Free Russia's Political Prisoners
The Committee to Free Khodorkovsky & Lebedev is a volunteer group of individuals organizing independently to raise awareness of human rights violations in Russia and call for the immediate release of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev.
In Berlin the Martin Gropius building was the location, during the evening of Friday 25th October, for readings of extracts from Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s prison writings, translated into German, of correspondence between Khodorkovsky and writers Lyudmila Ulitskaya and Boris Akunin, and a number of statements accusing the authorities of botching foreign and economic policy and persecuting activists.
Burghart Klaußner reading from selected writings of Mikhail Khodorkovsky
The readings, held last week around the world as a part of a series of solidarity events commemorating the 10-year anniversary of Khodorkovsky´s arrest, were organized by the Berlin International Literature Festival and took place in Berlin, Paris, Moscow and other cities, with more than 80 international writers participating, including Nobel literature laureates Herta Muller, Elfriede Jelinek, Mario Vargas Llosa and John M. Coetzee. In Moscow, the event was held at the Sakharov Center.
After a short introductory film with quotations from a letter by the imprisoned Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, the readings in the Gropius building were given by Burghart Klaußner whose lively style imparted a sense of drama to the written exchanges. There followed a panel discussion with Ms Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger (outgoing Federal Minister of Justice) and Ms Kerstin Holm (former correspondent of the FAZ in Moscow) on the panel, moderated by Manfred Sapper, editor-in-chief of the magazine “Osteuropa”. A Q&A session concluded the event.
One of the most noteworthy subjects of discussion was the recent harassment, by the Russian authorities, of scientists who delivered critical expert opinion about the second Yukos trial on behalf of the Human Rights Council of then-President Medvedev. In an official Russian letter of request, which was rejected by the German Ministry of Justice, one of the consultants, the German legal scientist Prof. Luchterhandt, is reproached with having received monetary payment from Khodorkovsky. It seems quite possible that Russian activities of that kind may portend yet another attempt to fabricate new evidence against the former Yukos CEO whose prison term runs out next year.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his co-accused Platon Lebedev are recognized by Amnesty International as prisoners of conscience. On the tenth anniversary of the arrest the human rights group published a statement calling for their immediate release.
31st October 2013 Jeremy Putley, Maren Koop
‘10 Years – 10 Fates’
10 video interviews with those affected by the ‘Yukos Affair’.
Georgy Alexanyan on his son Vasily Alexanyan
Vasily Alexanyan was a Yukos lawyer, who died after being abused and mistreated by the Russian authorities in pre-trial detention.
“What happened to us, I wouldn’t wish to happen to anyone, not even to my enemy.”
Natalia Vasyleva on Mikhail Khodorkovsky
Natalia Vasyleva, is a former judge’s assistant and the press officer of the Khamovnichesky District Court in Moscow, where Khodorkovsky’s second verdict was handed down. In February 2011, the Russian newspaper Gazeta.ru published an interview with Vasyleva, where she exposed the pressures put on the judge by the state, and characterised the Yukos case as “politically motivated”.
“I couldn’t understand how a person can be judged twice for nothing, how a person can serve such a colossal prison term for nothing, how can such exorbitant stupidities, that made people laugh, be said at all (I mean what was said by the court and judicial system). And how, based on all that, can the sentence be handed down. This is incomprehensible.”
Yelena Barikhnovskaya on her husband Yuri Schmidt
Yuri Schmidt was one of Russia’s legendary human right lawyers and a former member of Khodorkovsky’s defence team. Schmidt died on January 12, 2013.
“[The Khodorkovsky case] is a matter of utmost importance for all of us living in Russia. The result of this case determines the country we live in. Yuri Markovich knew it right away, before others, and well before joining the case.”
Alexey Kurtsin on Yukos
Alexey Kurtsin, a former Yukos executive, was released on parole after serving almost 8 years in prison.
“Yukos will always remain in history, and there will even be some situations when Yukos will emerge in the historical context. I am sure of it.”
Alexey Kondaurov on Alexey Pichugin
Alexey Konduarov is a Russian Duma Deputy and a former Yukos manager.
“Charges against Pichugin are absurdity. From my professional point of view, the charges just shock you with absurdity and irrationality.”
Vera Chelishcheva on Natalia Vasyleva
Vera Chelishcheva is a journalist and a long-time supporter of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
“I understand that she [Vasyleva] could not have acted in any other way. Because she is a fair person, as clichéd as it may sound.”
Vladimir Malakhovsky on Antonio Valdes Garcia
Vladimir Malakhovsky is the former CEO of a number of Yukos subsidiaries. Malakhovsky was released in October 2012 after serving over 7 years in prison. Here he talks about another Yukos victim – Antonio Valdes Garcia, the former director of the Yukos trading company, Fargoil.
“Valdes was well aware that the law that governs all over the world is not valid in Russia. He also knew that they could easily change his status from witness to the status of the accused.”
