Appeal to Amnesty International
St. Petersburg, January 17, 2005
A Voice from St. Petersburg

We appeal to the world community, to human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, with regard to the Khodorkovsky-YUKOS case, but not because this case seems to us to be the worst violation of human rights [in Russia]. Undoubtedly, the bloody massacre in Beslan, the massive slaughter and rape in Blagoveshchensk, the robbing of veterans, pensioners, and disabled people in the form of “monetization of the perks” are more disreputable crimes, of which the government, and ultimately the president, are guilty. However, the Khodorkovsky-YUKOS case is no doubt symbolic, as it affects the interests not of Russian citizens only; it serves as a touchstone to test whether it is possible to grant at least the most elementary rights to international and Russian society. In addition to that, in precisely this case and precisely now, there are, in our view, opportunities that have not been used before in order to produce a fully legitimate, sobering effect on the governmental structures, the courts and prosecutor's offices, and obtain Khodorkovsky and Lebedev’s release from prison and a fair and open trial of their cases. A “victory” like that over the forces of lawlessness would arouse hope that even in Russia it is still possible to obtain elementary justice and help many people in the struggle for their violated rights and dignity.


In its reply signed by Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International, Amnesty International practically rejected the request of Russian human rights activists to recognize M.B. Khodorkovsky as a prisoner of conscience, what was asked by Lyudmila Alekseeva, Valentin Gefter, and Arseny Roginsky in their letter dated 25 May 2004, and the organization asks human rights advocates to send to Amnesty International “any information which corroborates your apprehensions” and permits Amnesty International to “reconsider our position regarding this case”.


First, we emphasize several circumstances, which preceded the formal start of the so-called YUKOS case” and which cast light on the true, political reasons for instigating this case.


In 1995, when Khodorkovsky and his team came to YUKOS, the company was unprofitable. In the mid-1990s, when the old Soviet system of laws could no longer work in the new political and economic conditions, and a new system was to be worked out, entrepreneurs who had acquired property could not violate any laws, old or new, and many acted “according to circumstances.” However, since 1999, YUKOS, under the leadership of M.B. Khodorkovsky, has moved towards international standards and the company became, as it is generally recognized, the most open and transparent in Russia. By 2003, YUKOS had doubled the extraction of petroleum, and the taxes it was paying constituted 5% of the entire federal budget. Until then, the authorities had made no legal claims against YUKOS.


Everything started in 2003; at the end of that year the State Duma elections were supposed to be held, and then the presidential elections in early 2004. In 2003, a report was published “An oligarchs' coup is being prepared in Russia”. (S. Belkovsky, a political scientist, was one of the authors.) The essence of the report was that big business wants to integrate itself into the government and transform the presidential republic into a presidential-parliamentary republic. It was reported in [the business daily] Vedomosti on Aug. 4, 2003: M.B. Khodorkovsky announced to Interfax that he was “ready to direct his personal resources” toward the financing of the Union of Right Forces and the Yabloko Party, with which he sympathized, and one of the company’s stockholders was ready to support the Communist Party of the Russian Federation as well. This information was confirmed by the Vice Chairman of the Yabloko Party in the State Duma, S. Ivanenko, who declared that his party was “very grateful” to Khodorkovsky for assistance. This information was made more precise by a number of mass media, from whose reports it followed that M.B. Khodorkovsky had made personal efforts to establish the block of right forces, headed by the URF and Yabloko and even achieved what was almost impossible, specifically: [Yabloko Chairman] G. Yavlinsky made it a condition of the creation of the block that [Russia’s Unified Energy Systems CEO] A. Chubais must resign from the leadership of the URF, and Chubais, at Khodorkovsky's request, agreed to this condition, which did not prevent Yavlinsky from refusing to take part in such a block.


