October 5, 2018 / 8:54 AM / 8 months ago

Ukrainian filmmaker imprisoned in Russia ends hunger strike

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Ukrainian film director jailed in Russia on terrorism charges said on Friday he had been forced to end a prolonged hunger strike because prison authorities had told him they planned to force feed him.

FILE PHOTO: Barbed wire and placards with images of Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov are seen after a rally demanding the release of Sentsov, who was jailed on terrorism charges and is currently on hunger strike in Russian jail, in front of the Russian embassy in Kiev, Ukraine August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

Oleg Sentsov has rejected solid food since May in protest over Russia’s human rights record and his case has been taken up by politicians and writers in the West who say he was unjustly jailed and should be freed.

A native of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula who opposed the region’s annexation by Russia in 2014, Sentsov says his original conviction was politically-motivated. He was jailed in 2015 for planning terrorist attacks there, a charge he denied.

Sentsov said on Friday that his medical condition was critical and that he had decided to abandon his hunger strike after the authorities told him they planned to force feed him imminently.

“My opinion is not being taken into account. Apparently I’m not in a condition to assess my level of health and the danger threatening it,” Sentsov, 42, wrote in a statement passed to the Novaya Gazeta newspaper by his lawyer.

“Force feeding will be carried out as part of intensive care measures to save a patient’s life. In such conditions, I have to stop my hunger strike from tomorrow,” it read.

Valery Maksimenko, the deputy head of Russia’s prison service, was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying dietologists were working with Sentsov to ensure he started eating in a way that would allow him to return to full health.

A Russian military court sentenced Sentsov to 20 years in a maximum security prison in 2015 after finding him guilty of setting fire to two offices in Crimea, including one belonging to Russia’s ruling political party. Sentsov was also convicted of plotting to blow up a statue.

The European Union said the case was “in breach of international law” and the U.S. State Department called it a “clear miscarriage of justice”.

“145 days of struggle, minus 20 kilograms, plus an exhausted body, but the goal has still not been reached,” Sentsov said in his statement. “I am grateful to all those who supported me and I ask for the forgiveness of those I have failed.”

Editing by Peter Graff/Andrew Osborn

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