This handout picture released by the office of Russia's High Commissioner for Human Rights on August 9, 2018, shows Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov at the 'White Bear' colony in Russia's Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug. (AFP PHOTO/PRESS SERVICE OF RUSSIA'S HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS/HO /-)
Britain's Ken Loach, Canada's David Cronenberg and dozens of other filmmakers called Monday on Russia to free Ukrainian director Oleg Sentsov, who has been on hunger strike for nearly three months in a Siberian jail.
In an open letter in French daily Le Monde, around 120 actors and directors, joined by French Culture Minister Francoise Nyssen, warned that "to do nothing would be to let Oleg Sentsov die" and called on the EU and UN to pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin into freeing him.
"With his health apparently deteriorating rapidly with each passing day, it is time to act. And fast," they wrote.
Sentsov, a 42-year-old filmmaker and Kremlin opponent is serving a 20-year-sentence on terrorism charges after being convicted three years ago of arson in his native Crimea following its annexation by Russia.
Last week, his cousin warned that his health was "catastrophically bad", prompting French President Emmanuel Macron to take up his case in a telephone call with Putin.
Russia has denied any deterioration in his health, but Putin promised to respond to Macron's proposals on ending Sentsov's hunger strike, according to a French statement.
In their letter, the group of mostly European directors, including French-Swiss film legend Jean-Luc Godard, accused Moscow of trying to silence Sentsov.
"Today, a filmmmaker is dying because he is a dissident," they said comparing his plight to that of dissident novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who spent seven years in a Soviet gulag.
Citing claims by Sentsov's lawyers that he has lost 30 kilograms since the start of his fast on May 14, the signatories of the letter said to let him die "would be to accept that one can be killed for one's ideas, opinions and stances."
Sentsov's fate has become a cause celebre in the West, with Johnny Depp and Stephen King among the celebrities campaigning for his release, alongside Western governments.
His lawyer said Friday he was "ready to die" but Russian authorities have consistently played down fears over his health.
In a statement on Saturday, the prison service said he was "not seen to be underweight and a worsening in his state of health is not observed".
It added that it was "taking all the necessary measures", including giving him nutritional supplements to protect his health, which it described as "satisfactory".
Sentsov himself has refused to be taken to hospital.