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Friday, June 14, 2024

Russia detains French citizen on charges of collecting military data

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A Moscow court has ordered a French citizen accused of collecting information on military issues in Russia be held in jail pending investigation and trial.

Laurent Vinatier was arrested in the Russian capital on Thursday as tensions have flared between Moscow and Paris following French President Emmanuel Macron’s statements about the possibility of deploying the country’s troops in Ukraine.

The authorities accused Vinatier of failing to register as a “foreign agent” while collecting information about Russia’s “military and military-technical activities”, which could be used to the detriment of the country’s security.

They did not provide details of the accusations beyond alleging that Vinatier repeatedly travelled to Russia to collect this information. Under Russian law, it is a criminal offence punishable by up to five years in prison.

Vinatier appeared in court on Friday. Russia’s state news agency Tass cited his lawyer as saying in the courtroom that Vinatier admitted his guilt and maintained that he simply did not know about the requirement.

The report also said Vinatier apologised to the court.

The judge ordered the man to be remanded in pre-trial detention until August 5.

Vinatier is an adviser with the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, a Geneva-based non-governmental organisation.

Later on Friday, the Geneva-based NGO said it was doing “everything possible to assist our colleague Laurent”, such as by helping to secure legal representation for him and reach out to Russian authorities.

“As the case proceeds, we continue to seek information about the circumstances leading up to his arrest and the charges made against him,” it said.

The charges against Vinatier stem from a recently adopted law that requires anyone who collects information on military issues to register with authorities as a foreign agent.

Human rights activists have criticized the law and other legislation adopted lately as part of a multi-pronged Kremlin crackdown on independent media and political activists intended to stifle criticism of its actions in Ukraine.

Arrests on charges of spying and collecting sensitive data have become increasingly frequent in Russia since it sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022.

Recent high-profile arrests include Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested on espionage charges in March 2023, and US-Russian journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, who was taken into custody in October 2023 on the same charges as Vinatier.


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