Svetlana Bakhmina on Alexey Kurtsin
Svetlana Bakhmina is a former Yukos legal executive; pregnant at the time, she was improperly arrested and imprisoned in 2004. Bakhmina was released in 2009 after serving out her full sentence.
“Despite the fact that at that time we were working in difficult circumstances – the company was subjected to quite frequent searches, Alexey was able to maintain stability in work and in management. All in all, he was such a peaceful ‘oasis’ in the company.”
Vladimir Pereverzin on Vladimir Malakhovsky
Vladimir Pereverzin is a former senior Yukos manager; he was imprisoned for over 7 years for his refusal to testify against Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev. Pereverzin was released in February 2012 and began writing his autobiographical book ‘Hostage. The Story of a Yukos Manager’. The book was published in August 2013.
“I met Vladimir Malakhovsky only in the courtroom. He is a smart, humble and courageous man. He was by my side for about a year. I admire the courage with which he stood through this whole process. This process cannot be called a trial, it is just a circus.”
Vera Vasyleva on Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s public support
Vera Vasyleva is a journalist and a long-time supporter of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
“What happened in the Meshchansky court – it was an indicator of the state of the judicial system. Unfair system of justice and unfair trials – it all can be applied to absolutely anyone.”
Dear Mikhail Borisovich
Birthday Greetings from your Supporters!
Your birthday is all the more significant this year as marking, in addition, the 50 years since 1963 – a year of historical significance, remembered for President John F Kennedy’s famous speech in Berlin, now identified as a turning-point for the world in general and for Russia in particular. From that time dissidents’ voices began to be heard, protesting in the name of the rights of the people to freedom from oppression. People were reading the new book, “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn; he was also writing “The Gulag Archipelago” at this time. Those of us who remember that year recall that such books were considered to be a sign that change would one day come to the USSR. At the same time, Andrei Sakharov, who was concerned at the implications of his work on nuclear weapons for the future of humankind, sought to raise awareness of the dangers of the nuclear arms race. His efforts proved partially successful with the signing of the 1963 nuclear test ban treaty.
For nearly ten years now, your detention has raised international awareness of the ongoing suppression of free enterprise and independent political opposition in your country. With your unbroken spirit, you made yourself increasingly respected among human rights activists in Russia and abroad. Indeed, you brought people from quite different parts of the world together in campaigns for your release and for your idea of an “Open Russia”. As far as we know, you only rarely catch a glimpse of a photo of such an event (fig. 1, from Berlin) or have the opportunity to smile at some of your supporters. Most of us can only get a faint idea of your present dreary “residence” in Karelia by means of photos from outside (fig. 2). Nevertheless, your voice from prison has become important to the increasing number of Russians who struggle for civil rights and a democratisation of your country.
The Washington Post has recently commented: “In an attempt to suppress swelling protests against his rigged re-election and the massively corrupt autocracy he presides over, Mr. Putin has launched what both Russian and Western human rights groups describe as the most intense and pervasive campaign of political repression since the downfall of the Soviet Union. Not just opposition leaders but also former senior Kremlin officials have been prosecuted or driven into exile; independent civic and human rights groups are being systematically stripped of funding and legal protection.”
In recent months retrograde political developments in Russia have shown that the rights of the people to freedom of expression, to freedom from pervasive corruption are, increasingly, feared and therefore suppressed. Your statements from prison are the more to be welcomed as an encouragement to the newly oppressed.
Sincere congratulations on the occasion of your birthday, and best wishes for your early release from unjust imprisonment. In the face of flagrant abuse of the justice system, your courage and fortitude continue to show the strength of your character. A monument in Segezha shows strong birds in flight (fig. 3); without knowing its actual meaning, we would just like to regard it as a symbol for our common hope: We hope to see you, and all your former Yukos colleagues as well, set free in the near future. Happy birthday!
Jeremy Putley Maren Koop Clifford Esler
United Kingdom Germany Canada
Foreign & Commonwealth Office
The FCO’s human rights work in 2012
Written evidence from Pavel Khodorkovsky (HR 06)
1.1 I welcome the Select Committee investigation into the FCO’s human rights work in 2012 along with the content of the FCO’s report ‘Human Rights and Democracy’.
·I agree with its observations on Russia, and the continued inclusion of Russia as a country of concern.
·I draw to the Select Committee’s attention recent developments in the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and recommend that the committee closely monitors these developments while raising human rights issues, including the Khodorkovsky case, in both ministerial and departmental meetings with Russian counterparts.
·I recommend that the FCO consider the upcoming tenth anniversary of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s imprisonment to be an opportunity to remind the Russian government that Khodorkovsky is due to be released in October 2014 and that it expects to see him released no later than this date.
·I recommend that future in-country reports provide a translation into the respective national languages to aid understanding and distribution.
·I welcome the inclusion of a link to an Overseas Business Risk report on UKTI’s Doing Business in Russia page and recommend that ministers are briefed on human rights issues in Russia and instructed to raise those concerns from the perspectives of their own department.
·I recommend that in order to avoid the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 being used by Russia as a diversion from its human rights record, ministers and officials attending the games should be briefed on human rights in Russia.
