Russian arts figures call Khodorkovsky unfairly jailed

15th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

A group of prominent actors, musicians and writers in Russia on Tuesday called for Amnesty International rights group to recognise jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky as a prisoner of conscience.

Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev, both of whom were handed fresh 14-year sentences in December, were unfairly jailed for expressing their convictions, they said in an open letter in Russian.

"We think that any person who was convicted only for expressing his beliefs is a prisoner of conscience, and therefore we ask you to review your position on Mikhail Khodorkovsky and recognise his status as such," the letter said.

Sent to the British campaigning group's Moscow office, the letter was signed by 45 figures in the arts and academics, including detective novelist Boris Akunin, Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer and Estonian classical composer Arvo Part.

Former Yukos chief Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were found guilty in December of money laundering and embezzlement in a trial that began in March 2009. They were already serving 8-year sentences for fraud.

The head of Amnesty International's Moscow office, Sergei Nikitin, told the Interfax news agency that Khodorkovsky's status would be discussed by the organisation's international secretariat.

"We must knock on these doors until they crumble, and we will keep doing so until these people are freed," Akunin told the Echo of Moscow radio station on Tuesday.

In its annual report last year, Amnesty criticised Khodorkovsky's trial, saying it had sparked concerns that it was politically motivated and would not meet international standards for a fair trial.

The Khodorkovsky trials have generated open letters from Russian celebrities on both sides of the debate.

Earlier this month, 55 people signed a letter opposing criticism of the Khodorkovsky trial, including lion tamer brothers Askold and Edgard Zapashny and the trainer of Russia's rhythmic gymnastics team, Irina Viner.

Last month several showbusiness figures who had signed a letter supporting the first Khodorkovsky trial, announced that they had changed sides, including former Bolshoi ballerina Anastasia Volochkova.

Khodorkovsky's sentence was angrily condemned in the West and his supporters maintained he had been punished for daring to continue to oppose Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

© 2011 AFP

0 Comments To This Article