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Taisiya Osipova: Victim of Russian Justice

As the Pussy Riot storm passes out of the public eye somewhat, more press attention is focusing on the case of Taisiya (or Taisia) Osipova, who has been given an eight-year prison sentence – twice that recommended by her prosecutors – on widely contested drugs charges.  Osipova is a diabetic, mother of a toddler, and wife of Other Russia member Sergei Fomchenkov, who refused to testify against her husband.  Many believe that the case against her is politically motivated.  Osipova’s initial sentencing of ten years was overturned by a court in Smolensk in February 2012, after then-President Dmitry Medvedev said that, even if she had been selling drugs as charged, the sentence was too harsh.  But her sentence was passed last month, in the same week that the Pussy Riot verdict was handed down (overshadowing this less glamorous case).  The Washington Post reviews her case, noting that Russia’s lack of a rule of law allows the authorities to ‘exercise power at a whim […] people such as Ms. Osipova are trod underneath.

The mother of a 6-year-old, Ms. Osipova is the wife of Sergei Fomchenkov, a leader of an unregistered, nationalist opposition party, Other Russia. He said that Ms. Osipova was framed to put pressure on his political activities. She was arrested after a police sting operation on the street in Smolensk. The police also said they found drugs during a search of her apartment. She was initially sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Ms. Osipova, who has diabetes, got a new trial. A witness to the apartment search, Anton Mandrik, testified that he saw police plant the drugs. Mr. Mandrik took a lie detector test to back up his claim and passed. Ms. Osipova maintained since the start of the case that the drugs were planted, a common practice in Russia when the authorities are attempting to ensnare someone on trumped-up charges.

After the second trial, the judge threw out the charges based on the apartment search, but the others stuck. The Post’s Will Englund reported this year from Smolensk that the witnesses to the police sting were members of a pro-Kremlin youth group. One of them said she was misled by the police into thinking it was a routine criminal case, only to find out later that it was a trap for Ms. Osipova’s husband.

It is rare for a Russian judge to impose a longer jail term than that recommended by prosecutors, and the judge did not offer an explanation for deciding on an eight-year term. Most likely, there is a back story of a power struggle that is known only to a few. In a state without rule of law, individuals exercise power at a whim, and people such as Ms. Osipova are trod underneath.