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Lavrov urges OSCE to press for speedy release of political prisoners in Ukraine

MOSCOW, April 26, /ITAR-TASS/. In a telephone conversation with Swiss Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairperson in Office Didier Burkhalter on Saturday, April 26, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke of politically-motivated arrests of public activists in the South-East of Ukraine and urged him to press for their speediest release.

Burkhalter told Lavrov that the OSCE had secured access to Donetsk Region people’s governor Pavel Gubarev and would publish a memo on his condition after the visit scheduled for April 26.

On Thursday, April 24, Lavrov said Moscow had sent official letters to the OSCE and the ICRC requesting immediate access to Gubarev.

“We will push for immediate access to Gubarev to make sure that he has no problems with health,” Lavrov said. “We will of course continue efforts aimed at ensuring his immediate release as a political prisoner.”

Lavrov said in an interview with the RT television channel on April 23 that despite “an agreement on amnesty for political prisoners, Donetsk Region people’s governor Pavel Gubarev is in prison. Gubarev never seized buildings, he was arrested only for calls for a referendum on federalisation. Gubarev is a political prisoner.”

A crowd of demonstrators in a square in the centre of the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on March 1 proclaimed Pavel Gubarev people’s governor. The Ukrainian Security Service SBU promptly opened a criminal case against him on the suspicion of calls for changing Ukraine’s borders.

Gubarev, detained on March 6, is being held in Kiev’s pre-trial detention centre.

“Having thanked Burkhalter for these efforts, Lavrov drew his attention to other arrests of public activists in the South-East for political reasons and called on him to press for getting access to them and ultimately for their speediest release,” the Foreign Ministry said.

Burkhalter said he was hoping to get from protesters in the south-eastern regions a complete list of such persons so that he could take necessary measures.

He thanked Lavrov for Russia’s efforts to free the European military observers who had arrived in Ukraine at Kiev’s invitation under the Vienna Document of 2011 on confidence- and security-building measures and headed to south-eastern regions without properly notifying the public bodies that are controlling the situation in the region.

On Friday, April 25, supporters of federalisation in Slavyansk, a city in the south-East of Ukraine, detained a bus with passengers, with unarmed military observers from OSCE countries among them. The observers are staying in the east of Ukraine at the invitation of the Kiev authorities.

The OSCE confirmed to ITAR-TASS that these were not members of the Special Monitoring Mission or the election observation mission but had been sent to Ukraine by individual OSCE member states in accordance with the Vienna Document on confidence- and security-building measures.

Yevgeny Gorbik, a spokesperson for the supporters of federalisation, told reporters that the detained military observers had been engaged in intelligence activities.

“The humanitarian group of the [OSCE] mission has denied any relation to them… They [observers] had intelligence agents, cryptograms, and notebooks with secret notes”, Gorbik said. “A Bulgarian officer had a notebook with notes in Russian which confirm his intelligence activities and speak of a meeting with agents,” he added.

“No charges have been brought against them so far. But they’ve ended up in a company that calls into question the legitimacy of their activities,” Gorbik said, adding, “The investigation is underway to find out what they were doing and where”.

Vyacheslav Ponomarev, the people’s mayor of Slavyansk, said the detained persons were not members of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission but were military observers. “The military were on our territory without our permission and were detained of course,” he said.

“What we should do with them we will know after we have determined who they are and what brought them here,” Ponomarev said, adding that the detainees were being held in “normal conditions”. “One of the military officials has diabetes, but we have necessary medications and food [for him].”

Ponomarev said the supporters of federalisation were ready to exchange the detained military for their comrades being held by the Kiev authorities.

“The Kiev junta is holding our comrades. But we are ready for an exchange if there is such a chance,” he said.