A University of Missouri-St. Louis graduate student must pay a fine of about 600 U.S. dollars, but otherwise has been cleared of charges and can leave Russia after a 76-day ordeal.
Roxana Contreras, 29, said by phone that she was exhausted, but relieved, and hoped to return to St. Louis by early next week.
"I'd rather not pay anything, but it's better to pay $600 than going to jail," she said.
She has been stuck in Voronezh, a city in southwestern Russia, since mid-June when airport officials stopped her when they found old coins and military medals in her suitcase. She had bought the souvenirs, valued at about $30 U.S. dollars, from a street vendor. She said she did not know it was illegal to buy them or to leave the country with them. She could have faced a seven-year prison sentence.
Her supporters grew upset when her case dragged on for weeks without a court hearing. They also said she was being unfairly treated for a fairly minor infraction.
Her court trial this week lasted for three days. Contreras said the prosecutor ended up dropping the contraband charges against her for trying to leave the country with the items. But she still has to pay the fine of 15,000 rubles for buying the items.
Sonya Bahar, Contreras' advisor and an UMSL professor, said today that she is thrilled by the news that Contreras was coming home.
"I can't possibly say how happy I am," she said. "It's the most wonderful thing in the world to have some sort of justice. But I can't completely rejoice until we have her back."
Bahar expressed dismay at the whole ordeal. "It does seem as if they were deliberately tormenting her," she said.
I suppose Russia didn't want Iran to be the only place imprisoning academics from America for no good reason.
On the other hand, Russia taught us all a very important lesson: Don't spend a single tourist dollar in Russia. Ever. It's now on my "not-to-do" list.