Half year since snatching of Eston Kohver – what has been done?

Tiina Kaukvere
, Eesti uudiste päevatoimetaja
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Today marks six months since Russian FSB kidnapped Estonian security police officer Eston Kohver from Estonia’s territory while on duty. Foreign ministry reports on what has been done to set Mr Kohver free and guarantee his wellbeing.

13 meetings with consul

The consul has met Eston Kohver on 13 occasions, the last being yesterday. The consul forwarded messages from loved ones and assured Eston Kohver his case is dealt with on all levels. The next meeting with consul is planned in two weeks, as Russia will not allow shorter intervals.

While meeting the consul on February 16th, Eston Kohver was able to cast his vote for Riigikogu elections. At his latest meeting with the consul, Mr expressed interest towards elections results.  

Foreign ministry has consistently demanded for the consul to be able to meet Mr Kohver regularly and unhindered. The Russian side allows for meetings every two weeks. At the end of 2014, in spite of repeated applications, regular meetings were denied. Since the beginning of 2015, the former order of things has been restored and the consul meets Mr Kohver twice a month.  

Entire conversation interpreted to FSB employee

Meetings with the consul have been under surveillance of FSB in the Estonian language, but interpreted to FSB staff standing by through an interpreter. The consul has passed on to Mr Kohver messages from family and supplied him with medicines, clothes and everyday items. Meetings with the consul are the only chance to acquire truthful information of Mr Kohver’s situation and the investigative procedures performed upon him. Also, this is essentially the only link for Mr Kohver with Estonia and loved ones.

Only three phone calls home

Phone calls home to family have only been allowed for Mr Kohver after repeated addresses by consul and recourses to the lawyer appointed by Russian state. During his arrest, Mr Kohver has thrice been able to talk over the phone to his family, the latest such opportunity being on February 10th.

Medical check performed

After repeated applications and months-long waiting, on December 30th last year an Estonian doctor was allowed to do medical check for Eston Kohver, but the meeting took place under FSB surveillance. As at March 4th, psychiatric expertise assessment has not been performed regarding Mr Kohver. The Russian side has repeatedly talked of the importance of this, while not bringing sufficient or convincing reasons. Estonia does not deem this justified, and has thus informed Russia in written form.

Met anti-torture committee  

At the end of November, Eston Kohver briefly met Council of Europe anti-torture Committee which visited Lefortovo preliminary investigations prison during its ad hoc visit. Also, Mr has met with members of Russian Civic Chamber.

Without legal assistance

At the beginning of the proceedings, Mr Kohver waived lawyers hired by Estonian government, having allegedly expressed desire to continue with the one appointed by Russia. Obviously, though, he is not free in his decisions. Basically, Mr Kohver has been left without legal assistance as the defence lawyer appointed by Russian Yevgeni Aksyonov is unwilling or unable to essentially fulfil his defence duties and lays the blame on Estonian government agencies. The lawyer has only participated at investigative procedures performed and has not met or communicated with Mr Kohver outside of that. Also, the lawyer has delayed with applications for Mr Kohver to hold phone-calls with family and in other practical issues. Needed steps have only been taken by Mr Aksyonov after repeated reminders by consul. Also, Mr Aksyonov has provided media with controversial information on the criminal proceedings and presented misleading speculations.

Issue raised at international level

Estonia has raised and is upholding the case of Eston Kohver on international level – UN human rights council, OSCE, Council of Europe.  

«We have raised the issue of unlawful arrest of Eston Kohver on international level and in bilateral relations and will keep it on international agenda until Eston Kohver has been released and returned to his family. Our partners, also, are demanding that Russia immediately release Eston Kohver and return him to Estonia, in international organisations and at bilateral meetings with representatives of Russian Federation,» said foreign minister Keit Pentus-Rosimannus.

Yesterday, the European Union called upon Russia to immediately release Eston Kohver. The same application was also read in Strasbourg, at Council of Europe committee of deputies of ministers. The EU appeal was also joined by such non-EU states as Albania, Georgia, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Montenegro, Moldova, Norway and Ukraine. On Thursday, a statement of like content is expected by Organisation for Security and Co-operation of Europe (OSCE).

On Thursday, Estonia will present a statement regarding Eesti Kohver at UN human rights council session.

Earlier, the EU has issued numerous statements in support of Estonia; EU representatives have raised the issue at meetings with Russian representatives.

«Even so, Russia has not responded and Mr Kohver continues to be in prison in Moscow, away from his family. The international community needs to increase pressure for Mr Kohver to be released and keep the topic in constant spotlight until Mr Kohver is free,» said MEP Urmas Paet

Mr Paet proposed that a section demanding the release of Eston Kohver be added to a resolution regarding the Russian situation prepared by European Parliament. «Also, European Parliament liberals’ faction will have recourse to EU high representative on foreign affairs Ms Mogherini, by letter, that the demand for Mr Kohver’s release be dealt with more intensely,» said Mr Paet.

«Half a year has been robbed of Eston Kohver’s life, by Russia. This is a very long time. Eston Kohver must be released and returned to his family,» said Mr Paet.

During an incident near Estonia-Russia border on September 5th 2014, Russia’s FSB kidnapped Estonian security police officer Eston Kohver on duty on Estonian territory. By force, he was taken over the border and unto Russian territory. Eston Kohver is being kept at Moscow Lefortovo prison for preliminary investigations, the term of his arrest has repeatedly been prolonged. The last time his arrest was prolonged at end of December, till April 5th. Estonian consul has not been allowed to participate at court sessions.