European lawmakers have praised Ukrainian film director Oleh Sentsov, who has been on hunger strike in a Russian prison for more than four months, as a defender of “the supremacy of law and values over brute force and deception.”
The center-right European People's Party (EPP), the biggest political group in the European Parliament, nominated Sentsov for this year's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
Presenting the nominee to the parliament’s committees on foreign affairs and development, parliamentarian Eduard Kukan on September 27 said Sentsov was a prisoner of conscience who decided to go on hunger strike “in hope that his voice is heard and the world understands the values of honor, truth, freedom, and democracy.”
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 Russia’s Far North Yamalo-Nenets region, Sentsov started a hunger strike on May 14, demanding that Russia release 64 fellow Ukrainians he considers political prisoners.
Earlier this month, citing a lawyer for Sentsov, Human Rights Watch said that he agreed to begin taking an oral nutritional supplement at some point in the past two months, after suffering his first health crisis.
"By supporting Oleh Sentsov, we stay true to our own convictions of universal principles of democracy, human rights, rule of law, and freedom of thought," Kukan said.
The parliamentarian from Slovakia added that if awarded the Sakharov Prize, the filmmaker would be the first European laureate since Russia's Memorial Human Rights Center in 2009 and the first ever laureate from Ukraine.
The parliament’s committees on foreign affairs and development will now shortlist three of the chamber’s eight nominees, who also include Syrian photographer Caesar and Seyran Ates, a German lawyer of Turkish origin who is fighting against extremism.
The laureate is to be announced on October 25 and the prize will be presented to the winner at a ceremony on December 12.
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).
Previous laureates include South Africa's Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai, a girl who has championed the rights of Pakistani girls to receive schooling.