1.2 This evidence is submitted by Pavel Khodorkovsky, President of the New York based think tank, the Institute of Modern Russia  , and son of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former head of the Yukos Oil Company and Amnesty International declared ‘Prisoner of Conscience’ .
2. BACKGROUND AND UPDATES TO THE KHODORKOVSKY CASE
2.1 Prosecution of Khodorkovsky
2.11 My father, the Russian businessman and philanthropist, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was declared a ‘Prisoner of Conscience’ by Amnesty International  following two politically motivated trials against him. His prosecution and imprisonment have been seen as a watershed event demonstrating the limits of freedom and democracy in Russia today.
2.12 As the Chief Executive of Yukos, Khodorkovsky was heavily involved in public philanthropy and civic society; among his many projects were the creation of Open Russia, dedicated to promoting civil society values and running educational projects for Russian youth, including building a school for underprivileged orphans which continues to operate to this day.
2.13 In October 2003 Khodorkovsky was travelling across Russia’s regions delivering speeches on democracy and calling on Russian youth to become politically engaged when he was arrested on politically motivated charges that retroactively asserted violations of tax and privatisation laws  . This October will therefore mark the tenth anniversary of his imprisonment.
2.14 There were two widely-accepted central motives behind his prosecution: to eliminate him as a political opponent and to seize control of Yukos – increasing the Kremlin’s power and enriching certain state officials.
2.15 Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev were found guilty on May 31, 2005 and were sent to Siberia to serve eight-year prison sentences. By October 2007, both Khodorkovsky and Lebedev would have been eligible for release on parole, but in February 2007, new charges emerged of embezzling the entire oil production of Yukos and laundering the proceeds, directly contradicting the existing court ruling of 2005 against the two men  . A second trial against them was held from March 2009 to December 2010.
2.16 In December 2010, days before the verdict in the second trial, then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on television, (in reply to a question about Khodorkovsky), that “a thief should sit in jail”  . Later that month, Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were found guilty and sentenced to a total of 14 years in prison, triggering widespread condemnation in Russia and the West, most notably, from the US, UK, EU, France and Germany  . The sentence was reduced on appeal by one year, pushing their release date to 2016. Khodorkovsky was sent to a remote penal colony in north-western Russia, near the border with Finland.
2.2 Seizure of Yukos
2.21 After Khodorkovsky’s incarceration, the Russian authorities set about expropriating Yukos assets. In December 2003, the Tax Ministry launched the first of what would become a series of extraordinary audits of Yukos’s tax payments, resulting in the company’s assets being sold at knockdown prices. As a result, the state controlled company Rosneft transformed itself from a company worth just $6 billion, into Russia’s biggest oil producer, with a market capitalisation of $90 billion – having spent a mere net $2 billion in the process. 
2.22 Yukos shareholders received no benefit in the bankruptcy process – as all Yukos’s liabilities were rigged in line with the fire sale prices. American investors lost approximately $7 billion and the illegal expropriation of Yukos is now the subject of numerous legal proceedings around the world.
2.23 Divested of his interests in Yukos after being incarcerated, Khodorkovsky is not involved in any litigation to secure the restoration of or damages for the expropriated Yukos assets.
2.3 Updates on the Khodorkovsky case
2.31 Following the second trial, after two years of obstruction and delays a supervisory appeal hearing finally took place at the Moscow City Court on December 20, 2012. The ruling lacked any thorough judicial analysis of Khodorkovsky’s appeal, and despite the enormous weight of legal and factual arguments undermining it, the appeal judges confirmed the December 2010 guilty verdict.
2.32 The hearing did, however, advance Khodorkovsky’s release date to October 2014 – a total of eleven years since his arrest – due to changes in Russia’s sentencing guidelines. The FCO report referred to this reduction, but it remains to be seen whether the authorities will indeed release Khodorkovsky in 2014. It is impossible to rule out the possibility that a new set of trumped-up charges could be concocted to prevent his release. As stated by Amnesty International when designating Khodorkovsky and Lebedev “prisoners of conscience” in May 2011, the two men “have been trapped in a judicial vortex that answers to political not legal considerations” in courts “unable, or unwilling, to deliver justice in their cases.”
2.33 On May 19, 2013, Russia’s Supreme Court announced on its website that it would hear an appeal against the second conviction of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev. The announcement did not specify on what date the hearing would take place, or which part of the December 2010 verdict would be under review. If the history of the proceedings against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev over the past decade is any guide, however, the announcement from the Supreme Court should not raise hopes that they will have a fair hearing. Since the end of the second Khodorkovsky-Lebedev trial, proceedings have been repeatedly unlawfully delayed, or stymied by groundless rulings. Khodorkovsky’s defence team filed the current appeal on February 4, 2013. It had previously filed an appeal nearly one year earlier, to no avail. In a statement in February 2013, Khodorkovsky’s Russian lawyer, Vadim Klyuvgant, described the year in between as: “A year of judicial red tape, run-arounds, tricks and direct lies. A year lost for movement toward fairness and justice, toward preservation of what’s left of the trust in courts. The most terrible thing is that it was yet another, already the ninth, year of imprisonment of the people convicted without guilt under a phony verdict.”
