29 October 2014
By Vera Vasilyeva, correspondent for HRO.org portal
Source: Moscow Helsinki Group - 'Articles, Opinions, Commentaries'
On Wednesday 29 October, the day before the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repression in the USSR, the NGO Open Russia founded by the former YUKOS CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky held an online forum entitled “Political prisoners 2.0", focusing on the issue of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in modern-day Russia.
As well as Khodorkovsky himself, the main speakers included the economist Sergey Guriev, the Memorial Human Rights Centre board member Aleksandr Cherkasov and the amnestied Bolotnaya defendant Viktor Akimenkov, as well as Sergei Nikitin (head of the Russian office of Amnesty International), Vladimir Ashurkov (executive director of the Fund for Fighting Corruption) and others.
Although the panellists answered a number of questions from the audience, my question to Sergei Nikitin was unfortunately not among them, and so I will repeat it here.
On 10 September, at a press conference held by Amnesty International at Interfax’s offices, I asked the organisation’s Secretary-General, Salil Shetty, about AI’s position on what I see as an egregious failure by Russia to comply with the ruling handed down by the European Court of Human Rights in respect of the case involving the former YUKOS employee Aleksei Pichugin.
Over a year ago, on 23 October 2013, the Presidium of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation had proved its absolute mastery of the art of simulation by reopening proceedings in the Pichugin case as requested by the ECtHR, but then merely overturning the remand extensions which had been granted.
This cannot in any way be seen as compensating for the fact that the court unlawfully held its sittings in camera, in order to hide from public scrutiny the lack of any evidence. It is furthermore hard to believe that the Presidium obtained fresh statements from Korovnikov, the main witness for the prosecution, even though the ECtHR found that the interrogation of this witness had been unlawful.
Following the press conference in September, I wrote Sergei Nikitin a letter asking him to respond to my question.
The question which the Open Russia forum panellists did not answer concerned Amnesty International's response to my letter. It is my firm belief that the public reaction to the events of 23 October 2013 was inexcusably feeble. The lack of any much-needed organised opposition to the abuse of power in the Pichugin case simply told the authorities that they did not need to bother fulfilling the obligations they had undertaken at international level.
While we are on the topic of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, I would also like to add that Amnesty International used the term “prisoner of conscience" to refer to Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, the former head of MFO “MENATEP”. Yet Aleksei Pichugin refused to comply with the investigators’ demands for him to testify against Khodorkovsky on the strength of his moral, ethical and religious convictions, and he paid for it with a life sentence.
The question we are therefore faced with is whether Aleksei Pichugin should be called a victim of a miscarriage of justice or a prisoner of conscience.
Translated by Joanne Reynolds