The Ukrainian political prisoner and filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who is serving a 20-year sentence in Russia on fabricated terrorism charges, has been awarded the 2018 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
Sentsov is the first Ukrainian to have ever won the Sakharov prize, which is awarded by the European Parliament.
The ceremony will take place on December 12 in Strasbourg during a plenary session of the Parliament.
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His candidacy was supported by the European Parliament’s largest faction – the European People’s Party.
“I am very glad they gave Oleg this prize. He really deserves it. This will help him stay strong, as he has not been forgotten, and he has not been forgotten at such a high level. The prize won’t let politicians forget about Sentsov and will be another step towards his release,” his cousin Natalia Kaplan told Hromadske.
According to Kaplan, the political prisoner still does not know about the prize. Either Kaplan herself or his lawyer will inform him later.
“I have not been invited to the award presentation. Maybe they are waiting for his release,” Kaplan adds.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman shares Kaplan’s optimism. On Twitter, Groysman described Sentsov’s award success as a “yet another turn of key to unlock the prison capturing Oleg,” and thanked the European parliamentarians for the decision, which is a “strong message highlighting the necessity of democracy protection in the world.”
The Sakharov prize is awarded annually to a group or individual for their outstanding contribution to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. It is named after the Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov and was established in 1988. The prize is worth 50 thousand euros.
Among this year’s finalists were 11 non-governmental organizations, which have been working to save migrants in the Mediterranean, as well Moroccan opposition activist Nasser Zefzafi, who, like Sentsov, is currently imprisoned.
While Sentsov maybe the first Ukrainian to have won the prize, he is not the first nominee from Ukraine: Euromaidan was nominated in 2014, Ukrainian MP Nadia Savchenko in 2015 and Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev in 2016.