2.34 The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) currently has before it several outstanding applications from Khodorkovsky  . In a first judgment, concerning his initial arrest in 2003 and his detention from 2003 to 2005  , the Court found numerous violations of the European Convention on Human Rights.
2.35 In December 2011, former President Dmitry Medvedev’s own Presidential Council of the Russian Federation for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights issued a report on the second Khodorkovsky-Lebedev verdict, finding that “the actions of the convicts [Khodorkovsky and Lebedev] do not constitute either embezzlement or misappropriation” and that the “miscarriage of justice” in the case was so grave and so obvious that the verdict should be “annulled through appropriate legal channels”  . The Council’s report was the fruit of a major inquiry into the case that identified serious and widespread violations of the law, finding that there was no valid legal basis or evidence supporting the guilty verdict, and that the proceedings were severely marred by violations of fundamental human rights. More broadly, the inquiry found that the Khodorkovsky-Lebedev case highlighted widespread systemic problems in Russia’s law enforcement practices and judiciary. The inquiry prompted calls for the release of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, and also for a series of reforms to address the systemic problems illustrated by this case. The authorities dismissed the Council’s report, and in recent months senior figures from the Council have publicly stated that experts involved in the inquiry have faced intimidation and harassment.  One of the three foreign experts asked to contribute to the Council’s inquiry, Professor Jeffrey Kahn, in an article in the New York Times, concluded that, “With Mr Putin back in the Kremlin, it is no longer safe to express an opinion on public affairs, even if that opinion was requested by the state itself.” 
Recommendation: Mikhail Khodorkovsky will this October mark the tenth anniversary of his imprisonment. The FCO should consider this an opportunity to remind the Russian government that Khodorkovsky is due to be released in October 2014 and that the FCO expects to see him released no later than this date.
3. CONTENT AND FORMAT OF THE FCO’S HUMAN RIGHTS AND DEMOCRACY REPORT
3.1 I very much welcome the publication of the FCO’s Human Rights and Democracy Report and the greater emphasis the FCO is placing on the importance of human rights in the formulation and execution of foreign policy. The report provides critical support for the work of human rights organisations in Russia and has the capacity to highlight violations beyond what is possible for domestic NGOs, especially given the increasingly aggressive campaign against them by the Russian authorities.
3.2 Country of Concern Report: Russia
3.21 I welcome Russia’s continued inclusion in the FCO report as a “country of concern,” the direct references to the Khodorkovsky and Magnitsky cases, amongst others, and the fact the imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev is described as “having worrying implications for the rule of law in Russia.” I also welcome the mention of the meeting between me and my grandmother, and the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, and the Deputy Prime Minister’s call for “the Russian authorities to strengthen respect for the law, tackle corruption and promote genuine independence of the judiciary.”
3.22 I note the reference to the reduction of the jail sentences of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev. This reduction was made by the Moscow City Court on December 20, 2012, and was due to the application of amendments to Russian sentencing law made in 2011. However, the Moscow City Court upheld the verdict in Khodorkovsky’s second trial. Klyuvgant commented at the time: “The position of the defence team remains the same: our defendants are innocent and should be released immediately.”  Nevertheless, if the ruling stands and no additional charges are brought against him, Khodorkovsky will be released in October 2014. It is, however, impossible to rule out the possibility that a new set of trumped-up charges could be concocted to prevent his release.
3.23 I welcome the FCO report’s citation of the Human Rights Watch analysis that the crackdown against civil society, political opposition and minority groups in 2012 has been “unprecedented in the post-Soviet era.” The report rightly refers to “A package of restrictive legislative measures that constrained the environment for civil society, most notably a law requiring many foreign-funded NGOs to register as “foreign agents”.”
3.24 In 2013 we have seen the manifestation of those legislative measures. I welcome the statement made by the Minister for Europe, David Lidington, in March regarding “pressure on NGOs across Russia.”  The targeting of NGOs has continued unabated, however, and so far, hundreds of NGOs have faced searches by the authorities and been forced to register as “foreign agents.” These have recently included the elections watchdog, Golos, and Russia’s only independent polling centre, Levada, as well as human rights organisations such as Memorial and the Russian branches of several international NGOs such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, but have also included charities working in totally apolitical fields such as animal protection.  My father has commented from his penal colony regarding the crackdown, writing: “Politically motivated pressure on public organisations is unacceptable. It prevents the flourishing of a civil society which is so essential for Russia’s political, economic and also social modernisation.”  I note also that a precedent for the current crackdown on NGOs exists in the treatment of Khodorkovsky’s organisation, the Open Russia Foundation, which promoted a stronger civil society in Russia. The Open Russia Foundation was subjected to a campaign of harassment not dissimilar to that being experienced in Russia today, effectively resulting in its closure in 2006.
