February 15, 2004
Dear Madam Secretary General,
We, members of an independent public group named Sovest (the Russian word for “Conscience”), present you our compliments and would like to address Amnesty International in connection with the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former CEO of the oil company YuKOS, who currently occupies the position of the Chairman of the Board of the regional public organization Otkrytaya Rossiya (Open Russia).
Our group comprising about two dozens of people who live in various cities both in Russia and abroad was created specially in order to provide public support to Mr. Khodorkovsky and other defendants in the so-called “YuKOS case.”
We fully support the statement sent to you, Madam, on Jan. 10, 2004, by the most prominent figures of the human rights movement in Russia, namely by Elena Bonner, Vladimir Bukovsky, Natalya Gorbanevskaya, Sergey Kovalev, Edward Kuznetsov and others.
[I.] To the examples of the “managed” justice that these highly respectable people quoted in their letter we can add more no less striking facts, which clearly illustrate the biased and arbitrary nature of the Russian courts. For instance, as far as the Dec. 22, 2003 hearing at the Basmanny District Court is concerned (where a purely procedural issue was considered, whether Mr. Khodorkovsky must remain in incarceration pending the trial and while reading his case or could be released on bail), the following violations were committed by the investigators (prosecution) and the judge, which strongly impeded with Mr. Khodorkovsky’s right to a proper defense. We know about these violations from Mr. Khodorkovsky’s lawyers, who filed their objections to every one of them:
1. Mr. Khodorkovsky’s lawyers were warned of the hearing scheduled for Monday only on the previous Friday evening, when both the General Prosecutor’s Office, which filed a petition for the hearing to be scheduled, and the court were already closed. Therefore, the lawyers could neither file a motion to postpone the hearing nor speak to their client, as the pre-trial detention center was also closed at the time they learned about the Monday hearing.
2. When the lawyers appeared in court at 10:00 am, their client was not there, and the judge told them that the hearing would take place in the detention center where Mr. Khodorkovsky was (and still is) incarcerated. This was an unprecedented decision, but after a 2-hour delay for no apparent reason the judge suddenly changed his mind and said he had ordered the defendant to be taken to court.
3. When after three more hours of delay Mr. Khodorkovsky was finally brought to court (surrounded by no fewer than eight guards as an ostentatious demonstration of him being allegedly “dangerous”), he had no chance of speaking to his lawyers in private, and had to discuss the strategy of defense in the court room, from behind the bars.
4. The lawyers received from the prosecution a 6-inch thick file with the documents they had never seen before. But the judge gave them less than two hours for reading and reviewing them, disregarding the fact that there were four defense lawyers in the court room at the time, and one of them had stepped into the case only on the previous day.
5. The judge ordered that the hearing should be closed, notwithstanding the fact that the law has an exhaustive list of cases when a court hearing can be closed, and not a single one of them could be applicable in the matter.
6. As we also know from Mr. Khodorkovsky’s lawyers, the court record was more than once distorted by the secretary, so that the lawyers had to keep their own records and file motions every time they noticed such a distortion.
7. The prosecution submitted invalid documents as a proof of its position. After the defense revealed the fact, the hearing was postponed until the following day. And when the hearing was resumed, the invalid documents were replaced with proper ones.
8. The court granted all motions filed by the prosecution and denied all those filed by the defense.
9. Finally, the court refused to release Mr. Khodorkovsky on bail, although the justice was fully aware of the fact that the prosecution failed to submit any convincing proofs that Mr. Khodorkovsky presented any danger to society, as it alleged. In fact, he could neither run away, because his traveling passports were impounded and his bank account frozen, nor could he influence the investigation or witnesses because the investigation was declared over by the prosecution. Notwithstanding all that, the judge ordered that he should remain in incarceration until the trial of his case, although in all civilized countries this measure is considered to be ultimate and resorted to only as an extremity, which was obviously not the case.
These are just a few facts out of a great number. In our opinion, if the prosecution commits such gross violations regarding a purely procedural issue, it is absolutely obvious that it has nothing incriminating as far as the substance of the case is concerned.
[II.] Apart from these extraordinary violations committed by the prosecution and the justice at what should have been an ordinary court hearing, there are more that are being committed in Mr. Khodorkovsky’s case almost on an everyday basis:
1. The lawyers who visit him in the pre-trial detention center undergo searches, of both their persons, their personal possessions and their professional documents. A note allegedly written in Mr. Khodorkovsky’s hand was found on the person of one of his lawyers, and, notwithstanding the fact that the prosecution failed to prove that the note had ever belonged to Mr. Khodorkovsky, the lawyer is now threatened with disbarment.
2. Vladimir Kolesnikov, a Deputy Prosecutor General, said more than once in public that Mr. Khodorkovsky would receive a ten-year imprisonment and expressed his regret that “we cannot give him more.” These remarkable statements made well before the trial of the case and even before the completion of the investigation prove that prosecution tramples upon the presumption of innocence and is totally biased.
3. The same can be said about the chief investigator in Mr. Khodorkovsky’s case, Salavat Karimov, whose reply to an official petition of our group we enclose together with a translation into English (see Annex I hereto).
4. About two weeks ago, the prosecution said that Mr. Khodorkovsky was intentionally delaying the start of a trial of his case.
We must stress that this statement is utterly false. Mr. Khodorkovsky’s file includes 227 volumes (by the way, it took the Prosecutor General’s Office only a month to prepare such a voluminous dossier, which fact speaks eloquently about the quality of the investigation). According to his lawyers, he reads (in fact, thoroughly examines) about 100 pages a day. In the abominable conditions of a pre-trial detention center where he is being incarcerated, it is an absolutely striking performance.
