Court hearing set in Russia for Mo. grad student detained since June

Thursday, August 23, 2007

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Friends and supports of a University of Missouri-St. Louis graduate student detained in Russia since June are encouraged that a court date has been set for the woman.

Roxana Contreras purchased old currency and medals from a street vendor, in violation of Russian law that she was apparently unaware of. Customs agents removed the items from her luggage at an airport on June 14 as she was preparing to return to the United States. Legal documents from Russia said Contreras was in possession of six medals, three ruble bills and a ruble coin.

Though the items were valued at only about $30, the offense carries a prison term of up to seven years.

Supporters learned Wednesday that a court date has been set for Aug. 28 in Ramon, Russia.

"We are thrilled with the news of a tentative court date, and are hopeful that her case will be dealt with fairly and that we will soon have her back safely in St. Louis," said Sonya Bahar, director of the Center for Neurodynamics at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and Contreras' thesis adviser.

Contreras, 29, is from Chile. She has been working on her Ph.D in physics at Missouri-St. Louis since 2004, and has been involved in research into the role of synchronization in brain activity in traumatically brain-injured patients.

Contreras was visiting friends in Voronezh, Russia, after attending a conference at the Max Planck Institute for Complex Systems in Dresden, Germany, Bahar said.

U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., has written to Ambassador Yuri Ushakov in support of Contreras, noting that many at Missouri-St. Louis will "vouch for the integrity" of the grad student and questioning why she was being required to stay in the country.

"It is my understanding that in similar cases contraband is rightfully confiscated, but that individuals are usually detained only for grave offenses," Akin wrote.

Missouri-St. Louis' chancellor and researchers from other institutions have also written to Russian authorities in support of Contreras.

Bahar said a Chilean newspaper reported that Chile's ambassador to Russia and the Chilean consul will attend the hearing.

"That support means so much, and leaves us all very encouraged," Bahar said.

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