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Report: the case of Nadiya Savchenko. The trial of the Ukrainian political prisoner may be held in Voronezh

1. Introduction

Member of the Ukrainian Parliament and a PACE delegate, Nadiya Savchenko, has been illegally incarcerated in Russia for almost 11 months now. During this time, she has become one of the most famous political prisoners in the world. Contrary to the principles of international law and provisions of Russian legislation, Savchenko is being held in custody awaiting trial for a crime she did not commit.

Against the backdrop of the real war between Ukraine and Russia, Nadiya Savchenko seems to be a hostage in the hands of the Russian authorities who use her as a bargaining chip in the negotiations in the international arena.

The international community has unanimously called on Russia to adhere to its international obligations, as well as the generally accepted standards of international law and to immediately release the Ukrainian woman.

Nadiya Savchenko’s defence has provided convincing evidence of her innocence in the case of the murder of Russian journalists, but the court has ignored the arguments and refused to close the criminal case.

In addition, the Russian authorities, represented by the investigative authorities and the court pointedly further aggravate the situation of Nadiya Savchenko; they initiated the second criminal case against her on charges of illegally crossing the Russian border.

The criminal case against the Ukrainian woman is based on entirely improbable information, which once again proves its fabrication. For example, the case file indicates that over the 11 months of the investigation, more than 108,000 witnesses have been interrogated.

Recent developments in the case of Savchenko indicate that soon, the case is going to be transferred to court for consideration of its merits. Counsels of the Ukrainian political prisoner fear that the case may be transferred from Moscow to Voronezh in order to shroud the trial from the public. In this connection, Savchenko requires even more attention from the international community and governments of democratic states.

2. Russia does not fulfil its international obligations

2.1. The PACE confirmed that Savchenko enjoys European parliamentary immunity but Russia refuses to recognise it

From 26 January, 2015 to 30 January, 2015, a regular session of the PACE was held in Strasbourg. However, Nadiya Savchenko, who is a delegate from Ukraine, was unable to attend the event as the investigation committee (IC) of the Russian Federation refused to alter the preventive measure against her to such an extent that it does not involve pre-trial incarceration.

On 26 January, 2015, during a meeting of the PACE Bureau, the issue was discussed that Nadiya Savchenko, being a delegate of PACE, could not attend the session of the organisation. Following the meeting, the PACE President Anne Brasseur stated that Russia should lift all restrictions, banning the delegate of the organisation from going to the meetings.

By a majority vote, the PACE Bureau decided to recognise Savchenko’s authorisation as a PACE delegate, despite the fact that she is in prison and cannot go to Strasbourg in order to attend the meeting in person.

On 28 January, 2015, the PACE adopted a resolution, according to which the regime of sanctions against Russia (the deprivation of the Russian delegation of voting rights to the PACE, as well as the ban on participation in the governing bodies of the organisation) was extended. In addition, the PACE resolution put forward, as one of the main demands to the government of the Russian Federation, the release of political prisoners Nadiya Savchenko and Oleg Sentsov. The Open Dialog Foundation hereby welcomes the opportunity, provided by various political groups in the PACE, to present reports on the case of Nadiya Savchenko and violations by Russia of international treaties and obligations both during personal meetings and at public hearings. In particular, on the invitation of the Open Dialog Foundation, Mark Feygin, Nadiya Savchenko’s counsel, arrived in Strasbourg. He took part in a number of meetings with individual delegates and PACE political groups, with PACE President Anne Brasseur, as well as the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human RightsNils Muižnieks. During the meeting, Mark Feygin detailed gross violations in the case of Savchenko and requested help in bringing about the liberation of the Ukrainian woman and voicing strong condemnation of numerous violations of international law by Russia. Also, through the efforts of the Open Dialog Foundation and with the support of parliamentarians Pieter Omtzigt and Frank Schwabe, a side-event, dedicated to the case of Savchenko and violations of international treaties and commitments by Russia, was organised in Strasbourg.

