Nadiya Savchenko is a Ukrainian military held in a Russian jail, accused of a “war crime” against Russian citizens. She took part in Ukraine’s war against Russia-backed separatists in 2014. It appears that she was kidnapped in Eastern Ukraine and brought to Russia in June 2014. The Russian authorities claim that, while piloting an army helicopter, Savchenko directed the artillery fire that killed two Russian reporters in Eastern Ukraine in the same month. Ironically, she is also charged with illegally entering Russia.
Since her arrest more than 13 months ago, Savchenko has been elected to the Ukrainian parliament and the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly, awarded Ukraine’s highest military honor, gone on a lengthy hunger strike and stopped it just in time to avert certain death.
There is little doubt that all the charges against Savchenko are bogus. Apart from the merits of the case, Russia is not the right venue and its courts have arbitrarily assumed jurisdiction. Even more obviously, it is impossible for Savchenko to receive a fair trial in Russia. Hardly anyone can, much less a Ukrainian soldier.
The latest turn in Savchenko’s legal ordeal is remarkable even by Russian standards. Earlier this month, her lawyers requested a jury trial but the request was turned down. Jury trials in Russia are only available to those accused of the gravest crimes, those punishable by death or life imprisonment. In 2013, the Constitutional Court ruled that juveniles are not entitled to trial by jury because they cannot, by law, receive either the death penalty or life imprisonment (a substitute for death during the current moratorium).
This brilliant legal logic, taken half a step further, results in denial of jury trials to women as well (unless the prosecutors agree): by law, women cannot be sentenced to death and, therefore, to lifelong incarceration in Russia.
Which is, according to an opinion column by a Russian legal scholar in Vedomosti, exactly why Nadiya Savchenko has been denied the right to be tried before a jury. Because she’s a woman.
A note on names, once again. Both the Ukrainian and the Russian languages tend to nativize common Eastern Slavic names. It’s “Volodymyr Putin” in Ukraine and “Nadezhda Savchenko” in Russia. “Nadiya” and “Nadezhda” mean the same, “hope,” in Ukrainian and in Russian. I’m using the Ukrainian form for obvious reasons, although Savchenko appears bilingual. “Nadia” is a familiar form not appropriate in formal communication.