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Canada to Russia: Release political prisoner after 100 days on hunger strike

FILE - Oleg Sentsov sits behind glass in a cage at a court room in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, Tuesday, July 21, 2015.
FILE - Oleg Sentsov sits behind glass in a cage at a court room in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, Tuesday, July 21, 2015. AP Photo

Canada is calling on Russia to release Ukrainian political prisoner Oleg Sentsov after his ongoing hunger strike passed its 100th day on August 21.

Chrystia Freeland tweeted, “Calling on #Russia to release Ukrainian political prisoners. Canada is very concerned about [Sentsov’s] condition. We call on Russia to free him.”

Sentsov is a filmmaker originally from Crimea who is a vocal opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s takeover of the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. He was convicted in 2015 by Russia for plotting acts of terror against the country and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

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In May 2018, Sentsov began his hunger strike to protest his arrest and demand the release of 70 Ukrainian prisoners.

READ MORE: Edmonton woman hopes to spur Canadian action to help Ukrainian political prisoner Oleg Sentsov

Russia quickly responded to Freeland’s tweet, stating that the demands to free Sentsov were “beyond any international legal norm” and amounted to “blatant interference in domestic affairs.”

Canada will continue to press for the release of Sentsov and other political prisoners despite political pressure from Russia, Freeland’s office told Global News Thursday.

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“It is [Canada’s] belief that we should stand up for the people of Ukraine, including people like Oleg Sentsov, and advocate for their condition,” Adam Austen, press secretary to the minister of foreign affairs, told Global News. “We believe his cause is the right one which is why the ministry has been active publicly on this issue.”
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Sentsov’s family has recently stated that his condition is critical, although Russia denies such an account, citing that he has been consuming a “nutritive mix” five times a day since June 6, and his most recent medical assessment shows his health is not in danger.

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Canada has also been accused by Saudi Arabia of interfering in its affairs after Freeland tweeted for the release of Saudi Arabian women’s rights activists on August 2. Saudi Arabia retaliated to the tweets by expelling Canada’s foreign ambassador, suspending all business and trade between the two countries, and ending thousands of Saudi scholarship programs in Canada, among other measures.

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