Mikhail Khodorkovsky: Russian citizens have every right not to obey illegitimate laws

August 27, 2015

Mikhail Khodorkovsky:  Russian citizens have every right not to obey illegitimate laws

The past two weeks have seen the issuance of not one, but three landmark court rulings.

In the first, the National Bolshevik Oleg Mironov, who had released tear gas at an Andrey Makarevich concert, was sentenced to three years.

Then, Yevgenia Vasilieva was given an early release on parole. I should add that it’s obvious to me she is merely a lightning rod for public discontent. Vasilieva had been jailed in place of Serdyukov, and everything she was accused of had actually been done by Serdyukov.  And it had been done with the knowledge of Putin, who does not consider stealing from the Treasury to be all that big a sin, and uses it for keeping those around him under control.

At the same time, movie director Oleg Sentsov was sentenced to 20 years of deprivation of liberty.  He had been charged with burning a chair in the United Russia office in Crimea and preparing to blow up a monument.

After these decisions, even those who previously rejoiced at harsh sentences for their political adversaries have had to admit: there is no legal system in our country — not for “foes,” and not for “friends” either.

Many of the laws in force in the Russian Federation are amoral and not fair.

It is amoral and unfair to take away from invalid children the right to foreign adoption and to leave them in orphanages that are far from ideal.

It is amoral and unfair to threaten to deprive all Russian citizens of access to Wikipedia — a global storehouse of knowledge that has no equal.

It is amoral and unfair to declare the Dynasty Foundation, which supports science, to be a “foreign agent” and to squeeze it out of the country when United Russia is getting funding from offshore.

The correlation between a law [a particular piece of legislation—Trans.] and The Law [a body of rules governing human behavior, based on what is right—Trans.] is a discussion that has been going on for quite a long time in many countries, and on the whole a consensus has been reached a long time ago with respect to this question. If a law is unfair, it doesn’t accord with The Law, meaning that citizens have the right not to obey it. When it comes right down to it, after all, the genocide in Nazi Germany too was implemented by law, but would anyone be prepared to denounce those Germans who were opposed to, and refused to obey those laws?

This leads to a rather simple conclusion. Russian citizens have every right not to obey laws that are illegitimate and not fair, ones like the “Dima Yakovlev Law” and the laws on destroying sanctioned products. They have the moral right — and most importantly the legal right — to circumvent the blocks put up by the Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecommunications, Information Technologies and Mass Communications [Roskomnadzor].  Their right to freely receive information is protected by the Constitution. The laws instigated by Roskomnadzor, on the contrary, go against the Constitution, which states in black and white:  “Freedom of mass information shall be guaranteed. Censorship is prohibited” (art. 29, para 5).

For example, I consider that Oleg Mironov was convicted unfairly, meaning not in compliance with The Law. The same opinion is held by Andrey Makarevich, against whom Mironov had directed his action.  But the authorities, whose interests, one would think, Mironov had been standing up for, and was even prepared to defend with weapon in hand, considers otherwise.

A paradox, it would seem. But it can be explained by the nature of the Russian law enforcement system, or more precisely — by the lack thereof. A system intended to protect The Law has turned into simply a system for “protecting.” There is no room in it for The Law any more. The system cruelly punishes those whose actions have not been approved by the country’s leaders, even if they committed an insignificant offense like Oleg Mironov or Pussy Riot. And it is prepared to cover up for those who have committed a serious offense, but one that had been approved by the country’s top leadership — as happened with Serdyukov, others among the biggest beneficiaries of the current system, and perhaps with Boris Nemtsov’s murderers as well.

Irrespective of our political views, all of us as a society are acutely in need of a state that is capable of adopting understandable, legitimate and fair laws. A state that will itself obey these laws, and not use them as a truncheon against undesirables.

A state based on The Law, not on propaganda and the unbounded power of one single person, is a state that meets the interests of all citizens: leftists, rightists, centrists, men and women, conservatives and feminists, inhabitants of the center and the ethnic periphery.

Furthermore, a strong state, something many people dream of, is not a state that can take care of any political opponent, but one that is capable of monitoring compliance with The Law on the territory of the entire country.

I hope that Mironov’s, Vasilieva’s and Sentsov’s sentences will make understand those whom the illegitimate sentences in the YUKOS case, Pussy Riot, and Oleg Navalny didn’t help to realize just what condition our state is in.

We may have our differences, but we’ve only got one country, and we’re not going to make it any better without a state based on The Law and fairness, and not on personal power.

And another thing. In recent days there has been a lot of discussion about Vasilieva’s early release. It is legal, but in the opinion of a significant part of society it is not fair. This part of society is thirsting for revenge — against somebody, anybody. And this too is a result of Putin’s policy of recent years — a policy of mutual enmity. But I consider that we need to rejoice that the woman has been released from prison.

There is such a concept known as mercy. At the foundation of our rights lie Christian precepts and Christian philosophy. Mercy is an inalienable part of these. To keep a person behind bars only as a warning to others — and, by the way, a person who is no longer a threat to anybody and has made good her part of the damages — is unmerciful.

The desire for “retribution” only serves to divert society’s attention away from the real causes and the real culprits. What we need to be striving to achieve is not for Vasilieva to sit in jail, but fair, legitimate laws, and the creation of a system in which they are obeyed and enforced unconditionally.