Ukrainian pilot found guilty of killing 2 Russian journalists: media

Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko has been found guilty of the murder of two Russian journalists, a court in the southern Russian town of Donetsk near the Ukrainian border ruled Monday, Russian state media reported.

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.

Russia's two main state news agencies - TASS and RIA Novosti - as well as the Interfax news agency reported that Savchenko was pronounced guilty of murder.

However, Savchenko's legal team told reporters that the verdict had not yet been declared, as the judge read out a very long description of Savchenko's crimes.

Around 19:30 local time (16:30 GMT) the judge declared a recess until Tuesday, when Savchenko is expected to be sentenced. The judge had been reading the verdict for about eight hours on Monday.

Savchenko's legal team predicted that the judge would continue reading the verdict for several more hours on Tuesday because it apparently consisted of hundreds of pages, Ukrainian state news agency Ukrinform reported.

Savchenko had been charged with murder, attempted murder and illegally crossing the Russian border during the conflict over Ukraine's rebel eastern region.

While reading the verdict, 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.

Savchenko initially refused to stand while the verdict was announced, a violation of court protocol, the Interfax news agency reported.

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.

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.

The president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Pedro Agramunt, denounced the trial and called for Savchenko's immediate release, according to an emailed statement.

PACE, based in Strasbourg, France, suspended Russia's voting rights in the legislature in 2014 because of Moscow's role in the Ukraine crisis.

After Savchenko was taken into Russian custody, Ukraine appointed her as a member of its delegation to 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.

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."

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: Tue, 22/03/2016 - 01:51

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