MOSCOW – The father of a Russian woman jailed in the U.S. on charges that she tried to infiltrate U.S. political organizations as a covert Russian agent said Friday that the U.S. authorities have eased her prison regime.
Maria Butina has pleaded not guilty to the charges and Russia has dismissed them as "preposterous." Russia's Foreign Ministry has complained that Butina has suffered from "inhumane" conditions in U.S. solitary confinement that jeopardized her health and urged U.S. authorities to improve her conditions.
Russian state-controlled TV stations have focused on Butina, portraying her as a victim of unfair prosecution and cruel prison conditions.
Her father, Valery Butin, told Rossiya TV on Friday that she called him to say that authorities would now allow her to take walks outdoors and talk to other inmates after more than two months in solitary confinement.
"We have been waiting for that moment for a long time," he said from Barnaul, his Siberian home city. "She was subjected to all sorts of restrictions ... and, most importantly, her sleep won't be interrupted."
On Thursday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova protested what she called "absolutely inhumane" conditions for Butina, including regular checks at night time.
"What bewilders and outrages us — not just the ministry but also the public — is the conditions she is being kept in," Zakharova said.
U.S. prosecutors charge that Butina, 29, gathered intelligence on American officials and political organizations and worked to develop relationships with American politicians via her contacts with the National Rifle Association. They say her work was directed by a former Russian lawmaker who was sanctioned this year by the U.S. Treasury Department for his alleged ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Butina has pleaded not guilty to the charges of conspiracy and acting as an unregistered foreign agent for Russia.
Her attorney Robert Driscoll has denied that Butina is a Russian agent, calling the case "overblown." He says his client was merely a student who wanted to see a better relationship between the U.S. and Russia and sought to network with influential people in American politics.