Ukrainian pilot found guilty of killing two Russian journalists

Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko has been found guilty of the murder of two Russian journalists, a court in the southern town of Donetsk near the Ukraine-Russia border ruled Monday, according to the Interfax news agency.

Savchenko, 34, faces more than two decades in a Russian prison after being accused of giving Ukrainian national forces the coordinates for an attack in which the two journalists were killed.

Savchenko was expected to be sentenced on Tuesday. She had been charged with murder, attempted murder and illegally crossing the Russian border during the conflict over Ukraine's rebel eastern region.

The judge said Savchenko "committed murder ... motivated by hatred for the civilian population of the Luhansk People's Republic," referring to a self-declared, pro-Russian separatist region in eastern Ukraine. Nearby Donetsk is also a self-proclaimed people's republic allied with Russia.

Savchenko refused to stand while the verdict was announced, a violation of court protocol.

Her lawyer Mark Feygin told reporters that Savchenko would not appeal the verdict.

"This is her decision. She believes that a refusal to complain will speed up the negotiation process to return her to Ukraine," Feygin said.

Human rights group Amnesty International called for a retrial.

"It is abhorrent to send Nadiya Savchenko to prison after such a flawed, deeply politicized trial," said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty's London-based director for Europe and Central Asia.

Dalhuisen said the Russian judge had overseen a "litany of dubious procedures and decisions" that meant Savchenko "never had a hope of proving her innocence."

"The only way justice can be delivered both for Nadiya, and the journalists who were killed, is for there to be a full and impartial investigation into her allegations and a retrial that remains free of political interference and complies with international fair trial standards," he said.

Earlier this month, Savchenko declared that she would not eat until the verdict was declared, in an effort to expedite the legal proceedings, which have dragged on for more than a year and a half.

In a final statement at the time before the court, Savchenko said: "Russia will return me to Ukraine, alive or dead."

After Savchenko was taken into Russian custody, Ukraine appointed her as a member of its delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), giving her diplomatic immunity.

However, the Russian prosecutor has argued that the immunity is not applicable to the case because the appointment was made after the alleged crime.

Last year, Savchenko reportedly went on another hunger strike for more than 40 days and had to be given nutrients via intravenous injection.

Last update: Mon, 21/03/2016 - 13:33

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