By Angelos Anastasiou
RUSSIAN journalist Andrey Nekrasov, held in Cyprus for almost a month following an international arrest warrant by Russia, was flown back to Lithuania early Wednesday morning, according to his lawyer Nicoletta Charalambidou.
Nekrasov, who had been arrested at Larnaca airport on July 16 and held since, asked to be returned to Lithuania, his point of entry into the European Union, which is responsible to decide his fate in connection with an extradition request by Russia.
The Russian journalist boarded a 4:30 am flight to Vilnius and arrived in the Lithuanian capital at 10:20 am.
Although Lithuania has the same obligations as Cyprus to Russia with regard to the international arrest warrant it issued against Nekrasov, the Baltic state can opt to approve his asylum request, thus effectively nullifying the order.
“Legally, this was the proper procedure,” Charalambidou said.
“My client was returned to his point of entry in the EU, which is responsible for reviewing his asylum application. And if it is approved, execution of the warrant will be off the table.”
Nekrasov fled his home town in the Russian Urals in March, to escape imminent imprisonment in connection with his journalism and activism.
Reporters Without Borders said Nekrasov, from Izhevsk, the capital of the Udmurt Republic, was constantly hounded by authorities for his activities, which included a campaign to defend the rights of workers at the Izhmash factory.
The CEO of the factory filed a complaint accusing him of blackmail and extortion in 2013, at a time when he was writing about the workers’ demands.
He was initially questioned as a witness, but the FSB, the federal security service, placed him in police custody and tried to extract a confession, Reporters said.
As a result, he was now facing up to 15 years in prison.
In February, he was fined 30,000 roubles (€450) on a criminal defamation charge for linking a local official in the ruling United Russia party to a person of the same name with assets in the United States.
Fearing that this conviction would be used as an aggravating circumstance in the other case, Nekrasov fled the country.
“Aside from legal due process, the reason he wanted to be sent back to Lithuania were differences on a political level,” Charalambidou explained, implying any examination of Nekrasov’s request by Cypriot authorities would not be conducted purely on its merits, but skewed by political considerations.
“Lithuania has a different sort of relationship with Russia, and he feels more confident that no political criteria will colour the examination of his asylum request.”
Back in March, Nekrasov was granted a one-year residence permit by the Baltic state after he fled Russia.
In an open letter made public after his departure, Nekrasov expressed his gratitude to everyone who took an interest in his case and helped him in his cause.
“The eight-day hunger strike that I began in protest against my incarceration in the main prison in Nicosia, Cyprus, during which I was placed in isolation, is now over,” he wrote.
“As the days went by, I had absolutely no idea whether this protest would produce any result. I had no contact with the outside world. As soon as I was arrested, I was fully aware that, if I were sent back to Russia, there would be no chance that the courts would consider the trumped-up charges against me in an objective manner. If extradited, I would inevitably spend the next 15 years of my life in a Russian prison.”
But this unfortunate fate was averted due to the pressure exerted by various human-rights organisations, Nekrasov said.
“On the eighth day of my hunger strike, I learned that a campaign for my release was under way,” he recalled.
“Honestly, this was a surprise for me, especially the participation in this campaign of such serious and renowned human rights NGOs as Reporters Without Borders, Russie-Libertés, KISA and the Union of Cypriot Journalists (Christos Christofides, in particular, has taken a great deal of interest in my case and has done everything possible to help me and to inform everyone).”
“I would personally like to thank each of you. There are many of you and yet I would like to shake each of you by the hand in recognition of the interest you showed in my fate, although I am a provincial journalist who mainly writes in and about a Russian region, the Republic of Udmurtia. I regard your support as a real miracle, one that has saved my life and my freedom. Every one of you has played a role, an enormous role.”