Khodorkovsky and Lebedev Are Hostages, Not Prisoners

lebedev122209.jpgMany Russia watchers were likely surprised to wake up this morning to read the news that Russia’s highest court has struck down the 2003 arrest of Platon Lebedev, Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s business partner at Yukos, as a groundless, illegal act by the police.  This decision from the Presidium of Russia’s Supreme Court stems from a 2007 ruling from the European Court of Human Rights, which they are actually bound by treaty to uphold.

Some reports are calling the decision “rare,” or “breakthrough,” but others are quick to tone down the expectations.  Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Lebedev’s lawyer Elena Lipster points out “‘They’re fulfilling their obligations as written in the law, and with an 18-month delay. (…) Nothing extraordinary happened.

Lipster has a point, in that the prosecutors are already gloating that this won’t mean that Platon Lebedev, who has suffered repeated health issues while in detention, will be set free anytime soon.  The reason for this is that the second trial is based on an allegedly “new” set of charges, which is in fact a cut and pasted version of the first set of trials with a few more impossible invented crimes thrown in (you wouldn’t believe how much cutting and pasting happens – judicial decisions in Russia often carry the exact same typos as the prosecutor’s submissions).

But the Russian Supreme Court decision is anything but rare.  It is avery important reflection on the ever widening gap between regularity,law, and process, and the absurd banana republic courts being run inRussia against political opponents.  It comes on top of numerousdecisions and opinions in foreign rule-of-law courts and independentreports – such as the Swiss Federal Tribunal, the ECHR, or the Councilof Europe – which resolutely declare that there are no grounds for thecrimes that Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are accused, and that theirtreatment is deeply politically arbitrary.  The latest and mostdevastating decision to come down in recent months was the arbitrationcourt’s decision to allow Yukos shareholders to sue the Russiangovernment for damages under the Energy Charter Treaty.  Though thatlawsuit has nothing to do with MBK and PLL at this point, theunderpinning facts being proven through the evidence exposes theKremlin’s totally false case.

If the 2003 arrest of Platon Lebedev is ruled to be illegal by the Russian Supreme Court, there are many inferences to be drawn to the underlying illegality of many other events, including the arrest of Khodorkovsky, the utter falsehoods of the charges against them, the repeated violations of their rights to defense, the seizure of their assets, and the theft of Russia’s best and biggest oil company to be delivered right into the corrupt hands of the state.

As if after the death of Sergei Magnitsky, we needed any more affirmations about how out of control these political cases have become in Russia.  The Supreme Court’s very admission that everything the judicial system has done to these two men began on the shakiest of foundations – it’s the final nail in the coffin of Russian justice and rule of law.  Game over.

The question now is how long it is going to take the first brave reporter in Russia to portray the factual status of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev:  call them hostages, not prisoners, as this situation long ago ceased to resemble any recognizable definition of the word.