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PACE Grants Savchenko Immunity, Demands Her Release From Russian Jail


A rally in New York in support of Nadia Savchenko
A rally in New York in support of Nadia Savchenko

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has granted international immunity to jailed Ukrainian pilot Nadia Savchenko and called for her immediate release from a Russian prison.

The move comes as protests and Twitter campaigns voiced support for Savchenko, who is now on the 45th day of a hunger strike and is considered dangerously ill.

Savchenko's lawyer, Mark Feigin, wrote in an open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin published on the Ekho Moskvy website on January 26 that there is "catastrophically little time" to save her.

Feigin appealed to Putin "for law and justice" in releasing Savchenko.

Meeting on the opening day of its winter plenary session on January 26, PACE deputies approved Savchenko's membership in the assembly's Ukrainian delegation, a position that confers immunity from prosecution.

PACE says Savchenko's immunity obligates Russia to release her immediately from pretrial detention in Moscow, where she is being held on suspicion of contributing to the death of two Russian journalists during a military operation in eastern Ukraine.

Supporters had hoped her inclusion in the PACE delegation would pressure Moscow to release her in time for the winter session.

In her opening speech, PACE President Anne Brasseur expressed hope that Savchenko's situation would be resolved "swiftly."

A report in Ukrainska Pravda cited unnamed sources at the PACE session as suggesting the Russian delegation had officially stated it supported the decision to release Savchenko.

If true, the statement represents an apparent about-face from the delegation's previous position.

It also comes one day after Sergei Naryshkin, the speaker of Russia's State Duma, said Savchenko's fate was a matter for the Russian judicial system to decide.

"Only an investigation and the court can establish guilt," he said. "And if guilt is not proven, then she will be freed."

STORIFY FEATURE: Anatomy Of A Hunger Strike

Thirty-three-year-old Savchenko, one of the first women in Ukraine to graduate from the country's prestigious Air Force Institute, says she was kidnapped by pro-Russian insurgents in Ukraine in June and illegally transferred across the border in July.

She spent a month undergoing psychiatric evaluation at Moscow's Serbsky Institute before being placed in the city's No. 6 detention center.

On December 13, Savchenko -- who had already won a Ukrainian parliamentary seat in absentia as a member of Yulia Tymoshenko's Batkivshchyna party -- launched a hunger strike to protest her detention.

Since then, she has ingested little other than warm water and has received some glucose transfusions to prevent fainting.

Lawyers and other visitors say she extremely thin and in poor health but determined to continue her protest.

A series of protests timed to coincide with the start of the PACE session were held in cities around the world on January 26, with demonstrators calling for the release of Savchenko and 113 other political prisoners they say are illegally imprisoned in Russia.

A synchronized Twitter storm was also launched under the hashtag #FreeSavchenko with the aim of generating more than 1 million tweets by the end of the day.

The criticism of Russia extended to the Strasbourg session, with British PACE deputy Robert Walter challenging the credentials of the Russian delegation.

Walter said the Russian delegation was guilty of "a serious violation of the basic principles of the Council of Europe," the primary human rights body in Europe.

He also accused Russia of "persistent failure to honor obligations and commitments" as a Council of Europe member.

PACE is set to debate the issue on January 28 before voting on whether to ratify Russia's credentials.

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