3.25 I welcome the section in the FCO’s report on freedom of expression and assembly. The section noted the expulsion of the opposition deputy Gennady Gudkov from the Duma. In 2013, his son, Dmitry Gudkov, was accused of treason following his participation in an event held in Washington DC under the auspices of the Foreign Policy Initiative, Freedom House and the Institute of Modern Russia, of which I am the president.  The section also mentions the charges brought against opposition activist Alexei Navalny, whose politically motivated trial subsequently commenced. Meanwhile, a number of participants in the lawful, peaceful protest of May 6, 2012, referenced in the report, are currently awaiting trial.
Recommendation: Those in the opposition and reform movement in Russia, including NGOs, have limited resources and are facing an intensified campaign of harassment, intimidation and politically motivated abuses of the criminal justice system. To maximise the impact of the country sections of the report, I therefore recommend that they are translated into the respective national languages to aid understanding and distribution. Links to the translated sections of the report should appear on the relevant pages of the FCO’s website, allowing information within the FCO report to bypass state-controlled media and reach citizens directly via social media networks.
4. CROSS GOVERNMENT STRATEGY ON BUSINESS AND HUMAN RIGHTS
4.1 I welcome the inclusion of a link to an Overseas Business Risk report on Russia  on UKTI’s doing business in Russia page, incorporating its more detailed analysis of widespread corruption in Russia, warnings regarding bribery and reference to the Khodorkovsky case. 
4.2 Nevertheless, I continue to have concerns about the need to give UK businesses clear and balanced advice about the risks of investing and doing business in Russia. The campaign against Khodorkovsky was a seminal event which made clear that in today’s Russia the authorities could and would act with impunity outside the law, even in full public view. An alarming string of cases of murder, torture and arbitrary detention of perceived enemies of the regime followed. Meanwhile, state-assisted raiding of businesses that refuse to pay bribes – or that become too successful for predators to resist expropriating them – is now commonplace. Corruption levels are high, with Russia scoring 2.4 out of 10 in Transparency International’s worldwide Corruption Perception Index – worse than Iran, Syria, Sierra Leone and Pakistan  . One in six  Russian entrepreneurs has been on trial and approximately one-fourth of the 900,000 inmates in Russian jails in 2010 were entrepreneurs, accountants, legal advisers, and mid-level managers – many of whom were victims of abuse of the criminal justice system through fabricated cases.
4.7 I note also the completion of the multi-billion dollar deal between BP and Rosneft and remind the committee that Rosneft itself is in large part “the product of assets appropriated – if stolen is too strong a word – from Yukos, whose ex-boss Mikhail Khodorkovsky wound up in jail.” 
Recommendation: All UK Ministers travelling abroad should be provided with a specific briefing of human rights violations in countries identified by the FCO as problematic and given explicit instructions to raise concerns with their official interlocutors in those countries. The Government should institutionalise arrangements so that all Ministers are raising the issue from the perspective of their own department. For instance, the Trade Minister should address the impact on foreign investment, while DECC Ministers should address human rights with regard to the expropriation of Yukos when dealing with Russian energy companies and deals.
5. SOCHI WINTER OLYMPICS 2014
5.1 I welcome the FCO’s continued “support for the rights of disabled people in Russia, which will host the next Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2014.” I note with interest also the release of a joint communiqué by Russia, Brazil, Korea and the UK pledging to use the games “to promote and embed respect for human rights across the world.” I would be concerned, however, that Russia will in fact attempt to use the 2014 games to deflect attention from its poor and deteriorating human rights record.
5.2 I note that two other political prisoners in Russia recognised by Amnesty International as prisoners of conscience, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina, members of the punk-rock band “Pussy Riot” were denied parole in May 2013 in violation of legal procedure. Both are due to complete their 2-year penal colony sentences in early March 2014, immediately after the Sochi Olympics. I would be concerned that their long overdue release could be used as a distraction from the more recent verdicts in the cases of political prisoners arrested following Bolotnaya Square protests.
Recommendation: All UK Ministers and officials travelling to Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics should receive a specific briefing on Russian human rights violations.
28 May 2013
New York Times Op-Ed Contributor
[photo] Sergei Guriev, rector of the New Economic School speaking during The Russia Forum 2012.
By SERGEI GURIEV
Published: June 5, 2013
PARIS — On Monday, May 27, I was on vacation in Paris when I decided that my personal circumstances do not allow me to return to Russia in any foreseeable future.
At that point I was running a university in Moscow, the 20-year old New Economic School. I was proud of what my colleagues and I had accomplished. The school has become a model for other universities in Russia as well as other emerging markets.
Sadly, I could not come back to Russia and therefore had to resign from the school. The board called an extraordinary meeting on May 30 to accept my resignation and appoint an acting rector, and asked me not to talk about my decision to the media. Neither the board nor I thought it should be a major media event.
I also had to resign from board positions at several Russian companies. My longest relationship as a board member was with Sberbank, the largest bank in Russia and one of the largest in continental Europe.
