Khodorkovsky’s Working Group Publishes Open Letter Against Political Repression

September 17, 2019

Mikhail Khodorkovsky

The working group established by Mikhail Khodorkovsky in August has penned an open letter calling for free and fair elections in Russia and an end to the criminal prosecution of activists. 77 people signed the letter. You can read the letter in full below.



As residents of the free world concerned about the future of global democracy, we have been observing the disturbing unfolding events in Moscow and other Russian cities over the past month. The citizens of Russia are merely demanding from their government rights that we in the free world take for granted:

  • The right to participate and vote in free and fair elections
  • An end to criminal proceedings against activists participating in peaceful protests
  • Accountability for police officers who unnecessarily use force against peaceful demonstrators

In Moscow, not a single independent candidate was initially allowed to take part in elections to the Duma, the regional parliament; all were unlawfully denied registration. Moreover, almost all of the opposition candidates who legally challenged this decision were detained and held under arrest for up to 30 days — simply for standing up for their rights! As a result, residents filled the street in protest. Tens of thousands of peaceful marchers demanded free and fair elections to the city parliament. The authorities responded with police batons, over two thousand people were detained, dozens were beaten, and several had criminal cases opened against them.

Those accused were blamed for “inciting mass disorder” even though video footage showed only violence from riot police. Rights enshrined in the Constitution of the Russian Federation — to gather peacefully without arms and to organize meetings and protests — are now being treated by the government as criminal acts. Widespread lawlessness, the arrest of political opponents, violence by police officers against peaceful residents, the unlawful detainment of children, threats to parents — all have become common practice in Russia. There are already over 200 political prisoners in the country. Every basic human right has been violated, the Constitution completely ignored, and elections turned into democratic window dressing.

In the face of this repression at home, we have seen how president Putin’s regime has sought legitimacy through the free world, where its corrupt representatives keep their money, own property, have families and residence cards, and even hold citizenship.

These individuals, who break the law and violate the human rights of their own citizens, cynically take advantage of the rights and freedoms of democratic nations. They use our lobbyists, lawyers, former politicians, and intelligence officers for their own ends. They corrupt acting politicians and officials and put pressure on private businesses, pushing many to play by their rules and work in favor of their interests.

The Russian government is increasingly impinging on the lives of people in the free world. Its representatives manipulate foreign elections, spread disinformation and propaganda, enlist hackers and troll factories, deploy spies, take hostages, and even commit murder. The regime annexes sovereign territory and conducts irresponsible nuclear missile testing, which has already led to casualties and degradation of the environment.

Clearly, these actions are dangerous not only for Russian citizens but for the entire world. We call on anyone who cares about democracy and human rights to act immediately to stop the lawlessness of President Putin’s regime. Its actions are unacceptable — and indulgence or weakness with this regime constitutes a threat to democracy worldwide.

Specifically, we must adopt an uncompromising stance toward residents of democratic states who help president Putin and his cronies with the laundering of stolen Russian capital. Bankers, lobbyists, politicians, and consultants must acknowledge that any help provided to such officials and their accomplices is an unconscionable crime (and is often paid for by money of criminal origins).

We also appeal to international companies whose business is important to the realization of the democratic rights and freedoms that we value. Russian authorities are trying to force such companies, from Facebook to Google, to comply with domestic laws that stifle civil society. We consider this pressure to be illegal and call on the international business community not to succumb and to demand political independence when operating in Russia.

In closing, we thoroughly condemn the political repression and lawlessness taking place today in Russia. With each passing day, the threat of being put behind bars for months, and even years, grows for the few brave political activists that remain in the country. Most have been forced into exile. All of them count on the support of international partners in their continued efforts.

We express solidarity with every member of the worldwide opposition to president Putin’s regime. Every person in the world deserves to live in a country that respects the values of democracy, freedom, and justice and actively works to secure them for every citizen.


List of signatories

Anne ApplebaumWashington Post Columnist and Senior Fellow, Johns Hopkins, the U.S.

Anders AslundSenior Fellow, Atlantic Council, the U.S.

Guto Bebb, Member of Parliament for Aberconwy, the U.K.

Marieluise BeckFormer State Secretary, Center for Liberal Modernity, Germany

David BenioffCo-creator of the Game of Thrones, the U.S.

Wolf BiermannSinger and Writer, Germany

Arend Jan BoekestijnUtrecht University, former member of Dutch Parliament, the Netherlands

Max BootSenior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, the U.S.

Laurens Jan Brinkhorstformer Deputy Prime Minister and former Minister of Economic Affairs, The Netherlands

William BrowderHead of the Global Magnitsky Justice Movement, the U.K.

Tina BrownFounder and CEO of Tina Brown Live Media/Women in the World, the U.S.