In No. 28, 2003 issue of [the weekly newspaper] Moskovskie Novosti Khodorkovsky announced, “businesses should be outside politics and especially big businesses... But personally, I, as a citizen... should have my own personal political views and assert them”. In July 2003, the decoded transcript of tapped telephone conversations made on July 1 and 2, 2003 by S. Bogdanchikov (president of Rosneft, which in December 2004 turned out to be the real purchaser of Yuganskneftegaz, in spite of the Houston, Te., court decision) appeared in the Internet. This transcript was published in [the bi-weekly] Novaya Gazeta and did not give rise to any denials and lawsuits, although it contained obviously compromising material concerning very powerful people, corroborating the reliability of the published texts. A conversation between Bogdanchikov and (according to the context) I. Sechin, deputy chief of the president's administration, who warns that “Khodor[kovsky] already bought the Duma... From 2004, he'll be holding the Duma... Either... we stop him now... or we can't do anything...” and later they say that it is necessary to talk with the “Chief”. “I'll take the Chief on myself” says Sechin. At the end there is talk of bringing Belkovsky in for public relations. A conversation between S. Bogdanchikov and (according to the context) S. Belkovsky. Bogdanchikov: “three days in Butyrka and he'll remember who the king of the jungle is”.


P. Lebedev was arrested right in the hospital on July 2, 2003. The YUKOS case actually began with this. The Duma elections were held in December 2003, and the majority of the seats were taken by the pro-Putin United Russia, and not by the URF or Yabloko.


Now about the events of the last several months.


1) In November 2004, it was the turn for the defense in the Khodorkovsky-Lebedev case to present its arguments, speaking of their innocence. Absolutely illegally did the prosecutor demand that a list of all defense witnesses be presented beforehand, which was refused. Then the General Prosecutor's Office began to summon hundreds of potential witnesses for interrogations that lasted many hours, for the most part YUKOS employees and lawyers, some of whom fled the country after this. Fantastic accusations were filed against them; several were imprisoned, including the lawyer Svetlana Bakhmina, the mother of small children. The meaning of this is clear: do not interfere in the smashing of YUKOS and give compromising material against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev.


2) In December [2004], a court in Houston (USA) imposed a ban, on legal grounds, on the sale of Yuganskneftegaz, YUKOS' main petroleum extracting company; however on December 19, 2004, its sale to a heretofore-unknown finance company, Baikal Finance Group, took place, after which it became clear that actually the companies Rosneft and Gazprom, both controlled by the state, are acquiring Yuganskneftegaz. And then, on December 28, [2004], A. Illarionov, the president's adviser on economic affairs, called this operation the “fraud of the year”. It is necessary to dwell on this in more detail.


3) Andrei Illarionov has not only been the presidential adviser up to this time (January 17, 2005), but from May 6, 2000 to January 3, 2005 he was the president's representative in charge of the relations with the representatives of the leaders of the leading industrialized powers that are members of the G-7, and also the chief of the Interdepartmental Commission on Russia's Participation in the G-8. As it is well know, Russia's inclusion in the G-8 was Russia's principal foreign policy (but by no means economic) achievement during President Yeltsin's term of office. This signifies that Illarionov was recognized not only as one of the leading economists, but also as a high-level political figure. Therefore, his opinion in the Khodorkovsky-YUKOS case is especially valuable. On December 28, 2004, Illarionov announced at a press conference that “a definitive change of the model of economic and social development occurred” in Russia in 2004. “In 2004, not only the best company in the country, but also brilliant professionals, were assailed. Including M. Khodorkovsky, R. Shafirov (former chief editor of [the daily newspaper] Izvestiya, who was forced out of his post because of the authorities' displeasure with the newspaper’s objective reporting of the events in Beslan), L. Parfenov (former TV director of Namedni, a popular feature program, which was closed down because it broadcast an interview with the widow of [foremer Chechen President] Yandarbiev, [allegedly] assassinated by [Russia’s] secret agents), a [libel] campaign against [State Duma] Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov has been launched... We have already passed the turning point when it was possible to make a choice about what path to take. We already find ourselves in another country... I don't see how to change the situation in the near future.” The group of public figures subjected to “an assail” by the authorities, in which Illarionov placed Khodorkovsky, undoubtedly shows that Illarionov, a politician and economist, includes Khodorkovsky in the circle of social figures and he considers his persecution politically motivated. Illarionov spoke positively of the court's decision in Houston, saying that “we can only thank the Texas court and the judge, who does everything possible for Russia, in order to help this country to avoid falling into that monstrous pit into which it is being pushed.” After this, on December 30, 2004, A. Illarionov attended the court session concerning the Khodorkovsky case. The reaction followed immediately. If earlier Illarionov, as an authoritative economist and politician, was pardoned for many things, even for his statement about the spreading of “an atmosphere of dread” in Russia, after these acts of his the reaction followed at once. On December 31, 2004, he was dismissed from his position as the president's representative for relations with the G-7.


