Activist probing Russian soldier deaths in Ukraine charged with fraud
Russia has charged an elderly rights activist with fraud after she challenged Moscow's denials that its troops were fighting in east Ukraine, in a case that has sparked an outcry among rights campaigners.
Rights activists said Monday that the prosecution of 73-year-old Lyudmila Bogatenkova appeared to be punishment for her work as head of a group that draws up lists of Russian military casualties in Ukraine.
The Kremlin has denied Western claims that it has deployed troops to Ukraine to prop up pro-Russian separatists who have been battling Kiev forces for six months.
But multiple signs including secret funerals have emerged over the past few months indicating that Russian soldiers have been on the ground in Ukraine.
Bogatenkova heads a group investigating army abuses in Russia's southern Stavropol region.
Bogatenkova, who is diabetic and needs daily injections of insulin, was arrested at the weekend and had her home searched, her colleagues said.
Bogatenkova, who lives in Budyonnovsk, a small town in southern Russia near Chechnya, has been charged with large-scale fraud.
"This is an act of intimidation," a member of the Kremlin's rights council, Sergei Krivenko, told AFP.
Regional police and investigators declined immediate comment.
The activist was released from detention on Monday after pressure from rights campaigners, including the head of the Kremlin's rights council, Mikhail Fedotov, who pledged to monitor the case closely.
Fedotov told AFP his council had received a list of Russian military casualties from Bogatenkova.
He pledged to send members of the council, which advises President Vladimir Putin, to monitor her case.
"We would like to understand what she is accused of and how well these charges are substantiated," he said.
"We would like to be absolutely sure that this has nothing to do with her rights work."
In August, Bogatenkova told AFP that a hospital in the southern Russian town of Rostov-on-Don, close to the Ukrainian border, was overflowing with the wounded.
"A large number of people are dying," she said at the time.
Krivenko of the Kremlin's rights council said the lists of military casualties including Bogatenkova's report had been sent directly to Putin last week after investigators failed to react to requests to open a criminal probe.
State-controlled television has enforced a blackout concerning the presence -- and deaths - of Russian soldiers in Ukraine.
In August, opposition lawmaker Lev Shlosberg was beaten up by unidentified assailants in northwestern Russia after attending the secret funeral of a soldier apparently killed in Ukraine.
His Yabloko party said the attack was politically motivated.
© 2014 AFP