US rights watchdog slams Khodorkovsky sentence

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A top rights group said Friday the sentencing of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky to six more years in jail was "criminal" and revealed endemic problems with Russia's justice system.

"The criminal sentence... highlights a politically motivated trial and deep-seated problems with Russia's justice system," New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

"The sentence is a blow to the rule of law in Russia," its acting Europe and Central Asia director Rachel Denber added in the statement.

"Everything about the charges and the trial indicates that the case against him is political."

A Russian judge order the former Yukos oil company boss and his co-defendant Platon Lebedev to stay in jail until 2017, sentencing the pair to 14 years in a fraud trial the defence said was influenced by strongman Vladimir Putin.

The European Union expressed "serious concern and disappointment" over the sentence while the US State Department said the trial "appears to be an abusive use of the legal system for improper ends."

But Russia's most famous case since the Soviet era received far less attention in Moscow itself.

The government's official Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily mentioned the outcome in a brief article it placed at the bottom of page three while the only other paper to publish on New Year's Eve -- the Tvoi Den tabloid -- ran a few paragraphs on page four.

Putin's spokesman refused to comment on the case Thursday evening as the Russian government wrapped up its work ahead of a winter break festival that runs across the nation through January 10.

© 2010 AFP

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