The FINANCIAL — A Russian military court on August 25 sentenced a Ukrainian film director to 20 years in prison on terrorism charges that Kiev and Western capitals called trumped-up and politically motivated, according to Nasdaq.
The court in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don ruled that Oleh Sentsov, 39 years old, formed a terrorist group in Crimea that set fire to offices of two pro-Russian organizations and planned to blow up a statue of Vladimir Lenin and a World War II memorial.
Mr. Sentsov, an opponent of Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine last year, called the charges fabricated and said the court had no jurisdiction. A co-defendant, Oleksandr Kolchenko, was sentenced to 10 years on lesser terrorism charges.
After the judge read the verdict, the defendants sang Ukraine’s national anthem. Mr. Sentsov waved to a supporter, put a hand on Mr. Kolchenko’s shoulder, and then called: “Glory to Ukraine!”
Lawyers for the two said they would appeal the verdict, Interfax news agency reported.
Ukraine’s government condemned the verdict and called for the men’s release.
“Oleh Sentsov, Oleksandr Kolchenko and other citizens of Ukraine who are illegally detained on Russian territory are political hostages and innocent victims of the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine,” the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said.
“Hang in there, Oleh. The time will come when those who organized the mock trial against you will find themselves in the dock,” read a message Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s Twitter account.
The U.S. and governments in Europe criticized the ruling.
The U.S. State Department said Messrs. Sentsov and Kolchenko had been hit with “groundless” charges because of their opposition to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
“This is clear miscarriage of justice. Both Ukrainians were taken hostage on Ukrainian territory, transported to and imprisoned in Russia, and had Russian citizenship imposed on them against their wills,” department spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday.
He called on Russia to release the men and “all other remaining hostages,” including Ukrainian air force pilot Nadiya Savchenko, whom Russia says was an accessory to the killing of two Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine last year.
Ms. Savchenko says she was abducted in eastern Ukraine and forced across the border.
“This whole trial was designed to send a message. It played into Russia’s propaganda war against Ukraine and was redolent of Stalinist-era show trials of dissidents,” Heather McGill, a researcher at Amnesty International, said.
Dmytro Kuleba, an ambassador-at-large in the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, said the trial aimed to show Ukraine that Russia could act how it wanted on Ukrainian territory; demonstrate to the West that it will resist any pressure over human rights; and warn Russians and Crimeans that it is prepared to act ruthlessly against any dissent.
Russia sent troops to seize Crimea’s peninsula in February last year after Ukraine’s pro-Russian president fled the country amid street protests in the capital, Kiev.
It has also been accused by the West of supplying separatists in eastern Ukraine with weapons and fighters during more than a year of fighting, charges Moscow has denied.
The conflict has killed nearly 7,000 people, according to the United Nations.
Mr. Sentsov opposed Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and delivered food to Ukrainian soldiers blockaded in bases by Russian forces. He was seized by the Russia’sFederal Security Service, or FSB, in May 2014 and resurfaced days later in custody in Moscow.
In court this month, he said he was tortured in an unsuccessful attempt to extract a confession. Russian authorities refused to investigate the claim.
The prosecution was built around evidence from two alleged co-conspirators. One received a shorter sentence in return for testifying against Mr. Sentsov and Mr. Kolchenko. The other told the court his testimony had been coerced.
The board of the European Film Academy wrote Russian authorities a letter calling for Mr. Sentsov’s release that was signed by leading directors including Germany’s Wim Wenders and the U.K.’s Ken Loach.
In court Friday, prosecutors had called for Mr. Sentsov to be jailed for 23 years. In his final speech to court on Friday, he said he hadn’t given in to torture to incriminate himself or others. “I don’t know what your convictions are worth if you aren’t prepared to suffer or die for them,” he said.