On the same day (28 January, 2015), the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs of PACE (the PACE Committee) prepared a special report which interprets the provisions of the Charter of the PACE, and the General Agreement on Privileges and Immunities of the Council of Europe regarding the immunity of PACE delegates, and, particularly, with respect to Nadiya Savchenko. According to the Committee: “Members of the Parliamentary Assembly enjoy European parliamentary immunity (…) it (the immunity – Ed.) is absolute in nature, based on international law and shall be subject to interpretation solely by the Parliamentary Assembly; the immunity of the Assembly members also applies to all cases of prosecution, carried out against them before their parliamentary authorities in relation to acts committed before their entry into office in the Assembly, which means that any prosecution that has already been initiated, must be terminated for their term of office”. It follows from this that Nadiya Savchenko enjoys the immunity of the PACE despite the fact that the criminal case against her had been filed even before she received the status of ‘delegate’ of this organisation.

Based on this conclusion, on 13 March, 2015, Nadiya Savchenko’s defence filed a motion in the IC of the Russian Federation to obtain from the Russian Foreign Ministry, information on Savchenko’s immunity from prosecution and arrest, as well as to alter the measure of restraint with regard to her in order to allow her to attend the PACE session of April 2015.

On 16 March, 2015, investigator of the IC of the RF, Dmitriy Manshin signed a decision rejecting the filed motion. This was done on the basis of auto interpretation of the PACE legal acts by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. Despite the official conclusion of the PACE Committee of 28 January, 2015, the Russian Foreign Ministry stated that the immunity of a PACE delegate is allegedly ‘functional’ in nature, i.e. it applies only to acts, committed by officials during the performance of their official duties, and therefore, it does not apply to Nadiya Savchenko, as the alleged offence was committed by her before the obtainment of the status of a PACE delegate by her.

On 29 April, 2015, the European Parliament adopted a special resolution on the case of Nadiya Savchenko, which confirmed that she has been granted international immunity as a PACE delegate, which Russia is obliged to respect under international obligations.

The Basmanny District Court of Moscow did not recognise the granting of immunity to Nadiya Savchenko as a PACE delegate and violated the principle of the primacy of international law over domestic law, which is enshrined in the Constitution of the RF.

2.2. Russia continues to hold Nadiya Savchenko in custody in violation of the Minsk Agreements

On 12 February, 2015, in Minsk, the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements, aimed at de-escalating the armed conflict in the east of Ukraine (the so-called ‘The Second Minsk Agreement’). The document was agreed between the leaders of four countries (Germany, Russia, Ukraine and France) and signed by representatives of Russia, Ukraine, the OSCE, as well as leaders of the unrecognised Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.

According to the 6th paragraph of the agreement: the release and exchange of all hostages and illegally detained persons should be ensured based on the ‘all for all’ principle”.

On the day of the signing of the agreement, President Poroshenko hastened to declare that as a result of the Minsk talks, an agreement on the immediate release of Nadiya Savchenko had been reached. Nevertheless, as early as on 13 February, 2015, Vladimir Putin’s Press Secretary, Dmitriy Peskov stated that Russia gave no guarantees regarding Savchenko during the talks in Minsk. In turn, the head of the Investigative Committee of the RF, Vladimir Markin, enunciated that there are no grounds for the release of Nadiya Savchenko, and the investigative bodies supposedly have irrefutable proof of her guilt (which, nevertheless, has yet to be demonstrated in court). When commenting on the criminal case against Savchenko, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that her fate would be decided in a Russian court.

Representatives of Western countries and international institutions unanimously take the position that Nadiya Savchenko should be released in accordance with the agreements, concluded in Minsk.

And so, on 14 February, 2015, representative of the US State Department, Jen Psaki, stated at a press conference that the agreement, signed in Minsk, provides for the exchange of all hostages and illegally detained persons, who were taken prisoner during the conflict in the east of Ukraine. According to Psaki, the US State Department takes the view that the agreement also applies to Nadiya Savchenko.

On 20 February, 2015, during a telephone conversation between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko it was stressed that Nadiya Savchenko should be released under the agreement, signed in Minsk.

On 26 February, 2015, the press service of the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini stated that the EU calls on Russia to release Nadiya Savchenko on humanitarian grounds. “This would be consistent with the recently agreed Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements, which provided for the release of all hostages and detainees, related to the conflict in Ukraine“, – the statement read.

