Putin pardons woman convicted of treason for text messages

By The Associated Press | Posted - Mar. 7, 2017 at 3:42 a.m.

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday pardoned a woman convicted of treason last year for sending text messages about military movements near Georgia's breakaway republic.

The Kremlin published Putin's decree on Tuesday to pardon 46-year-old Oksana Sevastidi on humanitarian grounds.

The shopkeeper from the Black Sea resort of Sochi was sentenced to seven years in prison in March 2016 for sending two text messages to a friend in Georgia in 2008 about Russian military movements near the breakaway republic of Abkhazia, several months before Russia and Georgia fought a brief war over Abkhazia and another breakaway region. Sochi is several kilometers (miles) away from the Russian-Georgian border.

Sevastidi's conviction came amid a spike in treason convictions in recent years of Russians who seemingly weren't in a position to obtain any top-secret information. They included a mother of seven, a Sochi traffic controller, a Black Sea Fleet sailor, a Siberian police major, a Russian Orthodox Church employee, a Moscow university lecturer and a retired nuclear scientist.

The variety of suspects is not in itself evidence of a harsher crackdown, but Russia is clearly widening its net on treason and hauling in the most people in years.

Sevastidi is also the third person who faced controversial charges to have been released in the recent weeks. A cleaning lady who was convicted of disseminating child pornography in a social media post decrying abuse was released on Monday after her case was overturned, and an opposition activist was freed last month after the Supreme Court annulled his 2½-year sentence because of procedural violations.

This recent wave of prison releases coincided with increased pressure on the opposition and civil activists. Last week, Russia's top investigative agency searched the apartment of a prominent opposition journalist and prisoner-rights activist.

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