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PEN America Honors Jailed Ukrainian Filmmaker Sentsov

Jailed Ukrainian film director Oleh Sentsov (file photo)
Jailed Ukrainian film director Oleh Sentsov (file photo)

PEN America has announced that it will honor imprisoned Ukrainian writer and filmmaker Oleh Sentsov with its 2017 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award.

Sentsov, a native of Crimea who opposed Russia's March 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula, is currently serving a 20-year prison term in a maximum-security facility on terrorism charges that he and international rights groups call politically motivated.

The charges against Sentsov "have been condemned by human rights groups as fabrications by a Russian government intent on silencing dissent," PEN America said in a statement on March 29.

Sentsov was arrested in May 2014 on suspicion of planning the fire-bombings of pro-Russian organizations in Crimea.A Russian court convicted him on multiple terrorism charges in August of the same year.

Sentsov has denied all charges against him, saying that a "trial by occupiers cannot be fair by definition."

PEN America said Sentsov is widely regarded for work that includes two short films, A Perfect Day For Bananafish and The Horn Of A Bull, and a full-length feature film, Gamer, which debuted to acclaim at the 2012 International Film Festival in Rotterdam.

His writings include scripts, plays, and essays, and he has continued to produce prolifically from prison, the statement said.

Since 1987, PEN America has honored more than 50 writers worldwide with the Freedom to Write Award.

"The PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award is a reminder of the heavy price that writers pay to speak out in societies where free expression is not respected," said Peter Barbey, owner of the Village Voice and director of the Edwin Barbey Charitable Fund, which sponsors the award.

In January, several high-profile members of the Russian PEN chapter, including Nobel Prize laureate Svetlana Alexievich, novelist Grigory Chkhartishvili (who writes under the name Boris Akunin), and poet Lev Rubinshtein quit the organization over its failure to speak out in defense of Sentsov.

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