This was also a sad and painful decision. I have been a board member of Sberbank for five years, during which time the bank underwent an amazing transformation from a sleepy Soviet-style institution to a dynamic and modern customer-oriented financial company, and it was exciting to participate in this transformation.
Sberbank was scheduled to hold its annual shareholders meeting in just four days, so I hurried to submit a request that my name be taken off the ballot for the new board. Sberbank is a public company listed in Russia and the United States, so I knew I had to emphasize in my letter that this decision was driven by personal considerations unrelated to the bank.
Following the letter of the law, Sberbank immediately disclosed this fact. And my quiet life changed beyond recognition. Journalists began calling me, asking for the reasons for the resignation. As a board member of a public company, I had to reassure journalists and investors that my withdrawal had nothing to do with the bank, and that I had no negative information about the bank. But, following the request from the board of the New Economic School, I also had to keep quiet about the “personal reasons.”
Given that voluntary resignations from the boards of large companies are very rare in Russia, journalists started searching on their own for explanations and soon discovered what they were.
The truth was that I could not come back to Russia because I feared losing my freedom.
Why was that? Since February, I have been repeatedly contacted and interrogated by the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation as a “witness” in “Case 18/41-03.” Surreal as this may sound (like many other things below), this is the original case against Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the imprisoned head of the Yukos oil company, launched in 2003.
Since then, the prosecutors apparently have used this case to produce further “subcases” — and jail terms — for Khodorkovsky, his business partner Platon Lebedev, and some of their colleagues. These cases are generally perceived in Russia as politically charged. This was especially true for the so-called “second case” against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev in 2010.
The widespread outrage over the additional sentences meted out to them in 2010 gave rise to then-President Dmitri Medvedev’s request for his Human Rights Council to carry out an evaluation of the case. The council gathered a panel of nine economics and law professors (including me) and asked us to read through the case and give our opinions. And so we did. While we worked independently, every expert declared that the case did not contain convincing proof of the guilt of Khodorkovsky or Lebedev.
These opinions had no legal weight, being only public statements of independent academics expressed after the trial was concluded, and therefore were largely disregarded. But not forgotten.
Right after Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin as president in May 2012, the spokesman for the Investigative Committee, Vladimir Markin, said the committee would look into the objectivity and independence of the experts. Already in the fall of 2012, some experts were interrogated, their offices and even houses searched, their computers and documents seized.
As for me, interrogations started in February 2013. After that, I heard that in February, a colleague of Mr. Putin had talked to him about my situation, and the president had reassured the colleague that I had nothing to worry about. This did not stop the investigation — I was interrogated twice and received demands for all sorts of documents and personal information. Moreover, the investigators introduced “operative measures” — the police euphemism for surveillance. Whenever I or my wife (who has nothing to do with the case) crossed the Russian border, we were subjected to special attention.
Interestingly, during the interrogations the investigators asked me to produce “alibis,” though they did not explain for what, and insisted that I was a “witness,” not a “suspect.”
Then on April 25, the investigators scheduled an interrogation, but instead came to my office with a court warrant to seize my e-mails going back five years.
In Russia, e-mails are treated as correspondence and therefore are protected by the constitution. To seize them, the investigators need a court order. The warrant gave no specific reasons why my e-mails had to be seized, yet concluded they had to be seized. When I complained to the investigators, one of them said that I was better off than Andrei Sakharov, the Soviet dissident who was sent to internal exile in Gorky. They also hinted that they had a warrant to search my home.
This demonstrated that the investigators can produce any search warrant they want without any respect for my rights, and that they can do it without warning.
I concluded that my next meeting with them could result in the loss of my freedom. I bought a one-way ticket from Russia and will not return to my country.
Since I made that decision, many observers have called me a “symbol of political repression,” a dissident and a political martyr. At the same time, President Putin and his spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, have said that my decision to leave was driven by personal and family circumstances.
They are correct. I have never been a politician, and I am not a political refugee. I left Russia for personal reasons: I personally prefer to stay free. I also have family reasons: My family wants — and deserves — to see me free. In this sense, I have no other but personal and family reasons to leave Russia.
I also do not want to be a “symbol.” I am just one simple person, and mine is an isolated case. What happened to me is similar to an accident, or a rare disease. Everybody faces the risk of contracting such a disease, but may also be lucky enough to avoid it. There are behavioral traits that reduce the risks — not speaking out in favor of the rule of law or against corruption, for example. As with other grave diseases, once you catch it everybody sends words of consolation but they all understand there is no help.
Or almost none. The Khodorkovsky trials showed there is one simple but effective therapy: witnesses who left Russia are alive and well. Those who stayed and refused to cooperate with the prosecutors ended up in prison. One of them, Vasily Aleksanyan, did not live to see his 40th birthday.
Sergei Guriev is a Russian economist and former rector of the New Economic School, in Moscow. He and his family currently live in France.