Besides, it is perfectly clear that it is the prosecution who intentionally delays the trial. It became clear in another case, closely connected with Mr. Khodorkovsky’s one, the case of his business partner Mr. Platon Lebedev, who is also facing trial on almost similar criminal charges. Earlier this week, the prosecution, who had declared long ago that the investigation into Mr. Lebedev’s case was over, said that it had found additional charges that should be added to the indictment.
There is no doubt that the prosecution has no intention of submitting the matter to court, that it has only one purpose in mind, i.e. to discourage and demoralize both Mr. Khodorkovsky and Mr. Lebedev, to make them start negotiations with the executive power, which has a strong influence over the prosecution and the courts in Russia. And these negotiations could be aimed only at the seizure of the businessmen’ property by the groups close to the current parties in power.
[III.] Our conviction that all these violations have no other purpose than the demoralization of Mr. Khodorkovsky is further substantiated by the poor conditions in which he is being detained.
According to his lawyers,
· the dimensions of his cell are not compatible with the universally accepted standards, and the sanitary conditions are far from normal;
· he is allowed only two hours of outdoor exercises, which is clearly not sufficient, taking into consideration the fact that he spends a lot of time examining his case and is generally confined to sedentary work;
· the food in the pre-trial detention center is awful. Mr. Khodorkovsky has permission to receive a certain amount of foodstuffs from home, but we have heard from people quite close to him that there were some hindrances to that as well;
· in addition to physical suffering that Mr. Khodorkovsky is subject to, the investigators (i.e. the prosecution) expose him to moral pressure as well. For instance, he is not allowed to receive all letters of support and other missives, books and parcels that ordinary people have been sending to him since October 25, 2004, when he was incarcerated. Besides, he is not permitted to subscribe to any newspapers or magazines other than two editions allowed by the prison authorities.
All the above-mentioned violations and many others will be dealt with in due course by the European Court of Human Rights where Mr. Khodorkovsky’s lawyers are about to file their petition, because he has exhausted all the required means of defending himself in Russian courts.
[IV.] As far as we know from Mr. Khodorkovsky’s lawyers, he is fully convinced (and this opinion is shared by us) that only international pressure – from the European Court of Justice, from public and human rights groups, from politicians and prominent public figures – can exert any influence on the Russian authorities and make them stop all the odious violations that are being committed against him at the pre-trial stage.
We are sure that Amnesty International, a respectable human rights defender with a long-standing global renown, could contribute to an enormous extent to the protection of Mr. Khodorkovsky’s human rights, should you agree to declare him a prisoner of conscience.
That Mr. Khodorkovsky’s case has a strong political bias and motivation has been noted by many prominent experts, both Russian and international, of various political and business affiliations.
Among them were –
· Alexander Vershbow, His Excellency U.S. Ambassador Extraordinary to Russia;
· Evgeny Primakov, Chairman of the Russian Commercial and Industrial Chamber;
· Igor Yurgens, Vice President of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Businessmen;
· Sergey Alexashenko, Deputy General Director of the Russian holding company Interros;
· Boris Nemtsov, former chairman of the Political Council of the political party Union of the Right Forces, currently CEO of the Russian oil concern Neftyanoy;
· Alexander Volovik, CEO of the Russian oil and gas company Bee-Gaz-Cee;
· George Soros, American financier and philanthropist;
· Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation,
and many others.
Their statements can be found in Annex II attached hereto.
[V.] Mikhail Khodorkovsky had no illusions whatsoever of what nature a case against him would be with which the authorities had been threatening him for some time before he was arrested. And at some moment before his detention he told the media that he would not be forced to become a “political exile,” but, as he was adamantly determined to stick to the moral principles of integrity and honour he had been adhering to all his life, he said he would rather prefer to become a “political prisoner.”
And after the Dec. 22, 2003 hearing at the Basmanny District Court was over and he was not released on bail pending trial, however convincing the arguments of the defense were, he made a noteworthy statement on the court verdict, which is attached hereto (see Annex III). According to his lawyer, he also said that he had not expected any charity or compassion from the court, he had expected only that the letter of the Law would be respected in his case – but his expectations did not come true.
We were very much relieved to learn that, according to the statement of the leading Russian human rights advocates, Amnesty International shares their concern about the situation around Mr. Khodorkovsky and agrees that many circumstances of this case testify to its politically motivated character.
Therefore, we ask you, dear Madam, to make further steps along this way and recognize Mikhail Khodorkovsky as a prisoner of conscience. Such reaction on the part of Amnesty International will add significantly to the pressure on the Russian government already exercised in Mr. Khodorkovsky’s case by the European Commission, Council of Europe, and U.S. Department of State – the bodies that are genuinely interested in Russia’s becoming a truly democratic country that follows the principles of justice and equity and applies them to all its citizens without political prejudice or any distinction whatsoever.
We will look forward to your reply and, with even more impatience to a positive decision that should help Mikhail Khodorkovsky immensely and, most probably, relieve his fate.
Please, dear Madam, accept the assurances of our highest consideration.
Group Sovest (Conscience), an independent public group in support of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and other defendants in the “YuKOS case.”
Sovest (Conscience), an independent public group (www.sovest.org), was created Dec. 3, 2003, to provide public support to the YuKOS shareholders and employees. Our principal purpose is to make the authorities respect civil rights of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and other defendants in the YuKOS case.
The main goal of the group today is to use all legal means insisting that Mikhail Khodorkovsky be released from incarceration before the trial while he is studying the case, and to claim an impartial, open and fair trial afterwards.
The group is non-commercial and totally independent from any political affiliations. All activities are conducted on a voluntary and gratuitous basis.
Ms. Irene Khan,
Secretary General of
1 Easton Street
WC1X ODW, United Kingdom