Amnesty Recognizes Khodorkovsky, Lebedev As ‘Prisoners Of Conscience’

Amnesty International has recognized Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev as prisoners of conscience, a week after Russian activists protested what they said was a decision by the global watchdog to deny the pair that status.

The decision followed a ruling on May 24 by the Moscow City Court to uphold the convictions of former Yukos CEO Khodorkovsky and his associate Lebedev on charges of embezzlement and money laundering. Both men had their sentences reduced by one year but will still remain in prison until at least 2016.

This was the second trial for both Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, who were convicted of fraud and tax evasion in 2005. Supporters say both trials were fabricated as punishment for Khodorkovsky’s open criticism of then President Vladimir Putin in the early 2000s.

In a statement, Amnesty International said it was recognizing the two men as prisoners of conscience, adding, “There can no longer be any doubt that their second trial was deeply flawed and politically motivated.”

John Dalhuisen, the deputy director of Amnesty’s Europe and Central Asia program, said the conclusion of the trial — the second for both Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, who were convicted of fraud and tax evasion in 2005 — left no doubt that the Russian justice system had failed to carry out the process in accordance with proper rules and principles.

“In the light of the decision pronounced yesterday,” Dalhuisen said, “and the very conspicuous failure of Russia’s lower courts to deliver justice in this case — in this case to address the serious shortcomings in the conduct of the investigation and the second trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev — we concluded that the Russian justice system was incapable of delivering justice in their case. And it’s for that reason that we have now called them prisoners of conscience.”

Outpouring Of Anger

Amnesty International’s decision came in the wake of an outpouring of anger from the Russian activist community, which believed the group had officially denied prisoner of conscience status to Khodorskovsky and Lebedev earlier this month.

The secretary-general of Amnesty International, Salil Shetty, on May 12 wrote an open letter in response to activists who had asked the group to bestow prisoner of conscience status on Lebedev and Khodorkovsky.

In the letter, he said “the existence of a political motivation behind someone’s detention is not sufficient for Amnesty International to consider them a prisoner of conscience.” He added, however, that his organization would “reconsider” its position “in the light of the forthcoming appeal.”

Many Russian signatories of the letter supporting Khodorkovsky and Lebedev reacted heatedly, with at least one supporter telling RFE/RL’s Russian Service that Amnesty’s move was a “betrayal” and a sop to energy-hungry Western countries who want to maintain cordial relations with Moscow.

The man spearheading the appeal to Amnesty, Aleksei Simonov, the head of the Glasnost Defense Foundation, said today he believed the organization was simply waiting for the trial to conclude before making a final judgment.

“This is directly connected to the decision by the Moscow court,” Simonov said. “[Amnesty] had hoped there would be some indication that a morsel of justice was being served, that the court could demonstrate that they weren’t prisoners of conscience. But with its decision, the Moscow court gave them no other choice, and they made their decision simultaneously with the court’s.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has harshly criticized the Amnesty decision, saying Khodorkovsky was an “economic criminal” and that Amnesty would have to “rest on its conscience.”

Yelena Polyakovskaya of RFE/RL’s Russian Service contributed to this report

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