The head of the Glasnost Defense Foundation Alexei Simonov has written a letter to the Amnesty International human rights watchdog, asking it to recognize the former Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev as prisoners of conscience. Forty-five prominent Russians, among them well-known actors, writers and reporters, put their signatures under the address.
Last year, Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, the former co-owners of Yukos, once Russia’s largest oil company, were found guilty of stealing more than 200 million tons of crude and laundering the sales proceeds during the second trial against them. Both were sentenced to 14 years in prison. The term included the sentence they have already served under the previous charges. The evidence furnished by the prosecution shows that even after they were arrested, Khodorkovsky and Lebedev continued to direct an organized criminal group they had formed. A number of rights defenders in Russia and politicians abroad condemned the verdict as politically motivated.
Alexei Simonov’s address echoes that Yukos’ ex-owners were punished not for their economic crimes but for their political beliefs that clashed from the official stance. The authors of the letter portray Khodorkovsky and Lebedev as martyrs in the best traditions of the epistolary genre. What seems to be an endless saga in support of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev began in 2005 when a group of Russian public figures and art celebrities issued an address in connection with the first trial against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, in which they said that “big money” must not influence the verdict and that the law exists for all, oligarchs as well.
The second trial and the verdict were accompanied by a series of scandals and attempts to put pressure on the court in favor of the defendants. Last month, 55 people who are well-known in and outside Russia, in an open letter in connection with this high-profile case, sounded the alarm over attempts by “some organizations and persons” to discredit and manupulate the Russian judicial system. The signatories were immediately attacked by liberal mass media.
Alexander Treschev, a plenipotentiary representative of the European Union Chamber of Lawyers in Russia, says he can’t understand those letters either in support or against Khodorkovsky that involve art celebrities, businessmen and other outstanding figures.
This is a very ambiguous situation. We are not in a church, praying for the pardon. If there are any doubts that a court ruling is unfair, it should be appealed. This is the only right thing to do. As for those letters, I don’t think that Khodorkovsky or Lebedev themselves actually need them because it’s unclear which side the public opinion will take. These arguments dilute the essence. And the essence is that they were accused of economic offenses which were proven in court.
Despite continuing attempts to politicize the Khodorkovsky and Lebedev trial, the verdict handed down by Moscow’s Khamovnichesky Court remains in force. Imperfect though it may be, the Russian judicial system must not become a subject for manipulation or political games. As for the above verdict, experts of the Presidential Human Rights Council are currently evaluating it and will soon come up with their conclusions.