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“The Cruellest of Lifelines” Offered to Alexanyan

In the Guardian’s Comment is Free, Mark McDonald writesAs a human rights lawyer, I was shocked to hear of the plight of Vasily Alexanyan. In 2006, just three days after he was appointed an executive vice president of the Russian oil giant, Yukos, he was arrested on charges of embezzlement and money laundering.” McDonald laments that we have arrived to a point where everyone’s expectations of Russia’s adherence to law has “dipped so low that the common response to this tale is, “well, that’s Russia.” An important and timely article after the jump.

From the Guardian:

Ending appeasementThe human rights abuses Russia commits against its own people should convince us to take a stand against this powerful world forceBy Mark McDonaldVladimir Putin is no lame duck president of Russia. Despite nearing the end of his constitutional term, he is preparing to become Russia’s most powerful prime minister ever, in a country that constantly turns a blind eye to human rights.So great is President Putin’s dominance of the media in Russia that he remains unassailably popular, while executing policies that would bring down a government in any other democracy in the world.As a human rights lawyer, I was shocked to hear of the plight of Vasily Alexanyan. In 2006, just three days after he was appointed an executive vice president of the Russian oil giant, Yukos, he was arrested on charges of embezzlement and money laundering. Alexanyan, a single parent of a four-year-old boy, was then diagnosed with HIV/Aids, a condition that attracts a great deal of stigma in Russia.It is now nearly two years later and Alexanyan has been denied medical treatment and is still behind bars. In fact, he was moved to an infectious diseases unit in prison where he contracted tuberculosis. TB is possibly one of the worst infections for an Aids patient as the dangerous effects of the disease are caused by the body’s immune system. Any retroviral treatment for Aids would aim to boost a patient’s immune system and consequently worsen the symptoms of TB.Alexanyan’s condition is now critical. As well as suffering from tuberculosis, he is going blind. The European court of human rights (ECHR) has now on four occasions sent memoranda requiring that Vasily Alexanyan be removed to a specialist Aids clinic – injunctions the Russian state has ignored. And Alexanyan hasn’t had a trial. His pre-trial detention was approved without the state being able to offer evidence against him and has been extended until March 2 2008, despite the statutory Russian limit of 12 months having expired in April in 2007.But Russia has offered the cruellest of lifelines. Alexanyan has been offered release and medical attention if he gives evidence against the former Yukos head, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is also imprisoned. Alexanyan maintains he has no evidence to give against Khordokovsky, yet the two men find themselves in a tragic dance.If Alexanyan gives false evidence he may save his own life. If Khordokovsky pleads guilty to a crime for which he maintains his own innocence, he may save his former colleague’s life. Instead, Khodorkovsky has begun a hunger strike, refusing both food and water. In a statement issued through his lawyers, he said, “I am facing an impossible moral choice: admit to crimes I haven’t committed and save the life of a man, but destroy the fate of innocents who will be charged as my accomplices.”There can be no democracy in the world where a judiciary would engage in such an atrocity. Yet the world doesn’t care. The expectations of Russia’s treatment of it’s own citizens – and after the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, a British citizen – has dipped so low that the common response to this tale is, “well, that’s Russia.”Well, that’s not good enough. We are witnessing the emergence of an economically and militarily powerful – and worryingly nationalistic – force in the world. The disregard the Russian state displays for the rights of its own people should unify the world to take a stand. Vasily Alexanyan is likely to die in prison, without a trial, leaving his child an orphan. If the rest of the world fails to respond, we will live to regret our appeasement.