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Ukraine Filmmaker Sentsov Receives EU’s Top Human Rights Prize

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Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov attends a press conference at the European Council in Strasbourg on October 2.

STRASBOURG, France -- Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who was one of the most prominent political prisoners in Russia, has finally received last year’s Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought from the European Parliament.

The award ceremony took place on November 26 in Strasbourg, France.

Before accepting the award from the European Parliament President David Sassoli, Sentsov addressed the European lawmakers, urging them not to forget the Ukrainians' sacrifices in the ongoing conflict with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

"Every time, when some of you think about stretching out a hand of friendship to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin over our heads, you should remember each of the 13,000 [people] killed in Ukraine, the hundreds of our boys kept in prisons, who may be tortured as we speak, the Crimean Tatars, who may at this very moment be arrested," Sentsov said to rapturous applause from the European lawmakers.

Sentsov, a 43-year-old Crimean native who opposed Russia's 2014 takeover of the Ukrainian peninsula, was arrested by the Moscow-imposed Crimean authorities on May 11, 2014, and charged with planning the firebombing of pro-Russian organizations in Crimea.

Until September 7, Sentsov had been serving a 20-year prison sentence on what international, Russian, and Ukrainian rights groups said were trumped-up charges.

He had opposed and refused to recognize Moscow's imposed rule on the Ukrainian territory.

He was incarcerated for more than five years, and spent 145 days on hunger strike in 2018, demanding that Russia release all of its Ukrainian political prisoners.

Last year, the European Parliament awarded Sentsov the Sakharov Prize while he was still imprisoned.

It was for "for freedom of thought and in recognition of his peaceful protest against the illegal occupation of his native Crimea, as well as for courage, determination and belief in supporting human dignity, democracy, the rule of law and human rights," said Michael Gahler, a member of the European People's Party, who nominated him.

Individuals or organizations are honored with the prize for defending human rights and fundamental freedoms. It is named after Soviet physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov.

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