Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov has offered a defiant concluding statement to a Russian court trying him for alleged conspiracy to commit terrorism in forcibly annexed Crimea, rejecting a path of "cowardice," and condemning a Crimea "governed by criminals."
Prosecutors earlier asked the court to sentence the acclaimed director to 23 years in jail for allegedly organizing a terrorist group, planning terrorist attacks, and illegally acquiring explosives
The prosecution of Sentsov, a Crimean native who was a vocal opponent of the March 2014 annexation, has been condemned by a who's who of international filmmakers.
He is facing trial along with a co-defendant, Oleksandr Kolchenko, in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, near the Ukrainian border. Prosecutors are seeking a 12-year jail term for Kolchenko.
Both deny any wrongdoing, and critics dismiss the charges as retaliation for their pro-Ukrainian positions.
In court on August 19, Sentsov said that like Kolchenko, "I am not going to ask for anything from you -- to expect consideration here, well everyone understands that...a court of occupiers by definition cannot be just."
He quoted a reflection by Russian novelist Mikhail Bulgakov, who suggested that "the greatest sin on earth is cowardice."
Sentsov also mocked Russian propaganda, saying that while it is "working excellently" with "most of the Russian population," there are "people who are smarter -- such as you, for instance, here -- who support the [Russian] government. You perfectly well understand that there are no fascists in Ukraine. That Crimea was annexed illegally. That your troops are fighting in Donbas. Even I -- sitting here in prison -- know that your troops are fighting in Donbas," a reference to the embattled eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
He added that "there is yet another part of the Russian population that knows perfectly well what is going on, that does not believe in the tales of your agitprop," using a common term for propaganda aimed at agitation.
WATCH: Oleh Sentsov Speaks Out Against Russian 'Crimes'
Sentsov's lawyer, Vladimir Samokhin, called for acquittal -- saying all the charges are groundless.
Sentsov and Kolchenko were arrested with two other Ukrainian citizens -- Oleksiy Chyrniy and Hennadiy Afanasyev -- in May 2014 on suspicion of planning terrorist attacks on Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.
Earlier, Chyrniy and Afanasyev were found guilty of participating in the group and sentenced to seven years each in prison.
A fresh appeal by the European Film Academy on August 19 included the signatures of 15 filmmakers, such as Britain's Ken Loach and Germany's Wim Wenders, saying they were "deeply worried" by the prosecutions.
"We are shocked that the accusation of Oleg Sentsov having committed 'crimes of a terrorist nature' is still being upheld," the letter, addressed to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said.
Kyiv and NATO have accused Russia of direct military intervention in Ukraine, where fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists has killed at least 6,400 people since March 2014.
With reporting by AFP, Interfax, and meduza.io