The accused Russian spy who is one of the most intriguing figures in the investigation into President Trump’s election campaign has landed in solitary confinement for the second time, and her supporters back home claim the U.S. government is creating “conditions of torture” to ramp up “psychological pressure” on her.
But authorities at the Alexandria, Va., detention facility where she has been housed counter that Maria Butina was moved into administrative segregation for her own “safety.”
Butina, who faces charges of conspiring to act as a foreign agent, has been imprisoned since her arrest July 16, after she was judged a flight risk by authorities. According to prosecutors, she was working for Russian intelligence as part of a stealth mission to subvert the 2016 election.
The Siberian-born Butina, who celebrated her 30th birthday in jail, has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and officials, family and supporters in her native land are eagerly using the latest wrinkle in her case to generate sympathy.
“She is not allowed to take a walk during the day, only between 2 and 4 in the morning,” Ivan Melnikov, vice president of the Russian division of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, told the Russian news service Interfax.
“It is unacceptable from the human rights standpoint,” Melnikov said in a report translated and posted by Johnson’s Russia List, a listserv of news from Russia supported by George Washington University. “At night, a human being should be asleep.”
Placing her in solitary, he said, “constitutes the creation of conditions of torture to exert psychological pressure.”
When she was first jailed, Butina was confined briefly to a solitary cell in a Washington, DC, detention center for 22 hours a day, and later released into the general population.
According to her lawyer, who filed a petition for her release this week, she was moved into solitary a second time by Virginia prison authorities after she gave a fellow inmate the name and phone number of her lawyers.
Attorney Robert Driscoll said he was told the decision was made “for her safety,” CNN.com reported.
Prison authorities have so far not commented on her case.
Butina, a former American University graduate student, developed close friendships with leading conservative activists who in turn reportedly put her in contact with major players in both the Republican Party and the National Rifle Association.
But her compatriots, who believe she is a scapegoat in U.S. partisan wrangling, are trying to turn her into a heroine.
A sympathetic report in the Russian newspaper Izvestia this week, headlined “Despite tough prison conditions, Butina stays strong,” painted her as a “hostage to big politics.”
“Maria is being held hostage to big politics,” Alexander Domin, a Moscow law professor described as a personal friend, told the paper. “By arresting her, Washington is flaunting its power.
“The Russian Foreign Ministry now faces a serious task: to help our political prisoners return home.”
According to the Izvestia dispatch, Butina spent her time teaching yoga and algebra to her fellow inmates when she was housed in the general prison population, and even started to learn Italian.
“I heard that she and her fellow inmates even baked cookies,” her father Valery Butin was quoted as saying. “But it is difficult to imagine how hard it is when your daughter is jailed under spurious charges.
“I hope this nightmare will end soon and we will meet again.”
Butina faces years in prison if convicted.