It was a colourful assembly which demonstrated for human rights in Hanover, Germany, on 7th April when the Russian President Putin opened the Hanover Fair together with the German Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Amnesty International demanded “More Energy for Human Rights” and protested against the recent harassment of NGOs in Russia. They raised a number of cases as part of their “Human Rights Made in Russia” campaign: In front of the Congress Center as well as in the Hanover underground railway, they highlighted the cases of the murdered Russian journalist Natalya Estemirova, the threatened human rights defender Igor Kalyapin and the AI prisoners of conscience Khodorkovsky and Lebedev.
Other groups, such as the “Society for Threatened Peoples”, voiced even harsher criticism of the Russian President, mainly by pointing to the genocide in Chechnya as well as to the Russian support for the present Syrian government.
However, apart from verbal accusations, the demonstration was entirely peaceful; no conflicts between the demonstrators and the relatively great number of policemen were to be seen.
As usual, the police had the task to shield the politicians from the critical citizens (see photo with policemen on horseback). As a result, we did not see them entering the “Kuppelsaal” where the opening ceremony took place.
Later on, I read that our German Chancellor had requested President Putin to give a good chance to the civil society in Russia. This remark is better than nothing, of course; in my view, however, it is not sufficient. It would have been considerably more convincing if Mrs Merkel had, beforehand, been bold enough to show a small part of the critical civil society in Germany to her prominent Russian guest.
Nevertheless, the demonstration was quite successful, as media coverage was really good in Germany.
Moreover, it is still possible to take action online with Amnesty International in favour of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev and to demand their release, as more than 7000 people have already done:
Amnesty Calls For Immediate And Unconditional Release of Khodorkovsky And Lebedev
Ahead of the April 7 meeting at the opening of the Hanover Fair between Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Amnesty International Germany is calling on their supporters to sign a petition demanding the immediate and unconditional release of political prisoners Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev.
Amnesty International, which declared Khodorkovsky and Lebedev as prisoners of conscience in 2011, plans to cover Hanover’s subway stations, light rail, major intersections, and public places with posters bearing the slogan, “Human Rights Made in Russia” to raise awareness of Russia’s political prisoners ahead of the trade fair.
SIGN THE AMNESTY PETITION IN GERMAN OR ENGLISH HERE:
By JEFFREY D. KAHN
WHAT is the difference between Dmitri A. Medvedev and Vladimir V. Putin, Russia’s tag-teaming presidents? It’s the difference between officially asking experts for unvarnished advice, and punishing those experts for giving it.
In early 2011, when Mr. Medvedev (now prime minister) was still president, the Kremlin’s human rights council selected nine experts to scrutinize the 2010 conviction of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was once one of Russia’s richest men but is now its best-known political prisoner. I was invited to serve, the one American in a group with six experts from Russia, one from Germany and one from the Netherlands. We did not mince our words criticizing the Khodorkovsky trial.
That December, Russian television showed the council’s chairman delivering our findings to Mr. Medvedev, with a recommendation that Mr. Khodorkovsky’s conviction be annulled. But then Mr. Putin, who was president from 2000 to 2008 and then bided his time as prime minister, returned to the presidency in May 2012. Since then, for their willingness to speak truth to power, at least four of my Russian counterparts have been questioned in connection with a criminal investigation. The court order used to harass them refers to their “deliberately false conclusions.” Talk about killing the messenger.
You may be surprised to learn that the Kremlin has a human rights agency. Not only has one existed since 1993, but the human rights council, as it is currently known, was active and respected under Mr. Medvedev’s presidency. Its membership was a who’s who of leading Russian human rights personalities, including Lyudmila M. Alexeyeva, the leader of the Moscow Helsinki Group and a former Soviet dissident.
In the Medvedev years, the council’s work had impact. For example, its study of the death in custody of the Russian anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky forced the state to reopen its own investigation of the event. The United States Congress cited the council’s findings in an act named for Mr. Magnitsky that was passed late last year. That law, which was linked to a lifting of trade restrictions, restricted the ability of the officials responsible for Mr. Magnitsky’s death to move themselves or their assets to American shores. Even more remarkably, the council scrutinized the case of Mr. Khodorkovsky, who is still paying the price for daring to finance Mr. Putin’s political opponents a decade ago. He was arrested in 2003 and was convicted in 2005 of evading taxes on oil sold by his Yukos oil company. He was dropped into the Russian prison archipelago, and Yukos was lost to a state-owned company. In 2010, as he approached eligibility for parole, he was convicted again, this time for embezzling the oil he was previously convicted of selling on the sly; he remains in prison today. Many have questioned the validity of these charges, their sequential filing, and the fairness of his trials.
My involvement began in April 2011, when I received an e-mail from Tamara Morshchakova, a retired justice of the Russian Constitutional Court; she was heading the council’s working group on the case. She asked me to write a report evaluating this second conviction. At the time, I thought this might be a chance to shine sunlight on this shadowy case, and that Mr. Medvedev would be more open to reconsideration than Mr. Putin.
Ms. Morshchakova had written to me: “The expert analysis is to be conducted on a voluntary basis and on the condition of confidentiality.” That meant I worked without pay, and without contact with the council, through that spring and summer, before submitting my report.
