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Russia verdict due in Ukraine filmmaker's 'terror' trial

The Ukrainian film-maker Oleg Sentsov seen in the North-Caucasian District Military courtroom. ©RIA Novosti The Ukrainian film-maker Oleg Sentsov seen in the North-Caucasian District Military courtroom. ©RIA Novosti

A Russian military court is set on Tuesday to announce its verdict against a Ukrainian filmmaker who faces a lengthy prison term on terror charges in a trial decried by the West, AFP reports.

Oleg Sentsov, 39, is accused of arson attacks on pro-Kremlin party offices in Crimea after it was seized by Russia last March, and of plotting further attacks, including blowing up a Lenin statue in the peninsula's main city of Simferopol.

He and fellow Ukrainian co-defendant Alexander Kolchenko have been held behind bars in Russia since May last year.

The case is being heard in a military court in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, one of only two courts in Russia authorised to hear terrorism cases. Tuesday's hearing is set to open at 1100 GMT.

Prosecutors last week asked for Sentsov to be jailed for 23 years and for Kolchenko, a pro-Kiev activist who opposed Russia's annexation of Crimea, to be sentenced to 12 years. 

The men are being tried as Russians, despite never having applied for citizenship. Both are pleading not guilty. 

In his final trial statement, Sentsov condemned Moscow's rule.

"Your propaganda is very good, but there are also people like you who understand very well that there are no 'fascists' in Ukraine, that Crimea was taken illegally and that your troops are in Donbass," he said of the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine.

Defence lawyer Dmitry Dinze told AFP when the trial started last month that he expected a guilty verdict but hoped the men could be returned to Ukraine in a prisoner exchange.

The men are among 11 Ukrainians held in Russian prisons whom Kiev considers to be political prisoners, according to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin.

These include military pilot Nadiya Savchenko who is currently on trial over the deaths of two Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied that Sentsov and Savchenko are prisoners of war.

    'Show trial' 

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has called for Sentsov and Kolchenko's immediate release.

Amnesty International condemned the case as a "show trial" that was "rife with irregularities", in a statement released ahead of the verdict. 

It has called for the men to be tried in a civilian court and for Russia to "investigate all allegations of torture and other ill-treatment of defendants and witnesses in the case".

Defence lawyers say witnesses have been tortured to produce testimony implicating Sentsov and Kolchenko in activities involving Ukrainian far-right organisation Right Sector, which is banned in Russia. 

Two witnesses against Sentsov and Kolchenko have already been sentenced to lengthy terms in connection with the case after refusing to testify in court.

Acclaimed filmmakers from across the globe, including Spain's Pedro Almodovar and Britain's Mike Leigh, have written to Russian President Vladimir Putin expressing concern over the prosecution of Sentsov, an up-and-coming director, whose debut feature "Gamer" was shown at the Berlin Film Festival in 2012.

Russian film director Andrei Zvyagintsev, whose latest film "Leviathan" won a Golden Globe, wrote in a letter published in Novaya Gazeta newspaper on Monday that it was "monstrous to jail a young man, a promising filmmaker for 23 years".

Zvyagintsev called for Russia to "either release him or only try him for what you can prove irrefutably".

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