Chris BryantMember of Parliament for Rhondda, the U.K.

John BrutonFormer Prime Minister, Ireland

Emmanuel CarrèreWriter, France

Bryan Cartledge, former British Ambassador to the U.S.S.R. and Hungary, the U.K.

Viorel Cibotaruformer Minister of Defense, Moldova

Irwin CotlerFormer Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Canada

Herta Däubler-GmelinFormer Minister of Justice, Germany

Martin Dewhirst, Russia expert, the U.K.

Larry DiamondSenior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University, the U.S.

Pr Hon. Gareth Evans AC QCformer Foreign Minister of Australia and President Emiritus of the International Crisis Group, Australia

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, former Minister of Defense and Minister of EconomicsGermany

Stephen Fryactor and writer, the U.K.

Ralf FuecksPublicist, Center for Liberal Modernity, Germany

Timothy Garton AshOxford University/Stanford University, the U.K.

Richard Harrington, Member of Parliament for Watford, the U.K.

Heidi HeitkampU.S. Senator (retired), the U.S.

Geoffrey HoskingEmeritus Professor of Russian History, University College London, the U.K.

Toomas Hendrik Ilvesformer President, Estonia

Gyde JensenMember of Parliament, Germany

Garry KasparovChairman of the Human Rights Foundation (NYC), Russia

Bob KerreyU.S. Senator (retired), the U.S.

Tinatin Khidasheliformer Minister of Defense, Georgia

Mikhail KhodorkovskyFounder of Open Russia, Russia

Stephen KinnockMember of Parliament for Aberavon, the U.K.

Petr Kolarformer Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Ambassador of the Czech Republic to the U.S. and Russia, the Czech Republic

Marcus KolgaPresident, Central and Eastern European Council, Canada

John KornblumFormer U.S. Ambassador to Germany, the U.S.

Patrick KlugmanAttorney at Law, Deputy Mayor of Paris, France

William KristolDirector, Defending Democracy Together, the U.S.

David J. Kramerformer Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, the U.S.

Vytautas Landsbergis, former speaker of parliament, Lithuania

Dr Katrina Lantos SwettPresident, Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, the U.S.

Sabine Leutheusser-SchnarrenbergerFormer Minister of Justice, Germany

Bernard-Henri LévyPhilosopher and Writer, France

Markus LoeningFormer Human Rights Commissioner, Germany

Jon Meacham, Rogers Chair in the American Presidency, Vanderbilt University, the U.S.

Markus MeckelForeign Minister in the last government of the GDR, Germany

Sarah Mendelsonformer U.S. Ambassador to the UN’s ECOSOC, the U.S.

Adam MichnikEditor in Chief of Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland

David Morris, Member of Parliament for Morecambe and Lunesdale, the U.K.

Herta MüllerWriter and Nobel Prize Winner, Germany

Cem ÖzdemirMember of Parliament, Germany

Richard North Pattersonbestselling Novelist and Political Commentator, the U.S.

Andrew PercyMember of Parliament for Brigg and Goole, the U.K.

Baroness Piddingmember of the House of Lords, the U.K.

Rosen Plevnelievformer President, Bulgaria

Bob Rae, former Ontario Premier and Member of Parliament, Canada

Jamie RaskinMember of the House of Representatives, the U.S.

Malcolm RifkindFormer Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the U.K. 

Karl Roveformer Deputy Chief of Staff and Sr. Advisor to President George W. Bush, the U.S.

Manuel SarrazinMember of Parliament, Germany

Karl SchlögelProfessor of History, Germany

Karel SchwarzenbergVice-Chairman of the Foreign Committee of the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Czech Republic

Bob SeelyMember of Parliament for Isle of Wight, the U.K.

Mikhail ShishkinWriter, Switzerland/Russia

Radek SikorskiMember of the European Parliament, former Foreign Minister, Poland

Peter TatchellHuman Rights Campaigner and Director of Peter Tatchell Foundation, the U.K.

Astrid Thorsformer OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Finland

Laurence TribeHarvard University Law Professor, the U.S.

Lord David Trimble, former Minister of Northern Ireland, the U.K.

Tom TugendhatMember of Parliament for Tonbridge and Malling, chair of the U.K. Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, the U.K.

Sir Graham Watsonformer President of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe and former MEP, the U.K.

Dan WeissCo-creator of the Game of Thrones, the U.S.

James Whartonformer Member of Parliament for Stockton South, the U.K.

Dana WhiteChief Pentagon Spokesperson for Secretary James Mattis, the U.S.

John WhittingdaleMember of Parliament for Maldon, the U.K.

Sir Andrew Woodformer U.K. Ambassador to Russia, the U.K.