Russian activists back Amnesty on Khodorkovsky trial

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Russian rights activists on Wednesday praised Amnesty International for naming ex-oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky a "prisoner of conscience" after a Moscow court upheld the verdict in his second trial.

While Amnesty International had hesitated to declare Russia's former richest man a prisoner of conscience, his second trial was so blatantly unjust that it left no room for doubt, activists said.

The London-based campaign group declared Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev prisoners of conscience on Tuesday, calling their second trial "deeply flawed and politically motivated."

"I am very glad that they have done this," veteran rights campaigner Lyudmila Alexeyeva, who heads the Moscow Helsinki Group, told AFP, stressing that Amnesty International "does not take decisions lightly."

"In the second trial of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev the charges were so ridiculous that everything became clear," she said.

The court cut their jail terms by one year to 2016 but upheld convictions for embezzlement and money laundering, angering supporters who see Khodorkovsky as a political victim of former president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

"This is an exact and correct decision," said Sergei Kovalev of the Memorial group, adding that Amnesty had refused a request from a group of Soviet-era political detainees to recognise the men during their first trial.

"This trial is obviously political, in it two innocent people have an obvious and noble political motivation," Kovalev said.

Khodorkovsky and Platonov were first convicted in 2005 of fraud and tax evasion and given eight-year sentences before they were handed fresh charges.

Alexeyeva suggested Amnesty International's ruling could spark sanctions, citing the death in police custody of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer for a Western investment fund.

His death in jail while awaiting trial prompted the European Union and the United States to slap travel bans on the officials involved.

"Only totally shameless people could remain indifferent to this. And what's more, sometimes material sanctions follow from moral condemnation, as in the case of Magnitsky," Alexeyeva said.

However Amnesty International's decision was dismissed by the head of President Dmitry Medvedev's council for human rights, which is organising a probe into the handling of the case.

"The question of who has given whom what title does not affect our work. It will be carried out by independent experts," the council's head, Mikhail Fedotov, told AFP.

© 2011 AFP

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