Bakhmina’s Campaign for Freedom

Mark Franchetti of the Times of London has a very good piece today on the campaign to free Yukos lawyer Svetlana Bakhmina:

Russians have been especially moved by the plight of Bakhmina’s two children, now seven and 11, who do not know their mother is in jail and believe their father when he tells them she is away working. He is allowed to visit her several times a year. Yelena Bonner, the widow of Andrei Sakharov, the Soviet nuclear physicist who won the Nobel peace prize, has written an open letter asking for Bakhmina’s release. “Svetlana Bakhmina has already completed the greater part of her term,” said Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet president, who backs the campaign. “She has two little boys, is pregnant and is due to give birth in December. Why hold her behind bars?”

Only two days after she had formally appealed to Medvedev, prison authorities claimed Bakhmina had withdrawn her request. Her lawyers were denied access to her last week after prison guards said she was too sick to talk and had been moved to a hospital.People familiar with the case suspect Bakhmina was forced to halt the appeal to avoid giving the impression that Medvedev had succumbed to public pressure. In return, she may have been promised an early release.Bakhmina is widely believed to be a victim of a witch hunt. Until late 2003 she was deputy head of Yukos’s legal department. The oil giant was then owned by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, formerly Russia’s richest man, who fell out with Putin over the businessman’s political ambitions.Khodorkovsky was jailed for fraud and embezzlement and is serving an eight-year sentence. Several other top Yukos figures are in jail and others, such as Bakhmina’s boss, fled to London. She stayed behind and took over the company’s legal department. Within a week she received her first summons to the prosecutors’ office.Less than three months later she was arrested and charged with helping to embezzle £150m from a subsidiary company, which has since stated that it is not missing any funds.