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Savchenko Trial Adjourned To Consider Change Of Venue

Nadia Savchenko appears in a Moscow court in March.
Nadia Savchenko appears in a Moscow court in March.

The trial of a Ukrainian air force pilot charged by Russian authorities in connection with the deaths of two Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine was adjourned shortly after it began behind closed doors in Russia's Rostov region on July 30.

A court spokeswoman said the court would consider an appeal by Nadya Savchenko's lawyers to conduct the trial in Moscow.

She said a date for the next hearing won't be set until a decision is reached on whether to hold the trial in Moscow.

Savchenko's high-profile trial is being held in Donetsk, a small town in Russia's southern Rostov region close to the border with war-torn eastern Ukraine. The town has no connection with its namesake in eastern Ukraine.

Western diplomats who attempted to monitor the closed-door trial were not allowed to attend.

Russia's publication tweeted a photo of reporters standing outside of the court room, saying that journalists were being allowed inside the court building because of the heat outside, but were not being allowed into the trial itself.

The 34-year-old Savchenko faces up to 25 years in prison on the charges, which have been internationally condemned as politically motivated.

Savchenko was moved out of her pretrial detention center in Moscow earlier this month and transferred to a facility in the town of Shakhty, in the Rostov region. Russian authorities say the trial will unfold in the Rostov region because this is where she is charged with illegally crossing into Russia from Ukraine, a charge she denies.

Her lawyers have accused Moscow of picking the remote location to deter observers from flocking to the court for the hearings, which will take place behind closed doors.

"I assume this was done to make access to the trial as difficult as possible for the press and for international diplomats," Ilya Novikov, one of her lawyers, told RFE/RL. "It's far from Moscow, it's a border region where the FSB can expel any foreigner, and it's close to a conflict zone."

On July 23, the U.S. delegation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the change of venue would "dramatically decrease the amount of international observation of the trial, which appears to be the goal of Russian authorities."

'Captured In Battle'

Savchenko, who has been jailed since July 2014, has denied involvement in the mortar strike that killed the two Russian journalists.

She is accused of guiding Ukrainian artillery fire onto the reporters, who were killed outside Luhansk in June 2014.

She is also charged with illegally entering Russian territory, where Moscow alleges she was detained.

She insists that she was captured in battle by separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine and smuggled across the border by Russian intelligence agents.

Novikov voiced doubts that she will receive a fair trial and believes a guilty verdict has been "written in advance."

"I think that they will try to conduct it at lightning speed and that all our requests for additional assessments based on the information we are bringing from Kyiv will be rejected," he said.

Savchenko's lawyers announced on July 28 that they have proof of her innocence.

Speaking at a news conference in Moscow, Novikov said he had phone billing data showing that she had already been detained by the separatist insurgents when the journalists were killed.

Ukrainian prosecutors have backed this claim.

Following the trial, Novikov said Savchenko's defense would focus on fighting for her release through diplomatic channels.

Based on reporting by RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Lyubov Chizhova
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