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Putin pardons Oksana Sevastidi, sentenced for sending an SMS in 2008

Source: Meduza
Photo: из личного архива Оксаны Севастиди

March 7, Vladimir Putin pardoned Oksana Sevastidi, a resident of Sochi who was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2016 for high treason. In 2008, Sevastidi saw in Sochi trains with military equipment and sent a friend in Georgia a few SMSs about it. Meduza provides a brief synopsis of everything you need to know about this story.

Meduza first reported on Oksana Sevastidi's case in December 2016. In the article "A knight against the FSB" by Daniil Turovsky on the work of Ivan Pavlov, a lawyer specializing in defending people accused of high treason, Pavlov said that he was working on the case of Oksana Sevastidi, a saleswoman from Sochi sentenced to seven years in prison in March 2016.

Sevastidi was accused of taking several photographs of trains with military equipment at a train station in Sochi in 2008 and sending them to her friend in Georgia. In an interview with Meduza, Sevastidi claimed to have sent the messages in April 2008. The prosecution insisted, however, Sevastidi said that the SMS was sent in August 2008 (an armed conflict between Russia and Georgia occurred in August 2008 in South Ossetia).

Sevastidi was arrested in January 2015, more than six years after she had sent the SMS. In March 2016, the Krasnodar Regional Court sentenced her to seven years in prison. Sevastidi started serving her sentence out in a penal colony in the Ivanovo region. She gave Meduza an interview from there.

According to Sevastidi, her first lawyer, Ruslan Zurnadzhyan, did not do much to defend her and never came to see her at her pre-trial detention center. Zurnadzhyan did not even file an appeal against the verdict during the designated timeframe. After evaluating Zurnadzhyan’s actions, the Krasnodar Regional Chamber of Laws found that he had neglected his responsibilities. It did not, however, deny him of his right to work as a lawyer, choosing instead to give him a warning.

On December 23, 2016, during his annual press conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin promised to look into Sevastidi’s verdict. “In my opinion, this is really a rather tough approach [to dealing with this case]. I do not know the details: if she wrote something in the messages, then she wrote what I saw,” he said. “I'll try to understand the crux of the matter and look into the essence of the claims [against her].”

On March 7, Putin signed a decree to pardon Sevastidi (she is now in Moscow, where she was attended a Supreme Court hearing on her case). The decree says that the basis for pardoning Sevastidi were “principles of humanity”.

Sevastidi intends to seek a full rescindment of the verdict and clearing of her record, reported news agency TASS, citing one of her lawyers Yevgeny Smirnov. “The verdict is illegal in itself, and so this cannot be left [on her record],” he added.

Oksana Sevastidi is not the only Russian citizen who has been sentenced for SMS-correspondence. The Krasnodar Regional Court passed almost the exact same verdict in 2014 against Sochi resident Ekaterina Kharebava, who was sentenced to six years in prison for espionage. Kharebava also sent an SMS to her friend detailing how, in 2008, shortly before Russia’s war with Georgia, she saw how Russian military equipment was being transferred in the direction of Abkhazia. According to Sevastidi, the cases against both women were conducted by the same investigator, prosecutor, and judge.