NEW YORK—Authors Chimamanda Adichie, Jonathan Franzen, and Masha Gessen, film giants Wim Wenders and Agnieszka Holland, television hosts Trevor Noah and Samantha Bee, and other creative allies joined PEN America today in a letter calling on U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to press for the immediate release of Oleg Sentsov, a Ukrainian writer and filmmaker imprisoned in Siberia on terrorism charges widely considered to be a groundless attempt to silence his criticism of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Sentsov, who is the writer and director of two short films as well as the 2011 feature film Gamer, which screened at the 2012 International Film Festival Rotterdam, was active in protesting Russian incursions in Crimea and Ukraine more broadly. Sentsov’s “voice of opposition in Ukraine made him a ripe target for Russian stifling of dissent,” the letter reads. “Given President Putin’s brazen willingness to flout human rights norms and the rule of law, and his relentless targeting of dissenting writers, artists, activists, and politicians, it would be irresponsible to ignore Sentsov’s plight.”
PEN America’s letter comes on the third anniversary of Oleg Sentsov’s arrest and disappearance from Crimea on May 10, 2014. Sentsov surfaced in Moscow and later said he had been tortured in an unsuccessful effort to extract a confession. His trial was riddled with irregularities, and the lead prosecution witness later recanted his testimony, saying it had been made under duress. Sentsov is currently serving a 20-year sentence in a Siberian penal colony. The charges against him have been decried by human rights groups worldwide as fabrications intended to shut down and intimidate opponents of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. Sentsov is the father of two young children.
“Oleg Sentsov put his artistic career at risk to take a stand for his country and against Russian invasion,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America. “The baselessness of the charges against him and President Putin’s refusal to face up to the injustice are marks of the cruelty and indifference that characterizes this regime. Sentsov should be freed, reunited with his young children, and allowed to continue his creative work as a filmmaker.”
Sentsov was honored with the 2017 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award at the annual PEN America Literary Gala on April 25. The award was accepted by Sentsov’s cousin, Natalya Kaplan, who was joined in New York by Ukrainian Parliamentarian Mustafa Nayyem and human rights expert Halya Coynash. After learning of the award, Sentsov sent a letter from prison that was read at the event by actor Alan Cumming. Dozens of writers, artists, and activists—including actress Meryl Streep and composer Stephen Sondheim—have since joined the campaign for Senstov’s freedom, launching online today with the hashtag #FreeSentsov.
Videos (for editorial use only):
2017 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award: Oleg Sentsov (Credit PEN America/Yahoo! Studios): youtube.com/watch?v=AblwZ3WXzwk
Alan Cumming reads from Oleg Sentsov’s PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award acceptance letter at the PEN America Literary Gala on April 25 in New York City (Credit: PEN America): youtube.com/watch?v=X9BfgLl3q9g
Images (for editorial use only):
Artist’s rendering of Oleg Sentsov by Molly Crabapple (Credit: Molly Crabapple/PEN America): flickr.com/photos/penamericancenter/34412286541
Meryl Streep and Mustafa Nayyem pose in support of Oleg Sentsov at the PEN America Literary Gala on April 25 in New York City (Credit: Beowulf Sheehan/PEN America): flickr.com/photos/penamericancenter/34247364306
Writer George Packer, Macmillan CEO John Sargent, and author Philip Gourevitch pose in support of Oleg Sentsov at the PEN America Literary Gala on April 25 in New York City (Credit: Beowulf Sheehan/PEN America): flickr.com/photos/penamericancenter/33445386714
Trevor Noah of The Daily Show sends a message of support to Oleg Sentsov at the PEN World Voices Festival on May 3 in New York City (Credit: Beowulf Sheehan/PEN America):flickr.com/photos/penamericancenter/33696128794
Chimamanda Adichie sends a message of support to Oleg Sentsov at the PEN World Voices Festival on May 3 in New York City (Credit: Beowulf Sheehan/PEN America):flickr.com/photos/penamericancenter/33696131274
Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards poses in support of Oleg Sentsov at the PEN World Voices Festival on May 4 in New York City (Credit: Beowulf Sheehan/PEN America): flickr.com/photos/penamericancenter/33728066933
More photos available at bit.ly/pen-free-sentsov-photos