The mother of Ukrainian film director Oleh Sentsov, who is serving a 20-year prison term in Russia and has been on a hunger strike for nearly two months, has asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to pardon her son.
Sentsov is serving his term in Russia's northern region of Yamalo-Nenets after being convicted on terrorism charges that he and human rights groups say were politically motivated.
"I will not try to persuade you that Oleh is innocent, although I believe he is," Lyudmila Sentsova wrote in a letter addressed to Putin and published on the website of Ekho Moskvy radio.
"I just want to say that he did not kill anyone. He has served four years in prison already. His children are waiting for him, his youngest son suffers from autism," she wrote. "It's hard for them without him. They will never be happy without their father."
"I beg you, Vladimir Vladimirovich, to show mercy and pardon Oleh Sentsov," she wrote. "Don't ruin his life and the lives of his loved ones."
Sentsov, a native of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, which was seized by Russia in 2014, marked his 42nd birthday on July 13.
He has been on hunger strike since May 14, demanding the release of 64 Ukrainian citizens he considers political prisoners.
Western governments and rights organizations have called for Sentsov to be released, and the Russian human rights group Memorial considers him to be a political prisoner.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on July 13 that the letter from Sentsov's mother "will certainly be looked into," but did not comment on whether Putin might heed her request.
Several groups have called on Putin to pardon Sentsov, but Peskov told reporters earlier that the Ukrainian film director would have to ask for a pardon himself before it could be considered.
Sentsov's lawyer, Dmitry Dinze, said last month that Sentsov would not submit a request for a pardon because he considers himself innocent.