LONDON - The Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who was jailed in Russia following Moscow's illegal annexation of Crimea, and murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi were among those honored at the recent Magnitsky Awards ceremony in London.
Sentsov was given the 2018 Human Rights Award at the ceremony in London Thursday – a year late, as he only was released from jail in September. He was arrested in Crimea in May 2014, and later convicted on false terrorism charges. He was released as part of a prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine.
Meghan McCain, the daughter of the late U.S. Senator John McCain — who was captured and tortured during the Vietnam War — presented the award to Sentsov.
“He was tortured. He was sentenced to 20 years. He was sent to Siberia. He was sent to the Arctic. He suffered. He was imprisoned for a very, very long time. I know a little bit about men who are unjustly imprisoned. Their captors try to break them. But they emerge stronger than ever before. That’s Oleg Sentsov,” McCain told the audience.
Speaking to VOA after receiving his award, Sentsov called for the release of the hundreds of other Ukrainians.
“Now there are about 100 of our people imprisoned in Russia,” Sentsov said. “Most of them are Crimean Tatars. Also there are more than 200 imprisoned by separatists in Donbas in the territory controlled by Russia. All the prisoners must be freed because they were jailed illegally and they are hostages of the Kremlin.”
China’s oppression of Uighur Muslims also came under the spotlight. Over 1 million Uighur citizens are thought to be detained in camps in Xinjiang province, though the Chinese government keeps tight control of any press reporting from the region.
Correspondent Gulchehra Hoja, of VOA’s sister station Radio Free Asia, received the Magnitsky Human Rights Award for 2019 for exposing the oppression. She told the audience a potential genocide was taking place, and called on Western governments to end trade ties with Beijing.
“The world’s silence has only encouraged China to expand its concentration camps to hold millions of people. And those outside the camps suffer under the world’s worst Orwellian mass surveillance police state,” Hoja said.
The Magnitsky awards are named after lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who was beaten to death 10 years ago by Russian prison guards after exposing a $230 million state tax fraud.
His death was echoed by that of Saudi Arabian journalist Khashoggi, who was reportedly killed and dismembered by Saudi officials at the country’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, accepted his posthumous award for Courage Under Fire.
“I feel that Serge Magnitsky and Jamal’s spirits and souls are with us right now. And they are smiling with us. And as much as they have taken Jamal from this world, we will continue to fight and keep his values alive,” Cengiz said in a tearful speech.
To keep up that fight, Bill Browder – Magnitsky’s former client -- has campaigned for so-called Magnitsky legislation to be passed around the world, enabling the sanctioning of human rights violators.