June 26 marked former Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky's 49th birthday. Once thought to be Russia's richest man, the former Yukos head has been in prison since 2003 on charges of embezzlement and tax evasion that are widely believed to be a politically and economically motivated vendetta against him. He is considered a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.
RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Danila Galperovich spoke with Khodorkovsky's son, Pavel, in Strasbourg, where he is consulting with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).
RFE/RL: Tell us, please, what you have been doing here in Strasbourg?
I met with various representatives of delegations and groups within the Council of Europe. For example, yesterday we met with the head of the Norwegian delegation to the PACE (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe), Karin Woldseth. Also yesterday, I participated in a meeting of the European People's Party and told them about my father's upcoming birthday and about how the 8 1/2 years of his imprisonment have affected our family -- since family values are a cornerstone of the political philosophy of that group. They were interested to hear about the latest news of the legal aspects of my father's case and they were interested -- and asked -- "how can we help?" "What can the Council of Europe do?" As far as I understand, in the near future, in October, there will be a report on the human rights situation in Russia...
RFE/RL: Yes, and at the same time there will be a report on how Russia is meeting its obligations to the Council of Europe...
I really hope that my father's case will be used as an illustration of the human rights situation and the legal system in Russia as a whole. I hope it will influence the conditions of his imprisonment. At the very least -- we won't even mention his immediate release, which is our dream but I'm afraid it is currently unrealistic -- but at least his transfer to a prison closer to Moscow, which would be in line with Russian law. He is currently in the most far-flung prison from Moscow although there are at least a dozen relatively close to the place of his residence registration. But that has no practical effect...
That's the first thing. Second, of course, is the case of Magnitsky
. (Editor's note: Sergei Magnitsky is a Russian attorney who died in pretrial police custody in 2009). This is now the most effective means of pressuring the Russian government, one that could bring about real changes in the legal system and a return to the promised reforms aimed at combating legal nihilism, as President [Dmitry] Medvedev often loved to talk about. He's no longer the president. But the current president, Putin, adopted all the promises of the previous administration and made many more; unfortunately, they aren't fulfilled. So the message here is relatively simple.
A sympathizer of Mikhail Khodorkovsky holds a sign of support during a Moscow rally on June 26, his 49th birthday.
RFE/RL: What exactly are you doing regarding the Magnitsky case? Who are you talking to?
I am speaking with the representatives of the national delegations of the Council of Europe and with members of the European Parliament about the fact that the draft law must...
RFE/RL: You mean the draft law in the United States, the so-called Magnitsky bill, which would impose targeted sanctions against Russian officials accused of involvement in human rights violations? You think this should be a model for Europe?
Of course, of course. I think this is the most effective means of pressuring people who are involved in human rights violations and in corrupt dealings. It would interrupt the entire corrupt system of the bureaucracy in Russia.
RFE/RL: It seems you have two seemingly contradictory goals: to improve conditions for your father and to see a Magnitsky bill passed. Aren't you afraid that your advocating for the Magnitsky bill will make things harder for your father?
I think that worsening his prison conditions would be a very bad step for the Russian government because the Russian public and the institutions and governments of Europe are following this case very closely. It would just be bad public relations -- black PR. That's why I try to attract as much attention as possible to my father's case. If you remember, he was attacked when he was in prison at Krasnokamensk and I fear that there is still a chance of physical violence against my father. I don't think these two efforts contradict one another. I think that my father's safety depends on the amount of international and domestic attention there is.
The Magnitsky case is a relatively easy sell both in Europe and within Russia because it isn't general sanctions against Russia that could negatively affect the business and travel opportunities of all Russian citizens. It is targeted concretely against people who were involved in human rights violations and in causing the unfortunate death of Sergei Magnitsky.
RFE/RL: Have you been tempted to write to President Vladimir Putin and ask him for your father's release?
I am sure that ultimately the key to my father's release is in the hands of Russian society -- not in the hands of Mr. Putin. I think his release will come as a response to the demands of Russian society that, under today's conditions, cannot be ignored for long.