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Russian woman pardoned by Putin over text message freed

A Russian woman pardoned by President Vladimir Putin after she was sentenced to seven years in jail for treason over a text message about movements of military equipment was released Sunday, local media reported.

Shopkeeper Oxana Sevastidi, 46, was convicted in March 2016 over an SMS sent eight years earlier about a train carrying military hardware towards neighbouring Georgia, months before Russia fought a brief war with the country.

Footage broadcast on state television from outside Moscow’s Lefortovo prison, where Sevastidi was being held, showed her hugging her mother before grabbing her personal items and getting into a car with her lawyer.

The Supreme Court is set to rule on her case on March 15. Sevastidi’s defence has hailed the pardon but insisted she would fight until her conviction was quashed.

“We are preparing for the Supreme Court hearing which on Wednesday will consider this absurd criminal case and, I hope, put an end to it,” lawyer Ivan Pavlov wrote on his Facebook page Saturday.

Putin’s pardon, issued on March 7, said it was motivated by “principles of humanity”.

Sevastidi, who hails from the Black Sea city of Sochi, told Meduza news site in December that she photographed military equipment transported on a train in April 2008, months before the August conflict.

Sevastidi said she exchanged messages with a Georgian acquaintance about what she had seen.

Sevastidi was detained by the FSB security service in January 2015 and convicted after a trial held behind closed doors.

In a similar case, a woman in a small town outside Moscow was arrested in 2015 after calling the Ukrainian embassy to say soldiers had left a nearby base and could be heading to eastern Ukraine where a conflict was raging, and where Russia denies intervening militarily.

She was released from prison and the treason charges against her were dropped after a public outcry.

Russia has prosecuted an increasing number of its nationals and foreigners for treason and espionage since the beginning of the Ukraine conflict in 2014 and the ensuing standoff with the West.