For 2013 — 2016, at least ten people were convicted for high treason and espionage in the Krasnodar Territory; this is almost a quarter of the total number of sentences of that kind over the whole Russia. We do not know, and possible are not able to learn, all names and circumstances of arrest. Court hearings are held in a basement-level room, then a convicted person is taken to an undisclosed location and nobody expresses any interest to him or her. The Team 29 journalists have tried to learn what has happened with these people.
“She should be doing a time about a year to straighten her brains out”
In March 2016, Oksana Sevastidi was sentenced to seven years of imprisonment in a penal colony for SMS messages sent in 2008. Her defending attorney missed all terms for appealing or cassation. Now, Ivan Pavlov and Evgeny Smirnov, legal attorneys of the Team 29, will defend her.
Oksana was detained in January 2015. She spent a year and three months in the pre-trial detention center of the Krasnodar Territory, having been waiting for court proceedings. No media have covered her case.
Oksana and her mother came to Sochi in 1994 from Abkhazia, not able to bear war ruin and pillaging. In Abkhazia and Georgia there were their friends Oksana often visited and a flat she was trying to sell. Sevastidi worked in Sochi as a saleswoman in a market.
In 2005, being in Tbilisi, she get acquainted with Timur Buskadze from Sukhum. After that, they have never met again but exchanged SMS messages with each other. In April 2008, three months before military actions began, Buskadze asked Sevastidi in a SMS whether she had seen any military machinery in Sochi. Seeing a train with military equipment moving in the direction towards Abkhazia, Oksana sent him a SMS about that.
According to the investigation, Buskadze was a reconnoiter. In the case file there is a certification on his belonging to Georgian intelligence services, issued by Abkhazian security bodies. Ivan Pavlov, Sevastidi’s attorney, says: “When there is a war between two countries, they shall accuse each other. In the opinion of the Abkhazians, all Georgians are intelligence service people, and vice versa. In my opinion, it is unwise to trust fully a certification from security bodies of an unrecognized state”.
On August 8 — 12, 2008, an armed conflict involving Russia and Georgia took place in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. According to the version of the Russia side, their military troops entered the region in order to protect civilians and peacemakers. After the five days of war, Russia recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states so that diplomatic relations between Russia and Georgia were broken off.
FSB officers detained Oksana in January 2015 and never let her free after the very first questioning. As she says, they “have said nothing specific” at the beginning. “The head of the investigation told my Mom about me: she should be doing a time about a year to straighten her brains out and to lose some weight, too, and then she will go home”.
Oksana’s mother, Svetlana Panchenko, tells that FSB summoned her daughters’ friends for questioning and threatened then that they would “find themselves in the same place Sevastidi is”.
In March 2016, Sevastidi was sentenced to seven years of freedom deprivation and sent to a penal colony in the Ivanovo Region.
Panchenko says: “I could not collect myself for a whole month. That investigator wrote there [in the indictment] as if that she had really worked for them. What could she know, working in a market?!”
“I do not agree with so severe punishment. Even if I am guilty then not so much to give seven years in a penal colony. Murderers and drug dealers get such imprisonment terms. Also, they sent me to serve sentence so far from my home”, Sevastidi says.
Her 70-year-old mother is waiting for her at home. Oksana’s grandmother died when the court proceedings were taking place. “Yesterday, I felt so badly that was to call for ambulance”, Sevastidi’s mother says. “I did not know what to think. I wrote to the Federal Penitentiary Service, asking to move her to the Krasnodar Territory. It is too far and too expensive for me to go to the Ivanovo Region. Today, they answered to me. They refuse.”
“Charges of high treason for a SMS are absurd”
Oksana Sevastidi was sentenced by Judge Vladimir Kobzev. In November 2014, he sentenced Ekaterina Kharebava, a citizen of Georgia, for six years of prison for espionage. Her case is similar to Sevastidi’s one: she, too, sent a SMS to a Georgian acquaintance in April 2008, and several years after, she was arrested and a defending attorney assigned by the state advised her to admit her guilt.
“First, local FSB officers in Sochi visited her and asked whom she had contacted, phoned, or sent SMS. She gave it to them straight and signed everything since she did not see any hidden catch. And they appeared to be collecting materials in order to initiate criminal case”, says Leonid Yerchenko, a legal attorney invited by Kharebava’s family instead of the one assigned by the state. Citing Kharebava herself, he explains: “Having learnt how she had given evidence, I asked her: you did confess that you knew [that you had committed an act of high treason].And she exclaimed: what? I have never said that. I have never had anything of that kind in my thoughts, I could not so that”. Ekaterina herself told the same to the Team 29 journalists. When her attorney showed her printed SMS messages allegedly sent by her, she could not believe that she was whenever able to have written them: “I cannot write in that manner, and I would not count the number of machines,” her attorney cites her.
Kharebava was sentenced for high treason in a form of espionage, i.e. for collection and transfer of secret information though there had been no information of that kind in her case. “In April [when Kharebava wrote her SMS] all military equipment was mowing openly, without any camouflage,” Yerchenko says. “Moreover. documents accompanying that train had no secrecy stamps. When we questioned the commander in court, he told that the operation, the military traffic, had been not secret. All documents withdrawn by the investigator have no secrecy stamp; those were common technical documents”.
