I was both appalled and amazed this morning when a friend pointed me over to the Interfax news website, where I saw on the front homepage, along with prominent photo, the following headline: “Court Rules to Extend Detention for Former Yukos Vice President Alexanyan for Three More Months”
Firstly, it is utterly beyond words that any court, even a politically controlled Russian court, could possibly justify and reason with any level of seriousness the continued detention of an innocent man who is dying, suffering from AIDS, cancer, and tuberculosis and beyond the reach of necessary medical care. I remind readers that Vasily Alexanyan (also spelled Aleksanyan and Alexanian) has never been convicted on any of these political charges. This is not an “extension of custody.” It is a de facto death sentence – punishment for refusing to give in to medical blackmail to provide false testimony to help the state’s case against his former boss and friend Mikhail Khodorkovsky.On the other hand, I found myself surprised to see the story receive such prominent play from a Russian government-controlled news site. Along with the Esquire interview with Khodorkovsky and the recent calls by Gorbachev to free Svetlana Bakhmina, we are beginning to see some fractures in the censorship of media on the Yukos case – such articles were unimaginable just a few years ago. I think that the prominence initially given to this story on the news site represented a small protest in and of itself.Before I could get too excited that Alexanyan was “theme of the day” over at Interfax, however, by the next time I visited the site, the story had been pulled from the front page, a different, less sympathetic photo had been substituted, and the copy was reduced to the minimum news and buried deep within the general pages. The story was also doctored to censor details about the removal of his spleen and the fact that he is currently in critical condition. The full Russian text was thankfully posted by our friends at Khodorkovsky.ru, and a summary of the story can be found below. It is simply beyond words.Summary of original Interfax coverage concerning extension of Vasily Alexanyan’s detention:Moscow’s Simonovsky court has decided to extend until January 22 the detention of Harvard-educated Vasily Alexanyan, former general counsel of Yukos. Alexanyan, who is suffering from AIDS and lymphatic cancer, was the subject of an international outcry early this year when it was learned that Russian authorities were denying him medical treatment because he was refusing to sign witness statements against Mikhail Khodorkovsky. His case has become a matter of concern even in Russia, despite the best efforts of the authorities to suppress the story from the public, even after Khodorkovsky went on a hunger strike to bring attention to the plight of his friend. Today the court deemed that Alexanyan, who is losing his vision and will soon undergo a life-threatening operation to remove his spleen, poses a “high risk” to society if freed, since he may try to influence witnesses in the case. Alexanyan was not present for the court hearing on the extension of his detention, despite the requirements to the contrary of the Russian Criminal Procedure Code. Furthermore, the court continues to ignore the fact that Alexanyan’s illnesses are on the shortlist of medical conditions that should exempt him from his current detention.