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Trial of Professor Savva begins in Krasnodar

5 November 2013 

Source: (info)
The trial of Mikhail Savva, a professor of Kuban State University and staff member of the Southern Regional Resource Centre, began on Tuesday, 5 November, in Krasnodar. He stands accused by the Krasnodar regional FSB of fraud under two sections of Article 159 of the Criminal Code.

On the first count, he is accused of stealing grant money allocated by Krasnodar regional government for a sociological study and, on the second count, of not having given a course of lectures at Kuban State University. Savva's supporters are convinced that the case has been fabricated.

Mikhail Savva is a human rights defender well-known in southern Russia who, prior to his arrest this spring, had been compiling information on NGO inspections that were part of a campaign to identify 'foreign agents'. Savva was detained before leaving for Moscow for a meeting of the Presidential Council on Human Rights, where he was to make public the information that he had gathered. Savva has been in detention for almost six months now.

Four members of the Presidential Council came specially to Krasnodar for Savva's trial, which began on 5 November at 11:00 and was later postponed.

"A lot of people turned up," says Savva's lawyer, Marina Dubrovina, "They had to bring a lot of chairs into the courtroom, and members of the Public Oversight Commission, Valery Borshchev and Lyubov Volkova, came down from Moscow. The hearing has been postponed for now due to the absence of one of the alleged victims in the case from Kuban State University."

The trial resumed at 14:30. One of Savva's supporters is posting Twitter updates from the courtroom.

Just before a date for the hearing had been set, Mikhail Savva appealed to the public for support and asked people to come to the trial, as he is convinced that there is no independent judiciary in Russia and believes that everything will depend on an active public campaign.

"The whole charge has been concocted out of thin air," says Human Rights Council member Sergei Krivenko, who is among those who came to Savva's trial.

"The sociological study was conducted and a report exists in the case file. There are 600 two-page questionnaires that have been completed by people who live in the region, and that is a huge amount of research, so where's the theft? That's the big question. To put it bluntly, this is an attack on civil society."

Sergei Krivenko wonders why the case on the embezzlement of grant funds, which should be handled by the regional Ministry of Internal Affairs, was initiated on the basis of a report by an FSB officer. He says that they had initially tried to prosecute Mikhail Savva under other articles such as extremism and terrorism but, failing to find sufficient grounds, latched on to theft.

In addition to Sergei Krivenko, three other members of the Human Rights Council came to the trial: Mara Polyakova, Andrei Yurov and Ilya Shablinsky. Following the trip, they are planning to make a public statement on the case of Mikhail Savva on Friday.

Lev Ponomarev, who is also supporting the Krasnodar academic, fears that state security officers intend to accuse Mikhail Savva of treason:

"FSB officers come to Savva in the pre-trial detention centre. They claim that he sponsored the activities of Chechen terrorists and they are threatening to prove it. They are demanding that Savva confess to having worked against Russia, noting that he travelled to the United States and visited the US Embassy in Moscow."

Lev Ponomarev says that the new amendments to the law on treason that were adopted recently have not yet started to work, in contrast to the amendments to the law on NGOs, which many organisations have already been hit by.

"They want to try out the new treason law on Savva, these horrendous amendments with their vague wording; the law on 'foreign agents' will begin to seem like just the beginning to us, if the law on treason takes effect," Ponomarev says.

The scandalous amendments to the Criminal Code were adopted by the State Duma in autumn 2012. Human rights defenders called on President Vladimir Putin not to sign the law, which significantly broadens the concepts of treason, espionage and divulging state secrets, but the Russian President did not listen to them.

Under the new law, citizens can be deemed traitors recruited by foreign organisations if their work is seen as a threat to Russia's security. A charge of treason may be brought for providing financial and logistical consulting and other support to such organisations.

A person convicted of espionage faces from 12 to 20 years' imprisonment.

Source: Radio Svoboda

Translated by Lindsay Munford