Kharebava was sentenced to six years in a penal colony though according to the Criminal Code of Russia, minimal punishment term for espionage is 12 years. In 2016, she was released within the Russian-Georgian agreement on mutual release of citizens, and went to Tbilisi. Her release was rather unexpected: her elder daughter and defending attorney applied to Georgian authorities and made them to pay attention to Ekaterina’s fate. She says that two more Georgian citizens convicted for espionage were released at the same time.
Some years before, Georgian authorities released four Russians imprisoned for espionage in Georgia. Zurab Abashidze (who then was Special Representative of the Georgian Prime Minister for settlement of relations with the Russian Federation) stated: “Showing our good will, we released four Russian citizens without any pre-conditions. After a little while, Russia answered in the same way, also showing good will”.
Ekaterina Kharebava could not tell the Team 29 names of the two persons released at the same time with her; she said that those were two women. They were convicted in similar circumstances. According to Kharebava, both of them sent to some friends or acquaintances to Georgia messages about what happened in Sochi. Ivan Pavlov, Sevastidi’s attorney, considers such accusations preposterous: “The very accusation of high treason for a SMS is absurd: how can a short message include any state secret of a nuclear superpower? Trains with military equipment were moving openly, visible not only for those women but for everyone in Sochi. Anyone of them neither was a state secret carrier nor took any efforts to get access to it. If that movement of troops was state secret that it should be protected better, not moving the machinery openly; if so, those who allowed that should be accused. Unfortunately, we live in a time and in a country considering the whole of its encirclement hostile. Against the background of militaristic discourse, the state will seek for high traitors, look for some “accomplices” of the women we speak of, question their relatives and friends”.
Kharebava told of Inga Tutisani, a cellmate of hers who was also sentenced for high treason by the Krasnodar Territorial Court in June 2014. Kharebava told that Inga had sent a SMS to a Georgian citizen among other correspondence and several years later, security officers had come for her. Tutisani was sent to serve her sentence to a penal colony for women in Vologda where she is probably now. Earlier, only her surname, Tutisani, was mentioned in judicial documents; neither gender nor name of the convicted person were known, neither were circumstances of the case. Kharebava also says that Marina Dzhandzhgava convicted to 12 years of imprisonment for high treason was placed to another cell. Also, in June 2014, Manana Kapanadze was sentenced within the same article.
There is almost no information on what circumstanced those women were convicted within and what happened with them later. No information can be found at courts’ websites due to restrictions related to personal data protection. The only information is that told by Kharebava and Sevastidi. The latter says: “In Sochi, there are many such people [as myself] convicted for data transfer”, adding that she knows about “one Armenian woman and some Georgian women”.
According to Leonid Yerchenko, Kharebava’s attorney, she is not the only person tried for SMS: “FSB needed performance indices on work with spies. If so, they make it easily, requesting information from mobile operators. Katerina was not the only person imprisoned for the same: someone saw some ships, someone else saw something else. If one knows that there have been such correspondence, it is a matter of skills how to use it. They submit a request for information stored at severs for a long time, indentify people approximately (I think that is practically possible, I myself have dealt with this though not in those structures), and then they write and correct those very words they need”.
“Neither surname, nor signature, simply printed text”
It is a mystery why security services waited for such a long time before bringing Sevastidi and Kharebava to liability. Leonid Yerchenko says that he was surprised: “It was 2014 and the case was initiated in 2013. Viewing the criminal case, I found come document with the billhead of the Krasnodar Territorial Court permitting to withdraw information from the mobile communication operator. The document was not certified anyway by anyone: there was no judge’s surname, no date, and no signature”. When the defending attorney asked the investigator about lawfulness of such a permission the latter answered: “I don’t know, they gave me what they did”.
It is also unclear how investigators managed to read SMSs sent seven years before initiation of criminal cases. According to the Statement of the Russian Government actual for 2008, communication operators were obliged to store for three years only metadata of mobile calls and SMSs, i.e. mobile numbers and users’ names but not contents of conversations or messages.
It is unknown what Georgian citizens were released in June 2016. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs answered to the RosOtvet service request that Moscow has not transferred to Tbilisi anyone convicted for espionage during the last eight years. Only two persons convicted within other charges were delivered to Georgia; no information on those two people can be provided due to the legislation on personal data.
The website of the Russian Ministry for Foreign Affairs informs on a meeting of its officials with Zurab Abashidze where “joint efforts resulted in an agreement on mutual release of a number of two countries’ citizens now imprisoned”. Moscow and Tbilisi seem to be trying for years now to agree on delivery of Georgians convicted for espionage but both parties do not share information on negotiation results.
Ekaterina Kharebava told the Team 29 that after release, she was transferred to Moscow by some secret transport. Then she flied to Tbilisi together with one more young woman, also released. The third woman released at the same time with them decided to stay in Russia.
Now, Ekaterina lives in Tbilisi. She is still afraid of Russian security services and bewares from coming to Russia though there has been no official prohibition for her to enter the country.
