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Jailed Ukrainian Filmmaker Could Be Force-Fed, Lawyer Says

Russian Doctors Will 'Force-Feed' Sentsov, Lawyer Says
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Russian Doctors Will 'Force-Feed' Sentsov, Lawyer Says

Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov, who opposed Moscow's 2014 seizure of Crimea and is now on a hunger strike in a Russian prison colony, could be force-fed if his vital organs begin to fail, according to his lawyer.

Dmitry Dinze was speaking after visiting his client on June 4 at the correctional facility in the far-northern Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region where Sentsov is serving a 20-year prison term after being convicted on terrorism charges that he and human rights groups say were politically motivated.

Sentsov's plight has sparked an international outcry, with some 50 writers and artists being the latest to urge Russian President Vladimir Putin to release him.

Before Dinze visited his client, Sentsov was taken to a nearby hospital for a medical examination during which doctors ruled the imprisoned Ukrainian filmmaker's condition "satisfactory."

But speaking to RFE/RL's Russian Service, Dinze said Sentsov had already lost some 8 kilograms and his vital organs, including his kidneys, could start to fail as his health continues to deteriorate.

"If these effects [of the hunger strike] take place, they will unfortunately subject him to force-feeding. The doctor warned him of this. Oleh didn't try to argue or compromise," Dinze said.

"The doctor warned that even with force-feeding, a person who stays on hunger strike and is not consuming normal food won't last long," the lawyer added.

He also said that Sentsov thanked all those who had supported him and vowed to continue his struggle.

Sentsov, 41, has been on a hunger strike for three weeks, demanding the release of 64 Ukrainian citizens he considers political prisoners. He is not calling for his own release.

Dozens of artists and journalists called on Putin to release Sentsov in a letter released on June 4 through PEN America.

They wrote that the upcoming World Cup soccer tournament in Russia would heighten scrutiny of the country's human rights abuses. Freeing Sentsov would make a "powerful statement," they wrote.

Margaret Atwood, Stephen Sondheim, and Jonathan Franzen were among the signees.

Earlier this month, Sentsov supporters across the globe conducted a two-day #SaveOlegSentsov campaign.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on Facebook on June 2 that he was "grateful to everyone who joined" the call for Sentsov's release, denouncing what he called the Kremlin's "lawlessness and totalitarian methods."

Russia seized the Ukrainian peninsula in March 2014 after sending in troops and staging a referendum deemed illegitimate by at least 100 countries in the United Nations. Moscow defends the referendum as a legitimate act of self-determination.

The land grab followed the ouster of Ukraine's Moscow-friendly president, Viktor Yanukovych, in February 2014 after months of street protests.

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

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