On 20 April, 2015, PACE President Anne Brasseur also called for “the release of Nadiya Savchenko on humanitariangrounds and in accordance with the Minsk-II“.

3. The term of arrest of Nadiya Savchenko has been further extended

On 6 May, 2015, the Basmanny District Court of Moscow, in addition to the consideration of the complaint of counsels regarding the denial of the IC of the RF to release Nadiya Savchenko for the PACE session, also held a meeting on the extension of the Ukrainian woman’s term of arrest.

Representatives of the public prosecution applied for the extension of her arrest until 30 June, 2015. Conversely, Savchenko’s counsels insisted on altering the measure of restraint so that it would not involve detention.

Quite predictably, Judge Natalia Mushnikova granted the motion of the prosecution in full extending the term of arrest of Nadiya Savchenko until 30 June, 2015 (in the meantime the term of arrest was already extended until 30 September, 2015).

On 6 May, 2015, during the court hearing, some new details of the criminal case against Nadiya Savchenko became known. Thus, according to the case file, after several days spent in captivity in the hands of LPR militants, the Ukrainian woman was simply released. At the same time, it is also known that the leader of LPR militants, Igor Plotnitskiy, had previously reported that Savchenko allegedly escaped from captivity during an air strike of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in Lugansk. Nadiya herself claims that she was transferred into the hands of the Russian secret services with the direct involvement of Plotnitskiy.

Also, the petition stated that over the 11 months of the preliminary investigation of the criminal case against Savchenko, 108,142 people were interrogated, including 21,827 victims. This figure seems absolutely improbable, especially considering the fact that it was allegedly carried out within less than a year.

As the court hearing regarding the extension of the period of her detention was the second she attended that day, the health condition of Nadiya Savchenko, who has not yet recovered from an 80-day hunger strike, deteriorated. Therefore, an ambulance was called and the hearing was adjourned. Following the provision of medical assistance by doctors, who arrived at the court, the Ukrainian woman began to recover, and the court hearing was resumed. It is probable that two hearings were held on the same day in order to minimise the number of newsworthy events related to the case of Savchenko.

4. Russian authorities make attempts to ‘shroud’ the trial on the case of Savchenko from the public

On 7 May, 2015, the criminal case against Nadiya Savchenko was bifurcated by the IC of the RF into a separate proceeding. Previously, it had been investigated as part of a single huge criminal case initiated in connection with crimes committed by representatives of Ukraine’s law enforcement agencies and senior officials in the Donetsk and Lugansk provinces.

On 21 May, 2015, the counsel of the Ukrainian political prisoner, Mark Feygin, reported that the preliminary investigation in the case of Savchenko had come to an end. Further, according to the standards of the Code of Criminal Procedure, Nadiya should become acquainted with the case file, which consists of 24 volumes. As reported to the Open Dialog Foundation by Mark Feygin, a trial on the merits of the case is to be expected sometime in late summer, as this period is the peak of the holiday season, thus the matter will attract a minimum amount of attention from the international community. Similarly, the famous trial against Pussy Riot, in which Mark Feygin was also a defender, was held in mid-August.

Savchenko's lawyer

Mark Feygin

about Ukrainian cases in RF

“I know unofficially that, in respect of all Ukrainian high-profile cases, a decision was made to move their consideration from Moscow. The cases of Sentsov and Kolchenko will be considered in Rostov-on-Don, the case of Karpyuk – in Vladikavkaz, and the case of Savchenko – in Voronezh”

Should this transpire, communication between Nadiya Savchenko and her counsels will be limited, as the distance between Moscow and Voronezh is approx. 500 km, and it is possible that the counsels may even have to move to Voronezh for the duration of the trial.

It will also impede the process of monitoring of the trial by international community. Journalists, diplomats and observers from international organisations will have more difficulties getting to a regional city in Russia in order to attend the court hearings.

