Accessibility links

Breaking News


Jailed Russian former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky (left) and his business partner Platon Lebedev stand in the defendants' cage before the start of a court session in Moscow in 2010.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that jailed former tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky's trial was not politically motivated, but that Russian court procedures violated his rights.

The Strasbourg-based court, which considered Khodorkovsky's case together with that of his business partner Platon Lebedev, ruled that the tax-fraud accusations against them had a "healthy core," and "corresponded to a common-sense understanding of tax evasion."

On July 25, the court released its findings on a series of complaints filed earlier by the two men.

The ruling said that Russia unfairly charged Khodorkovsky huge tax arrears, and that he and Lebedev were unjustly sent to serve their sentences in penal colonies in eastern Siberia, thousands of miles from their families.

But the ECHR found no basis that the case against the two was politically motivated, as Khodorkovsky and Lebedev alleged in their complaint.

In its findings, the court said that "some government officials had their own reasons to push for the applicants' prosecution," but it added that it was "insufficient to conclude that the applicants would not have been convicted otherwise."

The court said there was no violation of the defendants' right to a fair trial in terms of the impartiality of the judge, but mentioned violations of lawyer-client confidentiality and the unfair taking and examination of evidence by the trial court.

The court agreed with Lebedev's complaint that his confinement in a metal cage during court proceedings amounted to humiliation.

The rights of defendants are contained in the European Convention on Human Rights.

Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003 and later convicted of tax fraud and sentenced to nine years in prison.

His company Yukos Oil was hit with a series of tax claims from the Russian government that totaled some $27 billion and later dismantled.

In 2010, Khodorkovsky was convicted in a second case of stealing oil from his own company.

Lebedev is now due to be released in August 2014, and Khodorkovsky in October 2014.

The defendants' lawyers criticized the ruling.

Karinna Moskalenko, a lawyer for Khodorkovsky, expressed disappointment with the ECHR decision.

"First and foremost -- the fundamental right to a fair trial was violated," she said. "And that, in accordance with Russian law, requires that the convictions be overturned."

Vladimir Krasnov, a lawyer for Platon Lebedev, said he found it "a bit strange" that the ECHR could not determine the political nature of the accusations against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev.

"I am, to a certain extent, disappointed with this part of the ruling," he added.

Khodorkovsy's mother, Marina, criticized the ruling in a message on the Internet, describing it as "cowardly and perhaps incompetent." She added that "only a blind, deaf, and dumb person would not be able to see the political motives behind everything that has happened to Yukos."

The ECHR ruling on July 25 ordered Russia to pay Khodorkovsky 10,000 euros ($13,000) in damages.

In spite of the fine, Russian news agency ITAR-TASS quoted sources from the Justice Ministry as saying they were "satisfied" with the ECHR conclusion that the trial had not been politically motivated.

With reporting by AP, BBC, and Reuters
No one has yet been apprehended for a violent attack on a Macedonian LGBT center late last month.
Rights groups have been taking Macedonian authorities to task for their apparent dilatory response to violence that marred the country's first-ever Gay Pride Week last month.

The landmark event, which was meant to raise awareness about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues, was severely disrupted by an audacious attack on an LGBT center in the capital, Skopje.

As the center was screening some gay-themed short films on June 22, a rabble of around 30 youths launched an assault on the building. They began by shouting homophobic chants and slogans before throwing rocks, bottles, and bricks, causing substantial damage and injuring one policeman who was hit by an object while trying to disperse the mob.

Despite the fact that the attack took place in broad daylight and was recorded on CCTV, the police have failed to apprehend any perpetrators even though more than a month has elapsed since the incident. This has prompted some activists to suggest that they may not be looking too hard to find the culprits.

"This attitude of the police leaves an impression that violence is being legitimized and that anyone who opts for LGBT rights can be attacked," the head of the Macedonian Helsinki Committee, Uranija Pirovska, told Balkan Insight.

"How can the police not find them when there is footage in existence?” she asked.

WATCH: A mob attacks an LGBT center in Skopje.

The Helsinki Committee has now published a video of the incident on YouTube as well as footage of a subsequent attack on the center, which took place when it was closed, in the hope that it might help catch the culprits.

Human Rights Watch has also criticized the Macedonian government's response to homophobic incidents, saying that the authorities have been turning "a blind eye" to several anti-LGBT attacks in recent months.

"Of great concern to Human Rights Watch is the fact that neither you nor anyone else from your government condemned these attacks publicly or urged Macedonian society to refrain from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity," the organization said in a letter to Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski earlier this month.

The letter goes on to say that the "lack of a government response adds to the vulnerability of [LGBT] people in Macedonia and brings into question your government’s commitment to the principles of nondiscrimination and equality."

In 2011, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association rated Macedonia as the worst country for gay rights in the Balkans, a region widely seen as a hotbed of homophobic activity.

Neighboring Montenegro's own inaugural pride parade was rocked by violence on July 24 when police clashed with antigay protesters trying to disrupt the procession.

Late last year, a scheduled gay-pride march in Belgrade was banned by the Serbian authorities to prevent possible violence and public disorder.

-- Coilin O'Connor

Load more

About This Blog

"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


Journalists In Trouble

RFE/RL journalists take risks, face threats, and make sacrifices every day in an effort to gather the news. Our "Journalists In Trouble" page recognizes their courage and conviction, and documents the high price that many have paid simply for doing their jobs. More