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Rights Group of the Week: Team 29

posted 12 Dec 2016, 03:28 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 12 Dec 2016, 04:07 ]
Human rights lawyers from Team 29, an informal association of lawyers based in St. Petersburg, say that the case of Oksana Sevastidiserving a seven-year prison sentence for high treason, is just one of at least 10 people convicted by a Krasnodar court under Article 275 of the Russian Criminal Code of treason or espionage between 2013 and 2016. Team 29 have not learned the full names of all the defendants in these cases, but they identified the convicting judge as Vladimir Kobzev. Ivan Pavlov, the leading lawyer of Team 29 who specializes in freedom of information and treason cases, was hired this month by Memorial Human Rights Centre to act for Sevastidi. As RFE/RL points out, 'Last year, he successfully defended Svetlana Davydova, a woman from Vyazma who was accused of reporting Russian troop movements to the Ukrainian Embassy. The charges against Davydova were dropped for lack of evidence and the Prosecutor-General's Office sent her a written apologyPavlov is now trying to get permission to appeal Sevastidi's verdict, even though her initial attorney failed to meet the filing deadline.'

As quoted by RFE/RL, Ivan Pavlov said: "Sevastidi has filed a complaint with the Krasnodar Krai Chamber of Attorneys about her previous lawyer. In it, she confirmed that she asked him to appeal the sentence. Now our colleague will have to answer a lot of questions that are likely to come up among the members of the qualifications commission of the Chamber of Attorneys."

As Caucasian Knot reports, Ivan Pavlov has said: "In this case, I'm interested in three completely illogical details. Why is the verdict pronounced in 2016 based on the events of 2008? It turns out that nobody was prosecuted for the crime for 8 years? And how can the movement of open military cargo, which could be seen by everyone who appeared along the railroad road and who could shoot pictures and videos of it, be classified as a state secret?" Among the issues that need to be questioned in Sevastidi's case, according to Pavlov, then, are the following:

1) The text messages that Sevastidi sent mentioned trains loaded with military hardware that were sitting at the Sochi train station - there was no attempt to hide the trains or stop people photographing them.
2) If the messages were sent in early 2008, why did prosecutors only investigate them in January 2015?
3) Moscow has said it had not planned to enter a conflict with Georgia: the fighting only began in August 2008.

In November 2014, the court sentenced another Sochi resident, Yekaterina Kharebayeva, to six years in prison for espionage. Her defense lawyers also say the charges stem from an SMS she sent about the movement of Russian military equipment. Earlier this year, she was released and sent to Georgia as part of an exchange of convicted Russian and Georgian citizens. According to Caucasian Knot: 'Leonid Erchenko, the chair of the branch of the Moscow Bar Association "DELO" in the city of Sochi, has called the verdict to Ekaterina Kharebava an "act of intimidation." Leonid Erchenko notes he cannot understand how SMS sent in 2008 can become a basis for a charge.' The Interpreter reports that Kharebayeva 'recounted that once she arrived in the labor colony, she came across Inga Tutsiani, who had also sent a text message to a friend in Georgia and was sentenced in June 2014. Kharebayeva reported that she had also found Marina Dzhandzhgava, sentenced to 12 years for state treason. Mana Kapanadze, a fourth woman, was sentenced in July 2014, also for state treason.'

In a recent report, Team 29 wrote: "We do not know and maybe never will learn all the names and the circumstances of their detentions. From the FSB basement where the courts are held, the defendants are sent to unknown locations and no one takes any further interest in them." Team 29 conclude: "Who is being tried there right now, no one knows. Most likely, we will only learn the names after they turn up in a prison camp." [Translation by RFE/RL]

Memorial Human Rights Centre has declared by Oksana Sevastidi and Ekaterina Kharebayeva to be political prisoners.

Team-29 is an informal association of lawyers and journalists that was set up to continue the work of the Freedom of Information Foundation, dedicated to defending the right to access to information, that suspended its activities after it had been designated as a 'foreign agent' NGO. The Team is named after Article 29 of the Russian Constitution that provides for the right to freely look for, receive, transmit, produce and distribute information. Led by prominent St. Petersburg human rights lawyer Ivan Pavlov, Team-29 has made a name for itself assisting individuals, journalists, and organizations in defending their constitutional right of access to information in the courts. Examples cited on the Team-29 website include a legal challenge to the Presidential Decree that sought to classify information on military losses in peace time; the defence of historians' right of access to the archives of Soviet security bodies; and the right to know how local government spends taxpayers' money. Among its other activities, Team-29 has also published advice on a number of important issues that are of increasing relevance to human rights defenders and civil society activists, for example, how to behave if you are questioned by law enforcement, what to do if the security services show an interest in you, or what to do if you are threatened online

'«Я этого не говорила»Как в Краснодарском крае судят за шпионаж и государственную измену,' Team 29
'Advocates claim spy hysteria in Kuban,' Caucasian Knot, 7 December 2016
Lyubov Chizhova, Andrei Sharogradsky, Robert Coalson, 'Seven Years For An SMS: Activists Alarmed Over Southern Russia Treason Convictions,' RFE/RL, 6 December 2016
Catherine A. Fitzpatrick, 'Human Rights Lawyers Discover 5 Cases of Russian Women Imprisoned for State Treason Related to Georgia,' The Interpreter, 6 December 2016
'«Прокурор мне даже слова не дал сказать в свое оправдание» Интервью Оксаны Севастиди, которую посадили по обвинению в госизмене за смс восьмилетней давности,' Meduza, 5 December 2016
'Russian Woman Jailed For High Treason Wants To Appeal Sentence,' RFE/RL, 2 December 2016