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Global Protests For Release Of Ukrainian Director Held By Russia
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A global campaign to demand the release of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov is being organized on June 1-2.

Sentsov opposed Moscow's 2014 annexation of Crimea and is now on hunger strike in a Russian prison.

The #SaveOlegSentsov campaign is organized by the Save Oleg Sentsov group ahead of this summer’s World Cup soccer competition in Russia.

The group announced the campaign on Twitter on May 22.

Sentsov, who is a native of Crimea, is currently serving a 20-year prison term after being convicted on terrorism charges that he and human rights groups say were politically motivated.

"In different cities around the world, we will show a red card to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's regime, which illegally holds people behind bars,” the group said.

Sentsov, who is being held in the Far Northern Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region, said he began a hunger strike on May 14.

He is demanding the release of 64 Ukrainian citizens that he considers to be political prisoners in Russia.

Politician and media star Ksenia Sobchak told Current Time TV, the Russian language TV network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, that she spoke to Sentsov in a video call on May 31 and tried to persuade him to stop his hunger strike, but he refused.

"'I am not interested in the exchange. I made a decision. I thought about it for a long time. I am the person who is going to the end,'" Sobchak quoted Sentsov as saying.

"He looks very bad. He is very thin. His cheeks are pale, pale. But [he was] very confident in his decision," Sobchak told Current Time TV.

Sentsov, 41, 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."

The prominent Russian human rights group Memorial has recognized Sentsov as a political prisoner, and international rights organizations have called for his release.

Volodymyr Balukh, a pro-Kyiv activist imprisoned by Russian authorities in Crimea in another politically charged case, has been on a hunger strike for nearly two months.

Oyub Titiyev appears in court on May 31.

A judge in Russia's Chechnya region has extended until July 9 the pretrial detention of activist Oyub Titiyev, according to Memorial, the Russian human rights group that Titiyev heads in Chechnya.

Memorial on May 31 called the action of the Grozny court "unjustified" and said Titiyev's attorneys expressed "bewilderment" at the decision.

The 60-year-old Titiyev heads the Chechen office of Memorial. He has been in pretrial detention in Chechnya since his arrest there on January 9 on drug charges that he and his associates say are fabricated.

Titiyev has insisted that drugs found in the car he was driving were planted as evidence against him.

He faces a maximum 10-year prison sentence if convicted.

On May 18, the world governing body of soccer, FIFA, issued a statement saying it was "deeply concerned" about Titiyev's case and urged that he be "granted a fair trial in accordance with international standards."

Russia is set to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup soccer championship from June 14 until July 15. The FIFA statement came in response to a request by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and 13 other international rights groups.

The Chechen capital, Grozny, has been selected as the training base of the Egyptian national team.

HRW has called the charges "bogus" and said the case "seems to be part of an effort by Chechen authorities to shut Memorial out of the region."

HRW on May 3 called on FIFA to use its "leverage" with the Kremlin ahead of the June 14 start of the World Cup to secure Titiyev's unconditional release.

"It is FIFA's view that, as a matter of principle, human rights defenders should be able to perform their work freely and without fear of reprisals," the May 18 FIFA statement said. "FIFA's leadership continues to be personally invested in engagements on the situation of Mr. Titiyev and we hope that a solution can be found in the near future."

Activists have been deeply concerned about human rights abuses in Chechnya under the administration of Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov for many years. In January, Kadyrov called Titiyev a "drug addict" and said human rights defenders in general were "people without kinship, ethnicity, or religion."

Titiyev's predecessor as the head of Memorial's Grozny office, Natalya Estimirova, was abducted and killed in 2009, a case that remains unsolved.

Mikhail Fedotov, head of President Vladimir Putin's advisory council on human rights and civil society, in January called on the Interior Ministry to investigate the possibility that drugs were planted in Titiyev's car. However, the Chechen court on May 24 rejected Titiyev's request to open a criminal case against police, according to Interfax.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the U.S. State Department have also expressed concerns about Titiyev's arrest.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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