Russian officials reject Maria Butina’s guilty plea as coerced, groundless
Russia’s foreign minister on Friday claimed gun rights activist Maria Butina was tortured into falsely confessing she conspired against the United States by covertly planning to establish back channels between Moscow and Washington.
Sergey Lavrov made the comment after Butina, 30, pleaded guilty in D.C. federal court a day earlier to one count of conspiracy to fail to register as a foreign agent, Russian media outlets reported.
“I understand this woman,” Mr. Lavrov said, according to TASS, a state-owned news agency. “She is staying in the most difficult conditions and faced specific kind of tortures for months: they either forcibly wake her up and let her walk in the night or place her in a solitary confinement cell, and so on.
“I have reasons to assume that the goal of the [detention] conditions that were created for her was to break her will and make her admit to something that she most probably did not commit,” Mr. Lavrov added, according to the outlet’s English translation.
Butina was arrested in July in D.C. and is being held in federal custody in Alexandria, Virginia, pending a sentencing hearing scheduled for Feb. 12. Her lawyers said last month that she was recently segregated from other inmates and placed in solitary confinement, and that the isolation was causing a “profound psychological impact” putting her at risk of requiring professional mental health.
Russian officials who visited Butina on Thursday reported that she remains in administrative segregation, Mr. Lavrov said.
“She is still being held in very non-standard conditions, conditions which are usually used against extremely dangerous criminals,” he told reporters, according to TASS. “We again demanded that she be transferred to a general confinement room. She said that she was not under pressure and that she voluntarily pled guilty to one of the charges brought against her.
“However, it is her fate, her decision. We will do everything to provide the rights of our citizen and enable her return home as soon as possible,” Mr. Lavrov said.
The Department of Justice did not immediately return a request for comment.
Prosecutors said Butina conspired to “establish unofficial lines of communications” with U.S. politicians and Moscow without registering as a foreign agent as required by law. She initially pleaded not guilty to a pair of related counts prior to reversing course this month and agreeing to cooperate with investigators.
“I fully understand this agreement and agree to it without reservation,” Butina said upon entering her plea. “I do this voluntarily and of my own free will, intending to be legally bound. No threats have been made to me nor am I under the influence of anything that could impede my ability to understand this Agreement fully.”
Mr. Lavrov was hardly the only senior Russian official to reject her confession, however.
“We stress again that we consider all the charges brought against her absolutely groundless and void,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists, TASS reported Friday.