The Justice Ministry has given the green light for the extradition of Russian citizen and notorious photographer Svetlana Timofeeva who was arrested in Albania on charges of espionage in August 2022, though her lawyer fears she would face human rights violations if she returns to Russia.
Timofeeva was caught along with two other individuals, entering closed military facilities dating from the communist era when Albania had a close allegiance with the Soviet Union. She was charged with espionage, while also being wanted in Russia for similar charges.
“The Ministry of Justice has administered the request for extradition of the aforementioned subject, in which the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation, in the capacity of the central authority, has given guarantees that the extradition request is not aimed at persecuting the person for political reasons, due to race, religion, nationality or political views etc”, the Ministry of Justice told BIRN.
Timofeeva told the court at the start of February that she had divorced her husband and left Russia because of her views on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. She said these views would leave her open to political persecution and she expressed a wish to remain in Albania.
She will now undergo the extradition procedure and be sent back to Russia, despite protests from her legal representative. Isuf Shehu, her lawyer, said there are concerns that the claims made by Russia’s General Prosecutor are not true and that she could face human rights violations if she returns.
“The Ministry of Justice must necessarily verify whether what the relevant institution of the requesting state, which is the General Prosecutor’s Office, says is true or not,” said Shehu.
Concerns were also raised over cooperating with the country amid EU and US sanctions, and the ongoing war. The Albanian Ministry of Justice told BIRN “Cooperation in the field of justice has nothing to do with austerity measures, which are only political and economic.” They added they have followed the appropriate laws regarding extradition “to the letter.”
Timofeeva has published two books and amassed a significant social media following as she photographed ex-Soviet sites around the world. She was arrested in Albania after entering a rundown weapons factory south of Tirana where AK-47s were once manufactured.
Police found cameras, drones, phones, maps, and cash during the investigation. The authorities became even more suspicious when one of Timofeeva’s associates sprayed pepper spray at two guards once they were discovered.
The three suspects remain in custody and deny all charges against them.