U.S. State Dept on Russia’s Human Rights

Yesterday the U.S. State Department released its 2007 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Below is just an excerpt regarding Mikhail Khodorkovsky and others – the complete report can be found here.

Political Prisoners and Detainees Human rights organizations and activists have identified various individuals as political prisoners: Zara Murtazaliyeva, Valentin Danilov, Igor Sutyagin, Mikhail Khodorkovskiy, Platon Lebedev, and Svetlana Bakhmina. All remained imprisoned at the end of the year. Mikhail Trepashkin, previously identified by some observers as a political prisoner, was released this year. (…)

Mikhail Khodorkovskiy and codefendant Platon Lebedev were serving eight-year prison sentences following their 2005 convictions for fraud, tax evasion, and embezzlement. Some human rights activists objected to sentencing both men to prisons that were not in the area where they lived or were sentenced. In October 2005 authorities transferred Khodorkovskiy to a prison in Chita Oblast (3,000 miles from Moscow) and Lebedev to a prison north of the Artic Circle, more than 1,200 miles from Moscow. In December 2005 Lebedev’s defense team filed an appeal stating that sending him to a prison not in the area where Lebedev lived or was sentenced violated Russian law. The Moscow City Court has rejected all appeals to review the case against Khodorkovskiy. In November 2006 the Supreme Court refused to proceed with Khodorkovskiy’s appeal. Both were transferred to the detention center in Chita in December 2006 due to new investigation activities being conducted. Khodorkovskiy’s and Lebedev’s appeals of their convictions in Russian courts were rejected in November and were pending at the ECHR as of year’s end. The arrest and conviction of Khodorkovskiy raised concerns about the right to due process and the rule of law, including the independence of courts and the lack of a predictable tax regime. Many observers believed that Khodorkovskiy’s conviction was one of a number of politically motivated moves against wealthy “oligarchs” who represented centers of actual or potential political and media opposition to President Putin. Some observers believed that, despite the possibility that the charges against Khodorkovskiy may have had some merit, he was selectively targeted for prosecution because of his politically oriented activities and as a warning to other oligarchs against involvement in political or civil society issues or providing financial support to independent civil society.In February the General Procuracy brought new charges of embezzlement and money laundering against Khodorkovskiy and Lebedev. A conviction on the new charges could extend their imprisonment up to 15 years. The case remained in the pretrial stage at year’s end. On December 24, the Supreme Court overturned lower court decisions and ruled that the new trial could be held in Chita instead of Moscow.In June the Moscow Prosecutor General’s office, citing violations of professional ethics, attempted to have one of Khodorkovskiy’s lawyers, Karina Moskalenko, disbarred. The Moscow Bar Association considered the charges, but found her behavior and work to be within the law and rejected the prosecutor’s application.In April Svetlana Bakhmina, a lawyer who had worked for Yukos Oil Company (Yukos), was sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison on embezzlement charges linked to the Khodorkovskiy case. Some human rights groups consider Bakhmina a political prisoner. Several organizations expressed concern about reports regarding Bakhmina’s lack of access to her family and medical treatment while in custody. Some observers claimed that she was being held in an attempt to pressure Dmitriy Gololobov, her former boss at Yukos, to return from London. In September 2006 Bakhmina’s lawyers requested the court postpone the imposition of her sentence until her youngest child turned 14; Bakhmina’s youngest child was five years old, and the law allows for applications to delay sentencing in such cases. On October 2, the Simonovsky court in Moscow rejected the request and sent Bakhmina to a women’s penal colony in the central part of the country. Many observers saw the treatment of Bakhmina as politically motivated.