Credit: Wikimedia

Before his pardon and release on December 20, 2013, Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s defence team brought four applications before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

Khodorkovsky’s First Application to the ECtHR

On May 31, 2011 the ECtHR gave its judgment (full text available online here: enter 5829/04 in the “Application Number” field on the HUDOC Search Portal) in response to Khodorkovsky’s first application, lodged on February 9, 2004. The ECtHR ruled that there had been violations of Khodorkovsky’s fundamental human rights in connection with his arrest and detention between 2003 and 2005, including degrading prison conditions, inhuman and degrading conditions in the courtroom throughout his first trial, detention unjustified by compelling reasons outweighing the presumption of liberty, and unfair hearings reviewing his detention.

Khodorkovsky did not claim any pecuniary damage, although his pecuniary losses due to his arrest and subsequent criminal prosecution were considerable. Instead he made a deliberately modest claim for non-pecuniary damages of €10,000, awarded to him in full by the ECtHR. Khodorkovsky stated that when these funds are paid by the Russian Federation, he will donate to them to charity.

Khodorkovsky’s first application to the ECtHR claimed in part that his arrest and detention from 2003 to 2005 were politically and economically motivated, but the ECtHR declined to agree fully, stating that Khodorkovsky had not provided “incontrovertible and direct proof” in this regard. Khodorkovsky had invoked Article 18 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, under which restrictions permitted to rights and freedoms “shall not be applied for any purpose other than those for which they have been prescribed”. The ECtHR accepted that it was reasonable to suspect that there were improper motivations behind the prosecution of Khodorkovsky. According to the judgment: “The Court admits that the applicant’s case may raise a certain suspicion as to the real intent of the authorities,” and “this state of suspicion might be sufficient for” domestic European courts “to refuse extradition, deny legal assistance, issue injunctions against the Russian Government, make pecuniary awards, etc.” However, for the purposes of the ECtHR, the judges stated that Khodorkovsky would have to provide “incontrovertible and direct proof” that would enable them to conclude “that the whole legal machinery of the respondent State in the present case was ab initio misused, that from the beginning to the end the authorities were acting with bad faith and in blatant disregard of the Convention.” The judgment in response to Khodorkovsky’s first application to the ECtHR thus created an almost impossible burden for proving politically motivated prosecutions.

To verify the position of the ECtHR, which had never before used this standard of proof for claims under Article 18, Khodorkovsky requested that his application be referred to the ECtHR Grand Chamber for reconsideration. In response to this request, on November 28, 2011, a panel of judges of the ECtHR Grand Chamber reaffirmed the ECtHR’s position by declining to refer Khodorkovsky’s application for reconsideration.

In a response to a question from the Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, in an interview published January 11, 2011, Khodorkovsky noted that the political motivation behind his arrest and incarceration “is conceded openly even by Russian civil servants”, and he speculated that the ECtHR “is forced to relent in certain matters to those in power in Russia” so as not to endanger “the impact of its decisions on the situation in Russia”.

Nevertheless, it should be noted that Khodorkovsky’s first application dealt only with events that occurred from 2003 to 2005, and since then the amount of evidence of the improper motivations of the authorities has only increased. The ECtHR will consider this evidence in Khodorkovsky’s pending applications.

Khodorkovsky’s Second Application to the ECtHR

Khodorkovsky’s second application concerns his first trial from 2004 to 2005 and his subsequent banishment to eastern Siberia. On November 8, 2011 the ECtHR ruled on the admissibility (full text available online here: tick “Decisions” box and enter 11082/06 in the “Application Number” field on the HUDOC Search Portal) of claims in Khodorkovsky’s second application, lodged on March 16, 2006. Specifically, the ECtHR agreed to hear complaints relating to the partiality of a judge, breaches of the presumption of innocence, the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defence, Khodorkovsky’s transfer to a prison in Siberia 6,900 kilometres away from his family and the politically motivated nature of the proceedings. Although the admissibility ruling on the second application does not prejudge the merits of the case, it marks another important step in Khodorkovsky’s legal fight against the actions of the Russian state.

On July 25, 2013, the ECtHR ruled that Khodorkovsky’s and Lebedev’s application concerning their first trial was valid and awarded them 10,000 euros (£8,350) in damages. Three months later, on Oct. 25, the ruling was finalized and accepted by the Russian Ministry of Justice. At the time, Khodorkovsky’s lawyers called upon the Russian government to immediately release their clients on the basis of the ECtHR ruling.

Khodorkovsky’s Third and Fourth Applications to the ECtHR

Khodorkovsky’s third application concerns his treatment in Siberian detention facilities beginning in 2005, along with the bringing of new charges against him in 2007 and violations of his human rights in connection with his second trial from 2009 to 2010.

Khodorkovsky’s fourth application concerns deeply prejudicial comments about him made by then-Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin on Russian national television in December 2010, violating Khodorkovsky’s right to be presumed innocent.

