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UN Experts Call On Kremlin To 'Immediately And Unconditionally' Release Sentsov

Oleh Sentsov poses for a picture at his cell in the penal colony in Labytnangi on August 9.
Oleh Sentsov poses for a picture at his cell in the penal colony in Labytnangi on August 9.

United Nations experts have called on the Russian government to "immediately and unconditionally release" Oleh Sentsov, a jailed Ukrainian filmmaker who has been on hunger strike in a Russian penal colony for more than three months.

In an August 15 statement, the UN experts expressed "grave concern" for Sentsov's "physical and mental integrity."

"Sentsov's life is in imminent danger. His hunger strike follows a trial and a conviction that has fallen short of international law. We urge Russian authorities to unconditionally release him as a matter of urgency," the statement said.

Call from the UN experts came a day after Ukrainian Hromadske TV showed the Kremlin's written answer to a pardon request made on July 13 by Sentsov's mother, Lyudmyla Sentsova.

The reply said her pardon request was rejected on grounds that Russian law requires that "a convicted individual must ask for clemency personally."

Sentsov has previously said that he will not ask for a pardon because he believes he was jailed on politically motivated charges and has not committed a crime.

Iryna Herashchenko, the deputy speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, criticized the Kremlin's response to Sentsova's request.

She called it "cynical" and noted that other prominent Ukrainian citizens jailed in Russia -- Nadia Savchenko, Akhtem Chiygoz, and Ilmi Umerov -- were pardoned and released without officially requesting a pardon themselves.

A member of Russia's Presidential Advisory Council On Human Rights, Zoya Svetova, told RFE/RL that Sentsov was in "bad" health as a result of his hunger strike.

Svetova made the remarks after meeting with Sentsov for two hours on August 14 at the penal colony in Labytnangi in Russia's northern region of Yamalo-Nenets.

A vocal opponent of Russia's 2014 takeover of Crimea, Sentsov was sentenced to 20 years in prison after being convicted by a Russian court in 2015 of conspiring to commit terrorist acts.

Human rights groups have backed Sentsov's contention that the charges were politically motivated. Several governments and prominent figures have called on Putin to pardon Sentsov.

The 42-year-old Sentsov has been on a hunger strike since mid-May. He is demanding that Russia release 64 Ukrainian citizens that he considers political prisoners.

He also has indicated that he is prepared to die of starvation to press the cause, vowing to continue his protest "to the end."

With reporting by Hromadske
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