Lavrov to Pompeo: Free Maria Butina arrested on fabricated spy charges

Lavrov to Pompeo: Free Maria Butina arrested on fabricated spy charges
The US should immediately release Russian gun activist Maria Butina, who is being held in the US on espionage charges, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told his US counterpart over the phone, calling the case “fabricated.”

“Lavrov stressed that the actions of the US authorities that arrested Russian citizen [Maria] Butina on fabricated charges are unacceptable,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement, adding that the minister also called for her “immediate release” in his conversation with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday.

The Foreign minister raised the issue during phone conversations that were made at the request of the US and aimed at “further normalization of the US-Russian relations” following the summit between the US President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Lavrov and Pompeo also discussed the process of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, as well as the situation in Syria.

The 29-year-old Russian student and a gun activist was arrested in the US about a week ago and charged with acting as a foreign agent without registering her activities with the authorities. Butina has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

On July 16, a DC Federal Court rejected Butina’s bail plea and ordered her to be placed in custody pending trial over fears that she could flee or contact Russian intelligence officials. Her lawyer says the trial is being politicized and Russian embassy staff were only allowed to visit her in jail on Thursday.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has called Butina’s arrest politically motivated, adding that it could have been aimed at disrupting the Helsinki summit between Putin and Trump. On Thursday, the ministry also launched a campaign hashtagged #FreeMariaButina on Twitter to raise awareness of her case.

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