The calendar of the ECtHR’s rulings on Khodorkovsky’s pending applications has not been announced and cannot be reliably predicted.


Since 2004, Platon Lebedev has brought four applications to the ECtHR, generally in step with the individual applications brought separately by his co-accused business partner Khodorkovsky, described above.

Lebedev’s First Application to the ECtHR

On October 25, 2007 the ECtHR gave its judgment (full text available online here: enter 4493/04 in the “Application Number” field on the HUDOC Search Portal) in response to Lebedev’s first application, lodged on January 22, 2004. The application concerned violations of Lebedev’s fundamental human rights in connection with his arrest and detention between 2003 and 2004, prior to his first trial. The ECtHR found that Lebedev had been detained illegally, that hearings were conducted without his attorneys or Lebedev himself present and that proceedings were repeatedly unlawfully delayed.

In response to the ECtHR’s October 2007 judgment in Lebedev v. Russia, in December 2009, over two years after the ECtHR judgment, Russia’s Supreme Court conceded that Lebedev had indeed been treated illegally. By then Lebedev was again facing prosecution in a second trial, and the Supreme Court’s ruling had no impact on those proceedings.

The ECtHR ordered Russia to pay €10,000 damages to Lebedev. Declaring that his application to the ECtHR was motivated exclusively by the desire to gain justice and objectivity in the assessment of his treatment by the Russian authorities, Lebedev split his award into equal donations to the Andrei Sakharov Museum in Moscow and the Podmoskovny Lyceum in the town of Koralovo, near Moscow.

Lebedev’s Second Application to the ECtHR

On May 27, 2010, the ECtHR ruled on the admissibility of claims by Lebedev in his second application, lodged on March 28, 2005. Without prejudging the merits, the ECtHR declared admissible Lebedev’s complaints concerning the conditions of his detention in a remand prison and in the courtroom during his first trial, the length of his detention pending investigation and trial and the proceedings in which it was extended, the trial court’s lack of impartiality, the breach of his right to be presumed innocent by his placement in a metal cage during the trial, the unfairness in handling of evidence by the courts, the lack of adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence and the lack of effective legal assistance, the unforeseeable application of tax law, the inability to maintain family and social ties from the place where he was sent to serve his sentence, and the improper reasons for his criminal prosecution.

Lebedev’s Third and Fourth Applications to the ECtHR

As is the situation for Khodorkovsky, the calendar of the ECtHR’s rulings on Lebedev’s pending applications has not been announced and cannot be reliably predicted.


Vasily Alexanyan was a Yukos executive and former company lawyer jailed in Moscow in April 2006. Alexanyan was held in inhumane pre-trial detention conditions and deprived of medical treatment despite the fact that the authorities were aware that he was infected with HIV. He was repeatedly pressured to provide false testimony against Mikhail Khodorkovsky in exchange for medical treatment, but he steadfastly refused. With a compromised immune system and lacking appropriate medical treatment in detention for almost two years, he developed tuberculosis and became terminally ill with lymphatic cancer. He died in October 2011 at the age of 39.

During Alexanyan’s detention the ECtHR repeatedly issued interim measures to the Russian authorities (Interim measures are urgent requests to the authorities of a country sent only in limited situations: typically where there are fears of a threat to life or ill-treatment, for example due to torture. Read more here) The ECtHR called upon Russia to secure immediately Alexanyan’s transfer to an appropriate hospital for in-patient treatment, to submit a copy of Alexanyan’s medical file to the ECtHR and to form a medical commission including independent doctors to diagnose Alexanyan’s health problems and suggest treatment. The Russian authorities repeatedly ignored the ECtHR’s interim measures as Alexanyan’s health worsened.

The ECtHR accelerated Alexanyan’s case in view of the gravity of his medical conditions. In a December 22, 2008 judgment concerning Alexanyan’s application lodged on November 16, 2006, the ECtHR ruled that there had been a violation of the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment on account of the lack of proper medical assistance in the remand prison, that there had been a violation of the right to liberty and security on account of the failure of the domestic courts to adduce relevant and sufficient reasons to justify Alexanyan’s continuous detention, that there had been a violation of the right to respect for private and family life on account of searches in Alexanyan’s premises, that Russia had failed to meet its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights by not complying promptly with interim measures, and that Alexanyan’s detention on remand should be discontinued.

The ECHR found that the Russian authorities’ failure to provide timely treatment to Alexanyan “undermined [his] dignity and entailed particularly acute hardship…which amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment” and which put Alexanyan’s “health and even life in danger.” The ECtHR further found that “in view of the gravity of the applicant’s illnesses, the Court considers that the applicant’s continuous detention is inacceptable.”

Alexanyan was released on bail in January 2009. In June 2009 the ECtHR refused a request from the Russian government to refer the Alexanyan case for reconsideration, confirming the finality of the December 2008 judgment. Meanwhile, in Russia, even after Alexanyan’s release, the authorities continued to pursue the case against him until it was finally dismissed in 2010.