A Russian court convicted a prominent Ukrainian filmmaker on Tuesday of conspiring to commit terror attacks and sentenced him to 20 years in prison in what critics called a politically motivated show trial.
The court in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don said Oleg Sentsov had set up a terror cell in the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed last year, and was plotting attacks. He will serve time in a maximum-security prison.
Such lengthy prison sentences are rare in Russia even for politically tainted trials.
Sentsov was tried along with local activist Alexander Kolchenko who was sentenced to 10 years in prison. As the judge wrapped up the session, the two men began to sing the Ukrainian national anthem.
The 39-year-old Crimean native was a vocal opponent of Russia’s 2014 annexation of the peninsula. Critics have dismissed his prosecution as revenge for his pro-Ukrainian position.
“The 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,” said Heather McGill of Amnesty International.
Sentsov, who didn’t apply for Russian citizenship, was grabbed on a street in Crimea’s capital in May 2014 by Russian security officers and resurfaced days later in custody in Moscow. Sentsov had pleaded not guilty and insisted that a Russian court had no jurisdiction in his case.
Russian prosecutors claim both men were plotting to blow up a Lenin monument and were behind attempts to burn down offices of two Russia-related organizations.
Dozens of prominent filmmakers, including Russian Golden Globe winner Andrei Zvyagintsev, have petitioned the Kremlin to release Sentsov.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on his Facebook page sent a message of support for Sentsov.
“Hang in there, Oleg,” he wrote. “A time will come when those who set this trial for you will land in the dock.”
Britain called the trial politically motivated. British Minister for Europe David Lidington said the charges were “disproportionate” and voiced concern that the two men did not have access to a fair trial.