Russian Rights Official Visits Hunger-Striking Sentsov In Prison

MOSCOW -- A member of Russia's Presidential Advisory Council On Human Rights, Zoya Svetova, says the state of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov's health is "bad" as a result of his three-month hunger strike in a Russian prison.

Svetova made the remarks to RFE/RL on August 14 after she spent two hours visiting with Sentsov at a penal colony in Labytnangi in Russia's northern region of Yamalo-Nenets.

She said her meeting with Sentsov was conducted in the presence of the penal colony's warden and two other police officers.

Svetova said Sentsov himself described his health condition as "precritical," adding that the doctor who treats the filmmaker warned that Sentsov's internal organs may stop functioning any time unless he ends his hunger strike.

"He does not plan to stop the hunger strike," Svetova said. "He believes in his noble goal. He did all he could and says that now everything depends on a political decision. He does not see any other way at this point than to continue his hunger strike."

Svetova's visit came hours after the meeting was approved by Russia's Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) on August 14.

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 -- charges he and human rights groups say were politically motivated.

Sentsov, 42, has been on a hunger strike there since mid-May and is demanding that Russia release 64 Ukrainian citizens he considers political prisoners.

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

On August 10, French President Emmanuel Macron raised the issue of Sentsov's plight during a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin promised "to respond and quickly release details on Sentsov's health," the French presidency said.

'Catastrophically Bad' Health

Meanwhile, the European Union on August 10 urged Russian authorities to move Sentsov to a medical facility and give him appropriate medical care.

Sentsov's lawyer, Dmitry Dinze, said on August 10 that Sentsov was "ready to die" and after visiting him on August 7 said his client had lost 30 kilograms.

On August 11, the FSIN rejected Dinze's statement, saying his remarks about Sentsov's losing 30 kilograms "does not correspond to reality," and adding that Sentsov did not require emergency hospitalization.

Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini, said the EU expected Russia "to provide [Sentsov] with appropriate treatment in an institutionalized medical setting."

Sentsov is currently being sustained with water and a drip with glucose and vitamins. In addition to losing 30 kilograms, Dinze also said earlier this week that Sentsov's heart rate had slowed and his red blood cell levels were very low.

A cousin of Sentsov said on August 8 that the filmmaker was in a "catastrophically bad" state of health and could be close to death.

Ukrainian Ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova said on August 9 that "rapid actions" were needed to save Sentsov's life.

Several governments and prominent figures have called on Putin to pardon Sentsov. But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said he would have to formally request a pardon himself before it could be considered.

Sentsov has said he will not ask for a pardon because he has not committed a crime.

With reporting by RTVi