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9 Oct, 2007 09:10

Russian teenager could face death penalty in Lebanon

Eighteen-year-old Sergey Vysotsky is one of four Russian citizens who could be put to death in Lebanon if found guilty of terrorist offences. The teenager is under arrest in the capital Beirut. The other three Russians remain at large.

Lebanese authorities met Russian diplomats in Beirut to confirm the charges against the four Russian citizens. All are suspected of terrorist activities. The men could face the death penalty if found guilty.  

However, Geidar Dzhemal, the Chairman of Russia's Islamic Committee says it's likely the four Russians will be sent home.

“We have information that they will not be sent to Guantanamo or sent to any other Lebanese prison. They are Russian citizens and will be returned home, to Russia. Whether it will be followed by a court trial or what sort of court – is still a question to be agreed. It shall be decided between the legal agencies of the two countries,” he said.

Teenager wanted to study in Lebanon

The teenager Sergey Vysotsky, 18, claims he came to Lebanon at the beginning of the year with the intention of going to university in Tripoli, in the north of the country.  He says the college had no place for him when he arrived. He says he then became friendly with a group of youths from a nearby Palestinian refugee camp. That's the reason, he says, he was in the area of the battlefield when he was arrested in early September.

The Press-Attache of the Russian Embassy in Lebanon, Vladimir Cherepanov, told Russia Today that the Head of the Consular Department visited Vysotsky in prison. He saw the conditions he is being kept in and said they were acceptable. He also confirmed that embassy staff will be present when police question the youth. 

“Vysotksy has said he has no complaints about being kept in custody. He appears quite healthy. He was not tortured during the preliminary investigation and it is apparent from the way he looks. He confirms that he was detained in early September in the battle area. From October 11 interrogations will begin with the preliminary investigation, during which our consul will be present as agreed with the Lebanese side,” Mr Cherepanov informed.

Sergey Vysotsky is said to be co-operating with officers, but has consistently denied the accusations against him. He says he was no way involved in the killing of Lebanese military and police personnel.

On Thursday he will appear before a Lebanese judge for the first time, which will be his first official interrogation.  The Russian Embassy has requested that a representative be present.  They will also provide a translator.

Under Lebanese law Vysotsky must be provided with a lawyer, free of charge, once his trial begins. But before that the Russian Embassy will be providing him with one, including at the first session to take place on Thursday.

The Embassy says it's satisfied with the close co-operation between the Russian and the Lebanese authorities.

Surprise at Russian involvement

There has been surprise in Lebanon that some of the militants of the radical Palestinian movement Fatah Al-Islam could come from Russia. The four Russian citizens are the first non-Arab nationals to have been charged with such serious crimes in Lebanon.

“Russians among them? What are you talking about?” wondered Oksana Naser, a Dagestani woman living in Nahr al-Bared refugee camp. “I heard only about one – from Chechnya. And from Dagestan? I am hearing it, first time, from you,” she told RT's correspondent.
Oksana herself comes from Dagestan, a republic in the South of Russia. But unlike the four charged Russian nationals, one of whom allegedly comes from her hometown, she was an innocent bystander to the violence that wrecked her home and destroyed her private gynaecological practice in the Nahr al-Bared camp four months ago.

Together with thousands of others, she’s found temporary shelter nearby.

“I used to see these men from Fatah Al-Islam in our camp. Some of their wives were my patients. Many of them were pregnant. I had a chance to talk to them,” Oksana recalls.

Here at the Naser family, the despair is overwhelming.

“I want to go back to Russia, I want to work there if I can,” Dr Ali Naser confesses.

The family has lost everything. They live now on borrowed money and forgotten dreams.

Dr. Raed El-Haj, who was born in Nahr al-Bared, has also found temporary shelter nearby. He is one of fifty doctors from the camp who studied in Russia. He remembers seeing one of the men patrolling the streets.

“He was just in military uniform, like soldiers were, and was carrying a Kalashnikov machine gun. But not all of them were dressed like soldiers. I knew he was Russian because I studied in Russia for twelve years. I can tell from the face if a man is Russian in the same way that he can tell I am Arab. Many of them were undercover. Their real power became known only after the war started,” Dr. Raed El-Haj said.

“We'd have sent the Russians home”

The war was between the Lebanese army and Islamist militants belonging to an Al-Qaeda offshoot – Fatah al Islam. The residents of the northern Lebanese Palestinian camp became its victims.

Now, waiting to return, they keep themselves well-armed.

Abdelary Arkanbader, the leader of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, said they were surprised in the beginning to find there were Russians fighting with Fatah Al-Islam.

“But now we know that there are a handful of Russians involved and in my opinion, they probably come from Chechnya. They arrived here from Iraq. I wish we’d known before the fighting started that there were Russians, we would’ve taken them to the Russian Embassy because we have good relations with Russia and we would have let them go home,” Abdelary Arkanbader noted.

Late last week, 98 suspected Fatah al-Islam militants were buried in a mass grave. None were identified. Mr Abdelary says it is possible some of the missing Russians could be among them.