NGOs Appeal to Hollande to Ask Putin to Release Political Prisoners

February 27, 2013

Ahead of French President François Hollande’s visit to Russia this week, a group of non-governmental organisations called on him to demonstrate his commitment to human rights by demanding that President Vladimir Putin respect democratic values and release political prisoners, such as Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

The open letter, published in the French newspaper Libération, was signed by representatives of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Federation for Human Rights, Human Rights League, and Russie-Libertés.

The letter notes that since the last time Hollande and Putin met in June 2012, Russia’s human rights situation has deteriorated, with numerous arrests of political opponents, unfair trials, banned demonstrations, and pressure on civil society groups.  The NGOs reminded Hollande of his statements made during the French presidential campaign, when he said that France would be firm in pressing Russia on human rights.

“It is extremely important for the current government in Russia to understand the urgency of releasing political prisoners languishing in prisons and camps throughout Russia, such as Nadya Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina, Leonid Razvozzhayev, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and others,” the authors write in the open letter.  “It is also necessary to show Putin that France and the international community are firm on their positions in demanding respect for fundamental freedoms in Russia.”

Read the original full text on the letter in Libération. An English translation will be available shortly


Khodorkovsky Answers Questions from Readers

A local newspaper in the region where Khodorkovsky is currently imprisoned has published a question-and-answer correspondence between readers and the famous political prisoner.

“Russia is my Motherland, with which I feel an indissoluble connection, for which I feel responsibility,” Khodorkovsky writes in MK Karelia in response to a question from a teacher.

Asked by a student about his position toward public ombudsmen such as Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin, Khodorkovsky wrote: “Not only the security of citizens, but also the reputation of the country depends on the readiness of judicial power to protect the rights of people, including correcting previously allowed errors.”

Read a translation of the Q&A in MK Karelia.


Tenth Anniversary of Khodorkovsky’s Challenge to Putin on Corruption

February 19, 2013 marked the tenth anniversary of Khodorkovsky’s fateful public challenge to Putin on corruption, an event cited by many observers as the watershed moment that pushed Putin to order charges against Khodorkovsky and his arrest in October 2003.

Interviewed on the monthly internet programme “Territory of Glasnost”, the then-prime minister, Mikhail Kasyanov, recalls the Kremlin meeting and the events that followed it. Kasyanov explains that Khodorkovsky had been asked to prepare a report on corruption. It appears that he took the report seriously – more so than Putin was comfortable with.

Kasyanov recalls: “Khodorkovsky demonstrated that public companies make decisions that are, to put it mildly, not very transparent. As an example, he cited the state-owned Rosneft’s purchase of a small private company called Northern Oil. And Khodorkovsky indicated that the company was bought, by a state-owned company, at a highly inflated price, and that all of the business public agreed that yes, this price is too high, and that this can be clearly traced to corruption.”

Khodorkovsky’s use of Rosneft as an example was prescient: when Yukos was later broken up and sold off through rigged auctions, it was Rosneft that appropriated most of its assets. According to Kasyanov, “the business community was on one side, the President, and apparently Rosneft, on the other. It was a very clear dividing line. That day was a watershed.”

View the original video of Khodorkovsky’s 2003 confrontation with Putin on the “Decade of Injustice” Special Website Feature.

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