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Consular visits as proof of guilt? Russian Embassy slams Butina prosecutors & neo-McCarthyism

Consular visits as proof of guilt? Russian Embassy slams Butina prosecutors & neo-McCarthyism
The Russian embassy has called “absurd” US claims that frequent visits of its officials to jailed gun activist Maria Butina mean she is a valuable Kremlin asset. The embassy says it treats all Russian citizens like that.

Butina, a Russian gun activist who studied in Washington, was arrested in July and charged with failing to register as a foreign agent while lobbying in the US. On Monday, US District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan ruled to keep her in jail pending her trial, agreeing with the prosecutors that she was a flight risk.

In a bid to prove that Butina was acting on the orders from senior officials pulling the strings from Moscow, the prosecutors provided a count of diplomatic notes sent to the State Department and consular visits to the activist. The attention Russian diplomats pay to the plight of their jailed national, otherwise a normal diplomatic practice, was thus being presented as damning evidence of her alleged ties to the Kremlin.

These arguments “looks more like the legal grounds for Russophobia,” the Russian embassy in Washington said in a statement on Monday, slamming the US prosecutors’ logic as inherently flawed.

“Counting was totally uncalled for. Maria is not the only Russian citizen we visit in prisons,” the embassy said, adding that while such repeated visits might be “irritating” for US authorities, they are necessary in order for the embassy to receive “first-hand information on violations of basic human rights – the rights of our citizens in US prisons.”

The embassy vowed to continue to keep in touch with Butina as long as she is jailed and in need of consular assistance, adding that “if the situation continues, the prosecution will lose count of our official appeals to the US Department of State.”

If the State Department continues to cast the efforts of Russian diplomats in distorted light, such “evaluation” will become “the subject of a separate diplomatic note – it’s a promise.”

The embassy also slammed the prosecution for taking aim at RT as a channel that “critically covers the trial.” The attack on RT is a clear violation of the First Amendment, the embassy said, noting that while the freedom of press is protected by the US law, “it seems that the Constitution does not apply to Russian journalists.”

“Every step is being taken for the public to receive minimum reliable and objective information on this poorly directed show,” the embassy said, commenting on the court’s gag order for the defense attorney and pointing out that the media have uncritically reported the assertion that Butina traded sex for political favors – until the prosecutors admitted it was unfounded.

“It took them two months to admit the obvious – a lousy translation or interpretation of a fragment of Maria’s private correspondence. We can only welcome the prosecution’s decision as a first step made to gradually recall other, similarly groundless accusations,” the embassy said.

The 29-year-old has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

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