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Russian Treason Suspect Recants Testimony

Artur, son of Svetlana Davydova, holds up a photo of his mother to the camera, at their home in Vyazma
Artur, son of Svetlana Davydova, holds up a photo of his mother to the camera, at their home in Vyazma

A Russian woman who is accused of treason for allegedly reporting possible troop movements to the Ukrainian Embassy has recanted testimony she gave earlier to investigators and rejected a court-appointed defense attorney.

Sergei Badamshin, one of Svetlana Davydova's new lawyers, said on February 2 that his client has refused the services of court-appointed attorney Andrei Stebenev and withdraws the comments she made when Stebenev was acting as her lawyer.

Another of Davydova's lawyers, Ivan Pavlov, said an appeal had been filed with the Moscow City Court in an effort to win her release from pretrial detention at Moscow's notorious Lefortovo jail.

Davydova, who is 36 and whose children include an infant daughter, was detained on January 21 at the home she shares with her husband and seven children in Vyazma, some 240 kilometers west of Moscow.

A court ordered her held in detention through March 19, and she faces up to 20 years in prison if tried and convicted of treason.

Investigators say that in April, she told the Ukrainian Embassy of suspicions -- based on an overheard conversation and an apparent exodus from a military intelligence base in Vyazma -- that troops from the base were being deployed to Ukraine.

It was not clear exactly what testimony Davydova withdrew, but Russian media reports said she had "fully admitted guilt" at Stebenev's advice and suggested she was retracting that admission.

Shortly after her arrest, Stebenev said that Davydova had "called where she was not supposed to call and said what she was not supposed to say."

Pavlov said Davydova's sister and her husband, Anatoly Gorlov, have been summoned to the Federal Security Service (FSB), which is conducting the investigation, and were to be questioned as witnesses on February 3.

The treason accusation has drawn scorn from Kremlin critics because Russia denies it has sent troops to Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists are fighting government forces in a conflict that has killed more than 5,100 people since April.

Lawyers and rights activists, meanwhile, question the court's decision to hold Davydova in pretrial detention.

Russian Human Rights Commissioner Ella Pamfilova said on February 2 that she had written to FSB director Aleksandr Bortnikov and Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika to appeal for Davydova's release.

Pamfilova said, "I am particularly concerned that the arrested mother has a two-month-old baby who needs to be breast-fed and is deprived of this vital necessity."

"The health and mental state of the mother and her newborn daughter are therefore exposed to all possible risks," she added.

Russian children's ombudsman Pavel Astakhov has said Davydova should be reunited with her family.

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Putin's administration would consider a petition for Davydova's release that has been signed by some 40,000 people.

"This petition has arrived and it will be considered," he said on February 3.

He did not say when a Kremlin response to the petition might be expected.

With reporting by Interfax, Novaya Gazeta, and Kommersant

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