, I send you my warmest greetings, in the hope that fairness and
truth will prevail, and that you will soon be released from your dreadful ordeal.
Be strong and hopeful. We are all thinking of you.
Writer and Film Director
Sending all my love, Oleg. Your strength is inspirational. It breaks my heart to think that you are suffering so much, but like all those who love the real Russia and its people I stand in awe at your resolution.
I join all those who call for the release of Oleg Sentsov.
We stand together to support this brave man who is wrongfully imprisoned.
Time is short. We urge the Russian government to show compassion and set Oleg free.