Russian investigators want Savchenko trial behind closed doors
A Russian foreign ministry spokesperson claimed recently that the Minsk Agreement does not require release of Nadiya Savchenko. Since the Ukrainian officer was first taken prisoner by Kremlin-backed militants in Ukraine, before ending up in Russian detention, it is difficult to understand how she could be excluded from that agreement. Why the Russian investigators are now seeking to have her ‘trial’ held in closed regime is much more obvious.
Savchenko has rejected the version of events presented by the investigators and is adamant that she was taken to Russia by force. There is no evidence to back the charges of involvement in the death of two Russian journalists, and her lawyers have reported that they can prove that Savchenko was already held prisoner when the journalists died in a mortar attack.
None of this has made the slightest difference of the court which has allowed all the investigators’ demand for her continued detention. An appeal against a forced psychiatric assessment has been deferred until Oct 13. It is not clear when a decision will be made regarding the application for closed court hearings. Since the judge has generally refused to allow Savchenko to attend the court hearings, it seems unlikely that the application will be turned down.
Not all are subject to secrecy, it would seem. On Sept 29 the pro-Kremlin Russian TV channel Life News, which earlier broadcast a heavily edited interview from Savchenko’s cell, revealed video footage of Savchenko leaving the SIZO [pre-trial detention centre]. Savchenko was not asked for permission to broadcast the video footage and her lawyers are planning to complain over the infringement of her privacy. She is now understood to be in a Moscow SIZO, awaiting outcome of the appeal against the plans to subject her to a ‘psychiatric assessment’ at the notorious Serbsky Institute in Moscow.
News of the plans to send her to the Serbsky Institute came at the end of August. Savchenko condemned this ‘examination’ as illegal and a statement was made public by her lawyer Mark Feygin in which she said that she had been “illegally abducted from Ukraine, unlawfully brought to the Russian Federation and is being held here illegally” She said that she would be refusing to speak with the clinic staff; to give any kind of testimony; to answer any questions in writing or verbally; to fill in any forms or undergo any tests.
The Serbsky Institute gained notoriety in Soviet times for its application of punitive psychiatry and concerns that she could be forcibly ‘treated’ with mind-altering drugs are not surprising. In fact, however, her lawyers are less pessimistic, saying that Russian law does strictly prohibit any such abuses. Not all are convinced and concerns have been set out in an appeal signed by a number of Ukrainian psychiatrists, including Semyon Gluzman, a victim of Soviet punitive psychiatry.
Nadiya Savchenko was taken prisoner in the Luhansk oblast by militants from the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic on June 17 or 18. Two days later a video appeared of her being interrogated by the militants. She demonstrated courage during the interrogation and refused to provide the information the militants demanded.
It then transpired that she was being held in a Russian SIZO. She was first remanded in custody by a Voronezh court on July 2, then on July 9 Russia’s Investigative Committee announced that she was being charged with alleged “complicity in the group killing of two or more people carrying out official activities in a publicly hazardous manner for motives of political hatred”.
The investigators claimed that in June, as a member of the Aidar Battalion, Savchenko found out the whereabouts of a group of TV Rossiya journalists and other civilians outside Luhansk, and passed these to fighters who carried out a mortar attack which killed TV Rossiya employees Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin.
They also asserted that Savchenko had crossed the Russian border, without any documents, pretending to be a refugee. They alleged that she had been initially detained to establish her identity.
This story is totally denied by Savchenko who says she was forcibly taken across the border with a bag over her head and in handcuffs. The Russian investigators’ version is also wildly implausible. More details about the holes in the case, and the use of Russian TV to try to conceal them here.
The defence have provided compelling evidence showing that Savchenko had been captured before the Russian journalists were killed. Neither this, nor the discrepancies in the investigators’ story has had any impact on the courts and it seems likely that they are simply handing down the rulings demanded of them. The political nature of the detention and court proceedings is made abundantly clear by the court order from July 3 (and the investigators’ documents). This order refers to the Donbas region of Ukraine as the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics
Nadiya Savchenko was recently registered in Ukraine as the first candidate in Yulia Tymoshenko’s list for the coming parliamentary elections. The move has seemingly been taken with Savchenko’s concent, and has led to protest from Russian MPs.
Russia is presently holding six Ukrainian nationals in custody on very suspicious grounds, with five of them having been taken by force to Russia.
Oleg Sentsov, Oleksandr Kolchenko, Gennady Afanasyev and Oleksy Chirny are all from the Crimea and all actively opposed Russia’s annexation of their homeland. They were arrested at different times in May and after interrogation allegedly with the use of torture were taken to Moscow where they are facing positively far-fetched ‘terrorist’ charges (more details here).
Yury Yatsenko, a final year law student from Lviv has been in custody in the Kursk oblast since May. He was first held with another Ukrainian, Bohdan Yarychevsky, under a deportation order that the authorities were in no hurry to carry out. He was then in August formally remanded on highly dubious charges of ‘smuggling explosives’ (more details here).