I now realize that this isolation was a safety precaution, intended to avoid false accusations of expertise-for-hire or collusion. Only when the work of all the experts was personally given to President Medvedev did I learn who else had written reports and what they had said. The six Russians included leaders in the country’s top academic institutions and prominent professors with expertise in legal scholarship, economics or both.
But once Mr. Putin switched places last year with Mr. Medvedev, my Russian counterparts began to pay for their too-public public service. Just weeks after Mr. Putin’s election last March, a Russian official smeared the council’s impartiality, citing charitable donations Yukos made over a decade ago to nongovernmental organizations whose leaders now sit on the council.
Then, shortly after Mr. Putin’s inauguration in May, search warrants were issued under the pretext of investigating whether Mr. Khodorkovsky had financed the “deliberately false conclusions of specialists under the guise of independent public expertise by paying those who organized their production as well as the experts.” I’m told that, one by one, these experts and people they work with are finding their homes and workplaces searched, their papers and computers seized. They are also being subjected to aggressive questioning.
Meanwhile, many council members, including Ms. Alexeyeva, have resigned in protest of Mr. Putin’s return. Their ranks have been restocked and enlarged, but the council now seems a shadow of its former independent-minded self.
Of course, as an American working outside of Russia, I am insulated from the full force of Mr. Putin’s wrath. Not so these Russian experts. Their work showed true courage, particularly because they must have known the risks.
Punishing the leaders to quiet the herd is an old practice for authoritarian regimes, and this message was intended for news editors, television reporters, bloggers and others who would speak their minds to the public. With Mr. Putin back in the Kremlin, it is no longer safe to express an opinion on public affairs, even if that opinion was requested by the state itself.
Jeffrey D. Kahn is an associate professor of law at Southern Methodist University. read more…
On January 24th, Pavel Khodorkovsky will be presenting his father’s latest book “My Way. A Political Confession”, written with Russian journalist Natalya Gevorkyan, to an audience in Berlin’s Martin-Gropius Bau.
In the book, Mikhail Khodorkovsky describes the developments in Russia in the 1990s and the history of his company Yukos as well as details of his current life in prison. Furthermore, he outlines his view on contemporary Russia, the autocratic structure of the Putin regime and his thoughts on a program for the political, economic and social development of his country.
Pavel Khodorkovsky will be joined at the presentation by Markus Loening, Federal Commissioner for Human Rights who attended the second Khodorkovsky trial in Moscow, as well as Peter Franck, a Russia expert from Amnesty International Germany. German author Olaf Kuehl, who has published a novel about two friends travelling to Siberia to free Khodorkovsky, will be reading selected passages from the book. The evening will be moderated by Journalist Nils Kreimeier, from business magazine Capital.
What: M. Khodorkovsky “My Way. A Political Confession”
When: 24 January 2013, 6.30 pm
Where: Martin-Gropius-Bau, Niederkirchnerstraße 7, 10963 Berlin
RSVP: To attend please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Michail Chodorkowski & Natalja Geworkjan: “Mein Weg. Ein politisches Bekenntnis”. (2012, Verlag: DVA Sachbuch)
MOSCOW. Dec 29 (Interfax) – Former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky believes care for old people orphans should become the real “spiritual traditions” in 2013.
“Lonely old people and lonely children. Remember about them. Ability and readiness to be kind and have compassion, these are the real spiritual traditions of our society, which we have not become yet, but which we want to be. I wish you all happiness in the New Year,” Khodorkovsky said in his letter to prominent writer Boris Akunin.
Akunin published Khodorkovsky’s letter in his blog in livejournal.com. “All newspapers have closed for the New Year and Mikhail Borisovich (Khodorkovsky) asked me to put the text here, in my blog, which I am doing with pleasure,” Akunin said.
“I am very lucky. I have never been lonely, I have a loving family and friends, and many people have supported me at difficult moments. However, I have had a chance to look at life from a different side. In prison and before it, in the difficult years, I became convinced that the most terrible thing is loneliness, not poverty, especially the loneliness of children and old people,” Khodorkovsky said.
In his letter, Khodorkovsky calls on people to help lonely old people in old people’s homes and orphans in orphanages.
“Our love and ability to make even small miracles for them are more important to those who are now lonely and unhappy,” Khodorkovsky said.
“I have had a chance to visit orphanages and old people’s homes. Not all of them are the same, not all people who live there are unhappy, but what we call ‘commonplace’ and ‘social’, where sick and abandoned people are kept are a horrible test to the nerves of a normal person,” he said.
“I can’t find a reasonable explanation as to how this is possible in our country, which is not poor at all. I can’t explain why it is so hard to raise money for the treatment of children who can be cured. I can’t even explain why our political elite, having adopted an ugly budget, which does not guarantee life, health, and proper care even to them, now deprive children of the hope of finding a family to achieve their political ends. It’s difficult to fight heavy hatred when such things happen,” Khodorkovsky said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier said in his address to the Federal Assembly that Russian society has a serious lack of “spiritual traditions.”