Tajik court frees foreign pilots after Russia protest
An appeals court in Tajikistan on Tuesday ordered the release of the Russian and Estonian pilots whose jailing for eight-and-a-half years sparked an unprecedented diplomatic standoff with Moscow.
Vladimir Sadovnichy of Russia and Alexey Rudenko of Estonia were freed immediately by the court in the town of Kurgan Tyube, an AFP correspondent reported.
Russia had rounded up Tajik migrants after their conviction in an apparent tit-for-tat move on the pretext that they were violating Russian law, a move that had concerned rights activists.
Migrants organisations said at least 1,500 Tajik migrants had been detained nationwide in Russia as of last week although it is not clear what their fate will be now.
"The main thing is that I am free," the Russian pilot said after the hearing outside in the courtyard.
"My first wish is to return home as soon as possible and see my family. This was a harsh charge, which has not been lifted."
Their sentence was reduced to two-and-a-half years which, taking into account time already served and a presidential amnesty, meant they should be released immediately, the court said.
A source in the Russian foreign ministry hailed their release decision as "a great success".
"We believe that justice has prevailed with our citizen's release," the Russian diplomat told the Interfax news agency.
The pilots were flying through Tajik airspace from Afghanistan when they requested to make an emergency landing -- a request that was denied because their flight was allegedly not registered with Tajik authorities.
© 2011 AFP