On 12 May, 2015, investigator in the case of Savchenko, Dmitriy Bokunovich made attempts to compel Mark Feygin to sign a confidentiality statement, banning him from disclosing information regarding the preliminary investigation, but the lawyer refused to do so. Later, the refusal was officially registered in the presence of witnesses. Attempts were also made to compel Nadiya’s other defenders – Ilya Novikov and Nikolay Polozov (on 13 May, 2015 and 15 May, 2015, respectively) to sign a confidentiality statement; both counsels refused to do so. Nikolay Polozov’s refusal was also registered in the presence of witnesses. Such actions by investigators can be viewed as an attempt to conceal violations in the case from the public, as well as to silence the counsels using the threat of criminal liability. This is not the first case in which the investigative bodies have strived to demand that Savchenko’s counsels sign a confidentiality statement. In October 2014, the counsels refused to do so. At that time, the investigators threatened to withdraw them from the case.

5. International community continues to support Nadiya Savchenko and demands her immediate release

The international community and governments of democratic countries do not cease in their attempts to defend the illegally detained Ukrainian woman, Nadiya Savchenko, urging Russia to immediately release her.

In February 2015, Nadiya’s mother, Maria Savchenko received a letter from the German Chancellor’s adviser on foreign policy and security Christoph Heusgen, stating that Angela Merkel and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier will continue to insist on the immediate release of the Ukrainian political prisoner and that they had repeatedly raised this issue with Russian officials.

As part of an action of solidarity with N. Savchenko, a number of MEPs went on a symbolic hunger strike:

  • a Lithuanian: Petras Austrevicius
  • a Spaniard: Beatriz Basterechea
  • a Lithuanian: Antanas Guoga
  • a Pole: Julia Pitera
  • a Czech man: Pavel Svoboda
  • a Lithuanian: Gabrielyus Landsbergis
  • a Belgian Marc Demesmaker

On 25 February, 2015, in Moscow, during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Chairman of the French Senate Gerard Larcher raised the issue of the release of Nadiya Savchenko, but received no concrete guarantees from the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry.

On 27 February, 2015, when commenting on the case of Savchenko, Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Michael Georg Link recalled that in 1991, in Moscow, the OSCE Member States agreed to grant detainees due respect for their human dignity and to respect international standards in the administration of justice. All States must continue to work in order to bring about the observance of the right to a fair trial and freedom from arbitrary arrest or incarceration, – Link stated.

On 2 March, 2015, President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko signed a decree granting Nadiya Savchenko the title of the ‘Hero of Ukraine’. “Nadiya Savchenko became a symbol of resilience of the Ukrainian spirit… the symbol of our victory”, – the President of Ukraine enunciated.

On 19 April, 2015, in New York, near the building of the Russian Mission to the United Nations, a rally was held in support of Nadiya Savchenko. The event was attended by approx. 100 people – mostly US citizens, as well as representatives of the Ukrainian, Russian, Belarusian, Georgian and Moldovan communities in the USA. The rally was also attended by Nadiya’s mother, Maria Savchenko, who arrived in New York in order to meet with the permanent representatives of the US and Lithuania to the UN, Samantha Power and Raymond Murmokayte. She also met with representatives of human rights organisations: Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, as well as with Ivan Šimonović, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights.

On 22 April, 2015, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine voted for the resolution on the introduction of personal sanctions against those responsible for the unlawful detention of Nadiya Savchenko in the Russian Federation. The list of such persons was drawn up based on ‘the Savchenko list’ which was prepared by the Open Dialog Foundation.

The Open Dialog Foundation also sent the ‘Savchenko list’ for review to the head of the US Helsinki Commission, Congressman Chris Smith; President of PACE, Anne Brasseur and President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz.

On 29 April, 2015, the European Parliament adopted a special resolution with respect to Nadiya Savchenko. MEPs called for the immediate release of Nadiya Savchenko. The resolution noted that Russia has no legal basis or jurisdiction for any action against Savchenko, including her incarceration and the presentation of charges. The resolution also stated that Nadiya Savchenko is a prisoner of war, and keeping her in detention constitutes a violation by Russia of the Geneva Convention.

On 5 May, 2015, the US State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke stated that the department is concerned over the Russian authorities’ intention to extend the term of arrest with regard to Nadiya Savchenko. We hereby call on the Russian authorities to immediately release Nadiya Savchenko and other Ukrainian hostages, in accordance with the obligations assumed by Russia by signing the Minsk Agreements, – Rathke stated.

