To the representatives of Amnesty International in the United Kingdom
To the members of the International Executive Comitee
To Mrs Irene Khan, General Secretary

1 Easton Street


Ladies and Gentlemen 

This letter is being written as Amnesty International celebrates its forty-fifth birthday. For almost fifty years it has been able very effectively to fulfil its mission i.e. to defend freedom of speech and opinion as well as political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. Fighting for basic human rights is now the prime purpose of your powerful and influential organisation. Nevertheless the defence of political prisoners shouldn’t be moved from its position high up on your agenda. There are lot of other humanitarian, charitable  and human-rights organisations in the world, but Amnesty International remains the chief hope for political prisoners.     

Amnesty International’s campaign, which started in Russia in 2002 under the rubric “Justice for Everyone”, was highly appreciated. The history of the past three years, however, has shown that justice in Russia is not at all for everyone.  There is a particular category of Russian citizens which receives an ‘exceptional’ and specially-tailored form of justice - among them the employees, executives and erstwhile shareholders of the disfavoured oil company Yukos. The reasons behind the legal pursuit of these people is political and nothing else - virtually all of those who are familiar with the so-called Yukos case are at one on this: western observers, PACE representatives and former Soviet political prisoners, who know very well from their own experience how political dissidents can be treated as criminals guilty of economic crimes. And the only organisation in all this which still has doubts about the true nature of the case and refuses to give Michael Khodorovsky the status of political prisoner is Amnesty International - in defiance of its own standards and definitions.

In our previous letter we laid out for you the political underpinnings of the Yukos case. Recent events have only served to underline the political and tailor-made character of the campaign against the ex-head of Yukos and his colleagues.

The trial of Michael Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev has now come to an end.  Both have received sentences of eight years behind bars. Though defence lawyers were given free play in court, the verdict was a virtual replica of the prosecutor’s speech, all the way down to misprints. This means that in practice the defendants were deprived of their right to a defence, since its function was merely decorative.
Also standing behind the verdict was the fact that the criminal laws under which the defendants were charged simply didn’t exist at the time of the activities in question This flies in the face of both international and Russian law. Michael Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, that’s to say, were not only deprived of a defence, but were also sentenced for crimes which weren’t crimes at all. It is extremely important to understand that the judges themselves were forced to violate the law in order to obey their political masters and condemn the heads of the company and, by extension and elsewhere, its employees.

The hearing of the appeal, furthermore, was conducted at unprecedented speed - 450 volumes of the Khodorkovsky case, 6500 protocols from the Meshansky court hearings and 700 pages of the defence’s appeal were read and considered by the Moscow City court within a single day - with the sole purpose of depriving Khodorkovsy of his right to stand for election to the Duma.  If he had been elected. he would not have been granted immunity, but would have had a political platform - the authorities’ main fear. 

The choice of camps a very great distance from Moscow for Khodorkovsky and Lebedev further flies in the face of Russian law, which specifies that prisoners should serve their sentence in whatever area of the Russian Federation they were either sentenced or domiciled in.  The two men in fact both lived and were sentenced in Moscow, but for reasons unknown were sent to serve their sentences, one (Lebedev) near the Arctic Circle, the other (Khodorkovsky) 6000 kilometres from home. It should be borne in mind that by this means other parties were penalized: i.e. the families of the convicted men, including aged parents and innocent children
The sole motive behind the choice of such distant sites was the creation of a news vacuum around the two men, a vacuum which could be used to pressure  them without any restraint from outside. And that’s what is actually happening.  Michael Khodorkovsky has been placed in solitary a number of times without any grounds, for breaking specially invented rules.  Provocations have been stages against him, including physical attacks.

As a final straw, the authorities have closed Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia Foundation,  which dealt with education, defence of press freedom and human rights.

Ladies and Gentlemen, doesn’t your considerable experience show that what has happened in this case is something quite other than a campaign against economic crimes?  Enforcing the law is one thing; making selective use of it and breaking many other laws in the process, quite another. Doesn’t the unprecedentedly cruel pressure placed on Michael Khodorkovsky even after the verdict, in the camp, prove that the aim all along was not to give just punishment to a criminal, but rather to break the spirit of an individual whom the authorities continue to see as a powerful opponent.

Given the authorities’ almost total control over the mass media and their decimation of social organisations, responsibility for the upholding of the rights of Russian political prisoners must fall to the international community. To forget about them means to sentence them to further torture and even death.  

We are absolutely convinced that most of such prisoners’ undeserved suffering could be avoided, were the international community, instead of closing its eyes to such events, to focus on calling them by their proper name i.e. political persecution.

We are also absolutely convinced that all such cruelties and such  injustice will continue unless the international community, headed by Amnesty International, takes a clear principled position on this case - as is its duty.

That’s why we insist upon asking you
• to accept without any doubts that Michael Khodorkovsky is a political prisoner
• to take prompt action to help have Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev moved back to the Moscow area, as is their right under Russian law, since their lives in these distant areas may be in danger
• to demand a new and fair trial and their release on bail during the trial period, and
• to demand new, objective and fair procedures in all legal cases connected to Yukos

In the firm hope of your understanding and support

Yours sincerely,

The Sovest Group


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