Today a press conference was held in Washington DC to announce the presentation of a letter to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed by eight prestigious human rights NGOs, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, and others, to express concern over the second trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Below is the full text of the letter – we hope to post video of the event soon.
April 21, 2009
His Excellency Dmitry Medvedev
Ilinka Str, No 23
Dear Mr. President:
We, the undersigned, wish to express our deep concern about the deterioration of respect for rule of law and human rights in Russia.
Among our concerns are the number of well publicized murders ofjournalists and others critical of the government, the tightening ofrestrictions on independent civil society, the alleged practice ofpolitically motivated prosecutions, and serious flaws within thecriminal justice system that undermine due process, the right to a fairtrial, and freedom from torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degradingtreatment.
There are many examples of these disturbing trends, and the newtrial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev is a case in point.The two businessmen are each serving eight-year sentences for fraud andtax evasion, and they are now facing new charges and a second trial.
Lawyers for Mr. Khodorkovsky and Mr. Lebedev and several courtsoutside Russia have alleged that their first trial was unfair, marredby procedural irregularities, and failed to respect the basic rights ofthe defense. Moreover, it has been broadly reported that theprosecution of the men in the first instance was politically motivated.
The allegations of an unfair trial and violation of due processrights are corroborated by the decisions of a number of courts in otherstates, where cooperation was sought by the Russian authorities. Thehighest court in Switzerland, the Swiss Federal Tribunal Court, orderedthe government not to cooperate with the Russian authorities after itconcluded that the first trial was politically motivated and that therehad been violations of the defendants’ fair trial rights throughout theprocedure.
Similarly, a British court, the Bow Street Magistrates Court inLondon, refused a series of extradition requests made by the Russianauthorities seeking the return of Russian nationals allegedly inconnection with the so-called Yukos Affair. On March 18, 2005, thiscourt refused to extradite former Yukos employees Dmitry Maruyev andNatalia Chernysheva, and on December 23, 2005, a similar request forextradition of Yukos vice president and deputy managing chairmanAlexander Temerko was denied. In each case the extradition request wasrejected on the grounds that, if extradited, those accused would notreceive a fair trial.
In addition, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Russiahad violated Mr. Lebedev’s rights to liberty and security, underArticle 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, on five countsfollowing Mr. Lebedev’s arrest in July 2003.
Given the serious human rights concerns raised regarding this caseso far, and evidenced during the first trial, we believe the presenceof independent observers, including the press, to monitor the secondtrial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev is vitally importantin order to assess whether the rights of the defendants under Russianlaw and international human rights law are being met, and whether thetrial is fair. Although some access has been provided, public scrutinyand accountability are an inherent part of a fair trial process, and wetherefore call on the Russian government to ensure that internationalobservers are allowed unhindered access to the courtroom where thetrial is held and to permit these observers to carry out their missionwithout any arbitrary interference.
We are also deeply concerned about efforts that have been made bysome authorities to disbar prominent human rights lawyers KarinnaMoskalenko, Yuri Schmidt, and other members of the men’s defense team.We urge the authorities to ensure that the defense lawyers representingMr. Khodorkovsky and Mr. Lebedev are protected against any attempts tointimidate or harm them and that any further unwarranted attempts todisbar them are halted immediately.
We call on you to ensure that the rule of law is upheld in thistrial of Mr. Khodorkovsky and Mr. Lebedev and to ensure that it meetsthe standards of the Russian Constitution and international law. Wewill continue to monitor the situation as the secondKhodorkovsky-Lebedev trial unfolds and the government’s commitment tothese important principles.
Amnesty International USA
Human Rights First
Human Rights Watch
Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights
American Jewish Committee
Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice
International League for Human Rights