Posts Tagged ‘courts’
Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev sentenced to 13.5 years imprisonment for allegedly stealing all the oil their own company, Yukos, has produced. This is almost exactly the term (minus 6 months) that the prosecutor requested. The sentence is combined with their current prison term, so they will stay in prison until 2017 (if they survive long enough in prison camps). The truth is, however, as Khodorkovsky mentioned, they will stay behind bars as long as Putin is in power.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky commented the sentence briefly, saying:
Platon Lebedev and I show you an example: do not hope to be protected by a court from a bureaucrat in Russia. The [Central Electoral Commission Chief Vladimir] Churov Rule [“Putin is always right”] works. But we don’t lose heart and wish the same to our friends.
“Vertical of power” is hardening its grip over the Constitutional Court. Kommersant reports today that two members of the Court were punished by their fellow judges for public criticism of the Russian judiciary system and the lack of democracy in general.
Vladimir Yaroslavtsev had to resign yesterday from the Council of Judges of the Russian Federation and its praesidium, a self-regulatory body of the Russian judiciary. The reason for that was his August interview with El Pais, in which he harshly criticised the political system built by Vladimir Putin. “The judiciary power in Russia during Vladimir Putin’s and Dmitry Medvedev’s presidencial terms has become a tool used by the executive power,” he claimed. “I feel like I’m standing at the ruins of justice,” the judge concluded.
Another member of the Constitutional Court, Anatoly Kononov, even has to resign from the court because of his public critical position. For a long time, he was opposing many undemocratic decisions of the court by declaring his individual opinion (the right a Constitutional Court judge legally has). He has also criticised these decisions (including the Court’s refusal to examine the cases of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Natalia Morari) in the press. He also tried to defend judge Yaroslavtsev and to oppose the new order of selecting the Chairman of the Constitutional Court (he is now appointed by the President and the Senate instead of being elected by the judges themselves, as it used to be). As a result, he was forced by his colleagues to resign from his post for “undermining the authority of the judiciary system.”
I haven’t recently had time to blog here a lot, sorry about that. Here are some interesting things that happened in the last month or two:
1. Oborona started its English blog (not so many entries yet) and held its second summer training camp Partizan-2009 near Volga river. The camp lasted four days and was packed with training, workshops, discussions etc. Journalists and guests from other democratic organizations participated along with Oborona activists.
Here are some camp photos and a video clip (in Russian):
3. For the first time, an individual is sent to prison officially for criticizing the government. Alexey Nikiforov, an opposition leader in Yekaterinburg, was sentenced to 1 year imprisonment for “extremism”: his “crime” was organizing of several peaceful and legal public protest actions. The court considered slogans “Down with the police state!” and “I don’t want to live in a fascist state” extremism. Previously, courts used to sentence “extremists” to conditional terms, not the real ones.
4. Another court in Krasnodarsky Kray found the slogan “Freedom is not given, it is taken” extremism and ordered to ban Novorossiysk Committee for Human Rights, which used that slogan at one public action. The court decision says,
…the call to “take” freedom means that individual rights have priority over the state’s [rights]. Thus, the slogan “Freedom is not given, it is taken” is of extremist nature.
5. While Dmitry Medvedev calls (once again) to “strengthen democracy” and even criticizes political repression (abstract, not the ones that take place in today’s Russia), one of the Moscow’s busiest metro stations Kurskaya now proudly features a quotation from the Soviet anthem of 1943:
Stalin brought us up — on loyalty to the people,
He inspired us to labor and to heroism.
6. All seven Solidarity’s candidates to the Moscow City Duma were denied registration by the Electoral Commissions. In some cases, the reasons were unbelievably absurd and almost unexplainable (like lack of certain unnecessary hints in subscription forms). Even members of the “official opposition” Pravoe Delo (Right Cause) party were also denied registration. Therefore, there will be almost no competition in these elections.
I won RUR 10,000 (about $300) at Tverskoy District Court yesterday from the Russian government for my illegal 13-day detention at a Dissenters’ March last year. This is the first case when the state is obliged to pay a compensation to an opposition activist arrested at a rally. Of course, the amount is hillarious and I will surely submit an appeal, first to the Moscow City Court and then, if needed, to the European Court for Human Rights.
The second trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev started on Tuesday. Putin’s goal is apparent: Khodorkovsky must stay in prison forever… given that Putin himself stays in power forever, of course.
The court of law was surrounded by riot police and plainclothes operatives since early morning, you couldn’t even freely enter the block where the court is located. Of course, it had nothing to do with terrorism. What the police was afraid of is just a small peaceful demonstration of Khodorkovsky’s supporters. They brought flowers for him, chanted “Freedom!”—and were arrested for that.
Two activists of Oborona managed to put a 10-meter-long banner “Free Khodorkovsky!” on a roof of Bohdan Khmelnitsky bridge opposite to the court. They were arrested minutes later.
