European Court Rules That Khodorkovsky’s Rights Were Violated

The European Court of Human Rights has found Russian authorities guilty of violating the rights of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, but rejected the former oil tycoon’s claim that his jailing was politically motivated.

Once Russia’s richest man, Khodorkovsky was detained in 2003 in a case critics saw as retribution for his political ambitions and stinging criticism of then President Vladimir Putin.

Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev were imprisoned on charges of fraud and tax evasion, and their jail term was extended to 2017 in a second trial in December. Last week, a Moscow court reduced their term by one year to a total of 13 years.

Both have repeatedly denied wrongdoing.

The rights court, based in the French city of Strasbourg, today ordered Russia to pay Khodorkovsky 24,000 euros ($35,000) in court costs and damages for rights violations, including being held in “degrading” and “humiliating” conditions.

The ruling, which related to an appeal filed in connection with his detention and first trial, deemed his arrest unlawful.

Khodorkovsky was initially detained on grounds that he had failed to appear as a witness in a criminal case. But the Strasbourg court said the speed with which investigators charged him suggested they had been “prepared for such a development” and “had wanted Khodorkovsky as a defendant” rather than a simple witness.

Judges also condemned authorities for extending his pretrial detention twice without justification.

The court, however, rejected the ex-tycoon’s claim that the legal onslaught against him is politically motivated.

“While Mr. Khodorkovsky’s case might raise some suspicion as to what the real intent of the Russian authorities might have been for prosecuting him,” the judgment read, “claims of political motivation behind prosecution required incontestable proof, which had not been presented.”

The ruling does not mean investigators will revisit Khodorkovsky’s conviction. A similar decision in which the rights court in 2007 ruled Lebedev’s arrest illegal has not brought any concrete changes.

Today’s ruling nonetheless marks a victory for the former oil magnate and fuels hope that his request for parole will be granted.

His lawyers announced late on May 30 that Khodorkovsky and Lebedev had filed for parole, saying they were eligible for early release since they had served half of their sentence.

written by Claire Bigg

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