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Oleh Sentsov poses for a picture at his cell in the penal colony in Labytnangi on August 9.

European lawmakers have nominated Ukrainian film director Oleh Sentsov, who has been on hunger strike in a Russian prison for nearly four months, for this year's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

The center-right European People's Party (EPP), the biggest political group in the European Parliament, tweeted on September 12 it had selected Sentsov, saying the filmmaker was "illegaly imprisoned" in Russia.

Other nominees for the prestigious prize include Syrian photographer Caesar and Seyran Ates, a female imam in Berlin.

The members of the European Parliament will present their nominees to the chamber's committees on foreign affairs and development on September 27, which will then shortlist three of them.

The laureate is to be announced on October 25.

Sentsov, a Crimean native who opposed Russia's 2014 takeover of the Ukrainian peninsula, is serving a 20-year prison term after being convicted of terrorism in a trial that he, human rights groups, and Western governments contend was politically motivated.

Imprisoned in the far northern Yamalo-Nenets region of Russia, Sentsov started a hunger strike on May 14, demanding that Russia release 64 fellow Ukrainians he considers political prisoners.

In a Facebook post on September 11, his cousin Natalya Kaplan quoted the filmmaker as saying his "limbs are going numb" and that he no longer believes his ordeal in a Russian prison will have a "happy ending."

The annual Sakharov Prize was established in 1988 by the EU's parliament to honor individuals and organizations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The prize, named in honor of the Soviet physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov, is worth 50,000 euros ($58,000) and will be presented to the winners at a ceremony on December 12.

Previous laureates include Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani girl who has championed the rights of Pakistani girls to receive schooling.

Lawyer Mikhail Benyash said police "beat and violently choked" him both in the vehicle and at the police station where he was taken, causing injuries and bruises.

Amnesty International has urged Russia to immediately free a lawyer who was detained during a recent rally against pension reform and later jailed on "politically motivated" charges.

Mikhail Benyash was among dozens of people "arbitrarily" detained during a peaceful protest in the southwestern city of Krasnodar on September 9, the London-based human rights watchdog said on September 12.

Benyash was pushed and shoved into a car by police officers wearing civilian clothes, a statement said.

It quoted the lawyer as saying the officers "beat and violently choked" him both in the vehicle and at the police station where he was taken, causing injuries and bruises.

On September 11, a local court convicted Benyash of "resisting the police's legitimate orders" and sentenced him to 14 days in jail.

Amnesty said it believed Benyash was targeted in connection with his human rights work to provide legal assistance to victims of police abuse during the rally.

"He is a prisoner of conscience and must be immediately and unconditionally released," the group said.

More than 1,000 people were detained across Russia on September 9 as anti-Kremlin demonstrators took to the streets to protests against the government's plan to raise the retirement age.

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