Most charges dropped against Russians accused of wildlife endangerment

Sri Lanka Police say they have dropped more than half of the charges against three Russian citizens accused of illegally killing and collecting endangered wildlife.

International Committee for Human Rights Russian Branch Vice President Ivan Melnikov said on 25 August that 175 of 277 charges have been dropped on the urging of Russian diplomats, rights activists, and lawyers in the ongoing trial that started almost a year ago.

Aleksandr Ignatenko, an entomologist from Rostov-on-Don, along with his associates Artyom Ryabov and Nikolai Kilafyan, were detained in Sri Lanka in February last year and accused of illegally collecting 33 species of rare and endangered plants, insects, and small animals in Sri Lanka.

According to Melnikov, even with the number of charges being significantly reduced, the three men still face sentences of up to 20 years – about half of what they previously faced – in prison if found guilty.

The three have pleaded not guilty, insisting they collected only dead insects from the roadside in order to photograph them. They also say they did not plan to take the samples out of Sri Lanka.

The Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences has said that most of the samples collected by the three men were not endangered species.