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Russian Prosecutors Seek 23-year Sentence for Crimean Filmmaker

  • Daniel Schearf

Public prosecutors in Russia's Rostov region on Wednesday asked judges for a 23-year sentence against a Ukrainian film director.

Oleg Sentsov faces charges of leading a terrorist group and acts of terrorism.

Critics have dismissed Sentsov's prosecution as revenge -- a Crimean native, he was a vocal opponent of Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea which followed a hastily called referendum.

Tanya Lokshina, Russia program director for Human Rights Watch, noted a recent string of politically charged trials in Russia, ranging from Sentsov, to a Ukrainian pilot, to an Estonian security officer, to a Russian mother accused of treason.

Verdict August 25

Lokshina said Sentsov is almost assured to be convicted when the verdict is read on August 25.

"Well, officially there is a presumption of innocence. But once a case moves to trial, the probability of acquittal is very low -- much lower than 1 percent. In the case of Sentsov, the case which appears to be rather politicized, the chances of acquittal are, well, to put it euphemistically -- extremely poor," she said.

Russia's FSB arrested Sentsov, and a co-defendant, in Crimea in May 2014, just after Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine.

They were accused of being members of a right-wing Ukrainian group and conducting arson attacks.

Both men deny the charges and rights groups say the case is a politically motivated show trial that involved torture and forced confessions from witnesses.

Sentsov said he was tortured, but Russian authorities shockingly claimed his bruises were due to his sexual preferences.

The prison sentence that the prosecutors requested at a hearing in southern Russia Wednesday is hard by Russian standards.

Sentsov, who didn't apply for Russian citizenship, was grabbed on the street in Crimea's capital in May 2014 by Russian security officers and resurfaced days later in custody in Moscow.

Earlier in the trial, Sentsov has pleaded not guilty and insisted that a Russian court has no jurisdiction in his case.

Ukraine pilot

Another high-profile Ukrainian case, that of pilot Nadiya Savchenko, is due to resume Friday when a Rostov court decides whether to move her trial back to Moscow.

The pilot, who has been held since June of last year, is charged in the deaths of two Russian journalists in east Ukraine and for crossing illegally into Russia.

Savchenko denies the charges and says she was abducted inside Ukraine and taken to Russia. Her lawyers say they have proof she was already in Russian custody when the journalists were killed.

Also Wednesday, Russia sentenced Eston Kohver, an Estonian intelligence officer, to 15 years in jail on spying charges. The ruling drew international condemnation and calls for Kohver's release.

Russia said Kohver illegally crossed the border into Russia in September 2014 and was apprehended.

Estonia said Kohver was kidnapped by unknown gunmen and taken forcibly across the Russian border. Estonian officials said Kohver was investigating a smuggling operation involving Russian intelligence agents.

Some material for this report came from AP.