On 11 May, 2015, on Nadiya Savchenko’s 34th birthday, different cities around the world (Berlin, Warsaw, Kiev, New York, Turin and others) held rallies in support of the Ukrainian political prisoner #FreeSavchenko. Activists sent her words of support and solidarity, and demanded that the Russian authorities released her immediately.

On 11 May, 2015, three protest actions were held simultaneously in Moscow near the detention centre-1 ‘Matrosskaya Tishina’ (where Nadiya Savchenko is being held in custody), near the building of the Federal Security Service of Russia; also, a picket was organised on Manezhnaya Square. The rallies were attended by several dozen people who demanded the release of the Ukrainian woman. Law enforcement agencies labelled the actions ‘illegal’ and detained approx. 20 people, including four journalists covering the event.

On 12 May, 2015, during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, US Secretary of State John Kerry stated that the issue of release of the political prisoner Nadiya Savchenko is very important for the United States and the United Nations.

6. Conclusions

The abduction of Nadiya Savchenko from the territory of Ukraine and the initiation of a criminal case against her on trumped-up charges constitute blatant violations of international legal standards and fundamental human rights. Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, is openly employing gangster methods, showing disrespect for the decades-long formation of the system of international law.

In the case of Nadiya Savchenko, the Russian Federation has committed a number of violations of international treaties which Russia is a signatory to, namely: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, The Third Geneva Convention, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the General Agreement on Privileges and Immunities of the Council of Europe.

By violating international standards, the Russian authorities also neglect their own legislation, which establishes the primacy of international law over domestic law (Article 15, section 4 of the Constitution of the RF).

By keeping Nadiya Savchenko in custody, contrary to their own commitments and calls from the international community, Russia has shown an unwillingness to engage in a constructive dialogue in order to resolve the conflict in the east of Ukraine.

In this connection, the Open Dialog Foundation considers it advisable not only to maintain the existing regime of sanctions against Russia by the democratic countries of the world, but also to extend it. In particular, the suspension of Russia’s membership in the UN Security Council, through which Russia constantly blocks constructive initiatives to resolve the conflict in the east of Ukraine, is a pressing issue. It is also necessary to introduce personal sanctions against the persons included in the ‘Savchenko list’.

We hereby call on the international community (international organisations and institutions, as well as the governments of democratic countries – EU member states, Australia, Canada, USA and Japan) to exert further pressure on the Russian authorities in order to bring about the release of the Ukrainian political prisoner Nadiya Savchenko. We also call for the prevention of the consideration of her case by the court of Voronezh, as this would impede the monitoring of the trial by the public.

All those wishing to support our demands are welcome to send their appeals to the following persons and institutions:

  • Mark Neville, Head of the Private Office of the President of the PACE – e-mail: [email protected], tel.: +33 88 41 23 41;
  • High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini – 1049 Brussels, Rue de la Loi / Wetstraat 200, tel.: +32 2 584 11 11; +32 (0) 2 295 71 69;
  • Chairman of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs Elmar Brok – Rue Wiertz 60, 1047 Bruxelles, Belgique, tel.: +32 2 28 49013 (Brussels), +33 3 881 76902 (Strasbourg);
  • UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein – Palais des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland, tel.: +41 22 917 9220;
  • President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker – 1049 Brussels, Belgium Rue de la Loi / Wetstraat 200, e-mail: [email protected];
  • President of Russia (Presidential Administration of the RF) – 103132, Moscow, 23 Ilyinka Street, entrance 11, tel.: +7 495 606-36-02;
  • General Prosecutor of the Russian Federation Yuriy Chayka – 125993, Moscowа, 15a Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street, GSP-3, tel.: +7 495 987 56 56;
  • Head of the Investigative Committee of the RF Alexandr Bastrykin – 105005, Moscow, 2 Tekhnicheskiy Pereulok.

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For more detailed information, please contact:
Andriy Osavoliyk – [email protected]
Lyudmyla Kozlovska – [email protected]
Open Dialog Foundation