RFE/RL: Moscow court upholds extension of pretrial detention for six of 24 Ukrainian sailors

20:56, 16 August 2019
Politics
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REUTERS

A court in Moscow has upheld a lower court's decision to extend pretrial detention for six of the 24 Ukrainian sailors detained by Russian forces along with their three naval vessels in November near the Kerch Strait, which links the Black Sea and Sea of Azov.

The sailors' lawyer, Nikolai Polozov, wrote on Facebook that the Moscow City Court announced the decision regarding Mykhaylo Vlasyuk, Serhiy Popov, Andriy Drach, Bohdan Holovash, Denys Hrytsenko, and Vyacheslav Zinchenko on August 16, as reported by RFE/RL.

The six men, along with seven other sailors, have been ordered to remain in pretrial detention until October 24. The 11 remaining will be held until October 26.

Read alsoRussia may release Ukrainian sailors soon, lawyer predicts

Their detentions were extended in July as the sailors await trial on charges of "trespassing" in what Russia claims are its territorial waters.

If found guilty, the sailors face up to six years in prison.

Russia has held the Ukrainian sailors since its forces fired on, boarded, and seized their vessels off the coast of the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula on November 25.

Ukraine called the attack and capture of its sailors a violation of international maritime law.

The sailors have been held despite a May 25 ruling by the United Nations' Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea that Russia must "immediately" release the sailors and Ukrainian ships.

Moscow has said the international maritime tribunal has no jurisdiction. It claims the Ukrainian ships illegally entered Russian territorial waters when they passed Crimea.

The UN tribunal's decisions are legally binding, but it has no power to enforce them.

Read alsoRussia's case against captured Ukrainian sailors moves to new stage – lawyer

The Kerch Strait is the sole passage from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov. It runs between Russia and Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that Russia seized in March 2014 after sending in troops and staging a referendum deemed illegitimate by Kyiv, the United States, and at least 100 countries.

The takeover of the peninsula, and subsequent Russian support for separatist militants who seized parts of eastern Ukraine at the start of a conflict that has killed some 13,000 people, came after pro-European protests pushed Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych from power in Kyiv.

Western leaders have demanded that Russia release the crew, and the incident has led to the imposition of additional sanctions on Russia.

In May, the United States sanctioned six Russians, including at least two Federal Security Service officers and about a half-dozen defense firms, in coordination with the European Union and Canada.

In a resolution on July 18, the newly elected European Parliament called on Russia "to release without further delay and unconditionally all illegally and arbitrarily detained Ukrainian citizens both in Russia and in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine."

The sailors were specifically mentioned in the nonbinding resolution.

In a March 12 report, the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that Russia had breached international humanitarian law and called the 24 captive Ukrainians "prisoners of war."

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