Oksana Sevastidi is in a penal colony in the Ivanovo Region. Her legal attorney (invited by her mother instead of the one assigned by the state) has missed terms for appeal and stated that was “the fault of FSB”. The Team 29 legal attorneys who defend Sevastidi now plan to restore terms for appealing. Sevastidi has filed a complaint against her ex-attorney to the lawyers’ chamber.
“Defense is in fact impossible”
Only cases examined in Moscow or St.-Petersburg attract attention of media. A rare exception is the case of Petr Parpulov who worked in the Sochi airport and was sentenced for 12 years for state secret disclosure. Even in the indictment, the investigation did not concretize the accusations, but Parpulov’s attorney found that it had been some conversation between Parpulov and his relations during his visit to Georgia that had served as a reason. According to him, all information in question was already published online, e.g. at the website of the Krasnaya zvezda (“Red Star”), a media resource of the Ministry for Defense. The case became known a year after Parpulov’s detachment when his attorney advised his daughter to contact media. Up to then, the family had been afraid to attract any attention since the security officers have hinted that that could damage the defendant.
According to Oleg Yeliseev, Parpulov’s attorney, in the indictment “there is no list of information comprising the secret. As a result. defense is in fact impossible”. Today, Parpulov is in a penal colony. Despite of his poor health, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation refused to reduce his imprisonment term. In May, Yeliseev filed an application to the European Court for Human Rights.
Media response to Parpulov’s case is a rarity for the Krasnodar Territory: there is almost nothing known on most of local “spies” and “high traitors”. In 2013, Judge Kobzev sentenced for espionage and high treason two persons whose surnames are Pataraya and Khurtsilava; besides the surnames, no other information of them is available for open access. In August 2015, the same judge sentenced for imprisonment a man from Sochi whose surname is Kesyan; no circumstances of his case are known. In 2014, one more case was returned to the public prosecution for additional investigation; even the defendant’s surname is unknown.
We know quite little about other cases on high treason and espionage examined by the Krasnodar Territorial Court. Since 2013, 10 sentences are issued. We identified surnames of all convicted persons and some first names: G. Pataraya, G. Khurtsilava, Levan Latariya, Marina Dzhandzhgavaand Inga Tutisani (two cellmates of Ekaterina Kharebava), Manana Kapanadze, Kesyan, and those we know more about — Kharebava, Parpulov and Sevastidi.
Pataraya and Khurtsilava were defendants in one case initiated in 2013. They were sentenced by Judge Kobzev. He also examined the cases of Marina Dzhandzhava and of Kesyan. We do not know where all of them are now. Inga Tutisani is possibly serving her sentence in the penal colony in Vologda; Kharebava says that Tutisani was not there among women released together with herself, and asks to help her. Tutisani was sentenced by Judge Alexey Ivanov, the same one who sentenced Petr Parpulov.
The media connect Kesyan’s arrest with the Olympic Games in Sochi but there are no official proof. More detachments in the same city before the Games also were reported but no proof has been found either in judicial statistical data or at courts’ websites.
Usually, cases on high treason and espionage follow one scenario. A person is detained in the early morning and brought to an investigator where a defending attorney assigned by the state is waiting for the detainee. Questioned for the very first time, the detainee gives evidence, believing that everything will be clarified and considering the whole situation absurd. Then, charges are brought and pledges of secrecy is taken from the detainee’s relatives. Security services insist that the family should not contact press and media and the defending attorney assigned by the state advises to give confessionary evidence in order to reduce punishment.
Ivan Pavlov says that in cases of high treason and state secret abuse, everything depends on the defendants’ families.”It was so both in the case of Svetlana Davydova and in that of Gennady Kravtsov. The families were advised to keep silence and not to contact anyone. And most of them will be silent. Security bodies promised to Sevastidi’s mother that everything would end well and her daughter would be free in about a year but the case appeared to result in a different way. Nobody is responsible for their promises. Thus, people must not keep silence. They should be kicking just as the fabular frog in the milk pail who managed to make butter from milk. People should contact legal attorneys since much depends on the defending attorney.
“In Sevastidi’s case, the attorney behaved in a strange manner. We do not know his reasons but now they will be studied by the relevant unit of the lawyers’ chamber a complaint is filed to. We have filed a motion for restoration of appeal period since the terms have been missed due to reasonable excuse: Sevastidi trusted her attorney and it was his duty to file an appeal in due time. He neither did so nor explained the reasons. It is not Sevastidi’s fault that the term has been missed”.
Since 2010, 87 persons were sentenced in Russia within the Criminal Code Articles 275 (high treason) and 276 (espionage) so that many of them may be still serving their sentences. 13 of them were imprisoned in the first half of 2016. We cannot identify about a half of convicted persons.
In Krasnodar, court hearings of cases on espionage and high treason take place behind heavy iron doors, in a basement-level room of the administrative building next to that of the territorial court. We do not know who can be tried there now. We probably will learn his or her name only when he or she leaves to a penal colony.
Authors: Katya Arenina, Nikolay Ovchinnikov