4) St. Petersburg lawyer Yu.M. Shmidt (one of M.B. Khodorkovsky’s lawyers), famous for his participation in a number of “human rights cases” (in particular the case of the ecologist [Alexander] Nikitin, which he won) made a statement on Radio Liberty on December 20, 2004 about the YUKOS-Khodorkovsky case, saying that “here arrest follows arrest every day, they arrest sick people, women who have young children, women of retirement age.” “Recently I have personally begun to fear for Khodorkovsky's life. First, sometimes in conversation with me, he began to complain about his health. He is 41, he has never complained about his health before. Understanding intuitively that the government can't prove that he's guilty in such a way that the world would believe it, I don't rule out the possibility that they could take some sort of action against him, even go so far as to kill him”. We may add that already for a year the lawyers have unsuccessfully insisted that P. Lebedev, who is seriously ill, be given an independent medical examination. Let us note that the legal “infinity” reached in the YUKOS-Khodorkovsky case, just like the shameless robbing of the population in the guise of the “monetization of the perks”, the crude blocking of the efforts of the Party of Soldiers' Mothers to achieve peace in Chechnya, and the project to abolish conscription deferments, became possible only because the international, European, and Russian communities have not sufficiently and rigorously opposed the [Russian] government's actions in the politically-motivated Khodorkovsky-Lebedev case, after which the Russian state machine came to believe that it is permitted to do everything and that its actions cannot be punished.


By virtue of what was set out above, we hope that Amnesty International will make no further delay in granting the status of political prisoner to M. Khodorkovsky and P. Lebedev, as this was done with regard to the scholar I. Sutyagin. If someone can get archaic ideas that it is impossible to grant this status to a “capitalist,” then let us remind you that when Khodorkovsky is set free, he will be only a member of the middle class and a social figure extremely valuable for Russia, but for the present, he is simply subject to serious danger as a political prisoner. Granting this status to him and to Lebedev would facilitate the struggle for their release and strengthen the hope that the world human rights community is capable of basic concrete actions at least in those areas where they can produce results. We also appeal to all organizations and private individuals who are concerned about the violation of human rights and human dignity in Russia, and request everybody to use all possible legitimate means in order to promote a legal and open examination and a swiftest possible conclusion of the Khodorkovsky-YUKOS case.



Dmitrii Machinskii, Irina Flige, Tatyana Kosinova (St. Petersburg Research and Information Centre Memorial)

Leonid Romankov (Acting State Counsellor of St.Petersburg, 1st class)

Yurii Vdovin (St. Petersburg Human Rights Organization Citizens' Watch)

Yulii Rybakov (St. Petersburg Anti-Nazi Centre)

Sergei Khakhaev (St. Petersburg branch of the All-Russian Movement For Human Rights)

Arkadii Melikhov (St. Petersburg Organization “Civil Action”

Igor Jordan (St. Petersburg Organization “Democratic Front”)

Alexandr Vinnikov (Group of Human Rights of Minorities of St.Petersburg Union of Scientists)