The 2018 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought has been awarded to imprisoned Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov.
Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament, said: “Through his courage and determination, by putting his life in danger, the film maker Oleg Sentsov has become a symbol of the struggle for the release of political prisoners held in Russia and around the world. By awarding him the 2018 Sakharov Prize, the European Parliament is expressing its solidarity with him and his cause. We ask that he be released immediately. His struggle reminds us that it is our duty to defend human rights everywhere in the world and in all circumstances.”
In 2015 Sentsov was sentenced to 20 years in prison for “plotting terrorist acts” in protest against Russian occupation of Crimea, in a court process described by Amnesty International as “an unfair trial before a military court”. In May this year he began a hunger strike which lasted 145 days, ending in October only under the threat of being force fed. Supporters hope receiving the 2018 Sakharov Prize will increase pressure on Russia to consider releasing Sentsov, who is considered a political prisoner by Amnesty and who came close to death during his hunger strike.
From a shortlist of eight nominees chosen by the European Committees for Development, Foreign Affairs and Human Rights, three finalists including Sentsov were chosen by the Foreign Affairs and Development Committees. The other 2018 Sakharov Prize finalists were NGOs protecting the human rights of migrants across the Mediterranean Sea and Nasser Zefzafi, the leader of Moroccan protest movement Hirak. Senstsov was chosen by the European Conference of Presidents.
The Sakharov Prize, named for the Soviet physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov and awarded annually since 1988, is given to individuals and organisations which defend human rights and fundamental freedoms. Previous Sakharov winners include Pakistani feminist activist Malala Yousafzai, Congolese anti-female genital mutilation campaigner Denis Mukwege – who would go on to win the Nobel Peace Prize this year – and inaugural Sakharov laureate Nelson Mandela. The presentation of the 2018 Sakharov Prize, a certificate and €50,000, will take place in December; Oleg Sentsov is unlikely to attend.