The jury acquitted all three men of involvement in the murder of Anna Politkovskaya. Frankly, I was shocked to hear that news: this is a very unusual thing to happen in Russian courts and it’s yet more surprising since the investigation had been thought to be thorough.
Most probably, the detectives and prosecutors are to blame for this failure. The case was prepared badly by them and they had probably expected to manipulate the jury, as it is normally done at other trials. This may also be the reason for the judge’s attempt to close the process from the public.
Prosecutors will appeal and it’s still likely that the defendants will be punished at the end. But this jury’s verdict shows that the authorities show little capacity or will to find the murderers of Anna Politkovskaya.
I start writing for The Huffington Post, one of the leading American political blogs. Here is my first column for their recently launched World News section, on the case of Anna Politkovskaya.
Murder of Anna Politkovskaya: The Trial Begins
December 5, 2008
Four men, two of them are officers of Russian special services and two others are Chechens, are being tried in the Moscow District Military Court now. They are accused of organizing the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, one of the most outrageous crimes in Russia’s recent history.
Who was Anna Politkovskaya?
Anna Politkovskaya was a prominent Russian journalist who worked for Novaya Gazeta newspaper. Most of her work was dedicated to the Northern Caucasus and in particular to Chechnya, devastated by two wars, poverty, terrorism and unbelievable lawlessness. She went where misery was too great for people to bear. She investigated police and army brutality; she helped Russian prisoners of war; she supported victims of terrorism.
She was respected and trusted by both the Chechen separatists and the victims of Chechen terrorist groups. She was the one who brought drinking water to 800 hostages in the Moscow theatre Nord-Ost in 2002. When terrorists seized a school in Beslan in 2004, she immediately went there to negotiate a peaceful solution of the crisis. However, she didn’t make it to Beslan. She was poisoned on the airplane, as her colleagues believe, by Russian secret services who didn’t want her to interfere into their own plan. She survived but while she was in the hospital, the Russian army stormed the school. 331 hostages were killed as a result, most of them children.
Anna wrote a highly critical book Putin’s Russia in 2004 and participated in a founding conference of the Other Russia opposition coalition in July 2006. Russian authorities as well as the pro-Kremlin Chechen leadership despised Anna for her activities and didn’t even try to hide it. When she was killed, then-president Vladimir Putin tried to defend himself against suspicion in a very cynical way by saying that “her death caused more harm than her work”.
Who killed her?
She was assassinated at the doorstep of her home in Moscow on October 7, 2006, on Putin’s birthday. Many people believe that such a bloody gift was given to the Russian president by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov (he was appointed president of Chechnya by Putin a few months later). Russian authorities, on the contrary, declared immediately that it was Boris Berezovsky’s provocation against Kremlin. Such claims weren’t unexpected as this ex-oligarch serves as a scapegoat for probably every second bad thing happening in Russia. No proofs of that were found afterwards, however. It is still unknown who was the initiator of this crime but, according to the defendant’s attorneys, the file has clues that it was “a political figure inside Russia.”
The hitman was also not found. Detectives say that the man who shot five bullets at Anna is Chechen Rustam Makhmudov and is now hiding abroad. Two his brothers are under trial for organizing the murder of Politkovskaya. Two others defendants are a former officer of UBOP (police unit responsible for fighting organized crime but also used against political opposition), Sergey Khadzhikurbanov, and acting FSB Lieutenant-Colonel Pavel Ryaguzov. Novaya Gazeta staff organized their own investigation and said that these defendants were most probably involved in the crime but they played more a supportive role.
The very beginning of the trial was marked by a serious scandal that raised new questions. The process was initially open to the public but at the second hearing the judge, Evgeny Zubov, decided that no journalists will be allowed in the court room. The reason was the jury’s request to close the process: the jurors were reportedly afraid of the media.
However, the next day juror Evgeny Kolesov gave an interview and claimed that there had been no such request and nobody asked to get journalists out. He said that a court clerk entered the jury’s room before the hearings and asked them to sign a written statement that they want the process to be closed. All the jurors refused to sign it. But still, the judge didn’t care. Nineteen out of 20 jurors signed a petition to the judge saying that they don’t have any objections to the open process. Evgeny Kolesov sent the judge a letter in which he said that he didn’t want to participate in an “unfair trial” and refused to stay in the jury.
The judge had to reopen the process after these events. However, it is still unknown what he wanted to hide so badly. Is it some links to the murder that go high into the ruling elite? Or is it related to the FSB’s reported surveillance of Politkovskaya? We will hopefully know soon.
Update: Rustam Makmugov, the suspected killer, made a statement that he was ready to surrender himself to the police if fair trial is guaranteed for him. Unfortunately, such a condition is very hard to meet in Russia.