Russia's prison-sentencing board made the decision to transfer Aleksanian, who is dying from AIDS-related cancer and suspected tuberculosis, following mounting pressure from rights groups. The European Court for Human Rights has ruled on three separate occasions that Aleksanian should be moved to a specialized hospital.
It is a small victory for the former executive, whose trial on charges of embezzlement and tax evasion has been indefinitely suspended.
Drew Holiner, one of Aleksanian’s lawyers, told RFE/RL he had yet to receive official confirmation of the move. But he said the decision was the right one.
“If the reports are true that he is being moved to a specialist clinic -- and I might mention that he needs to be moved to a clinic that specializes in the treatment of AIDS and accompanying diseases -- clearly that’s the right decision, that’s what the European Court of Human Rights has said that Russia must do,” Holiner said.
Prison officials declined to give a firm date for Aleksanian's transfer, saying only it would happen in the "near future." In any case, Holiner said, there is little that can be done now, given the advanced nature of his client's illness. “The only thing that I am quite concerned about is that it’s too little, too late, because as a result of this negligent delay, he has now developed terminal lymphatic cancer and possibly tuberculosis,” he said.
Aleksanian’s condition has deteriorated in the 14 months he has been denied specialist medical help in detention, his lawyers say, leaving him almost blind. In court on February 6, Aleksanian was also pessimistic about his chances of a transfer.
Aleksanian, who is 36, was arrested in April 2006, shortly after being named vice president of Yukos. He had been diagnosed with AIDS earlier that year.
Aleksanian's arrest followed the sentencing in 2005 of Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky to eight years in prison for fraud and tax evasion. Khodorkovsky's high-profile case was widely seen as a Kremlin campaign to punish Russia’s wealthiest man for moving into politics.
Khodorkovsky, who is serving his prison term in Chita, a Siberian city 6,500 kilometers east of Moscow, has spent the last nine days on a hunger strike to protest Aleksanian's poor medical treatment. He is expected to give up the protest fast once Aleksanian has been transferred to a proper medical facility.
Activists say Khodorkovsky's widely publicized strike may have helped secure the February 7 decision to move Aleksanian out of detention. Aleksanian had accused prosecutors of deliberately withholding treatment as an attempt to force him into giving false evidence against Khodorkovsky, who is facing new fraud charges.
Tanya Lokshina, Russia researcher at Human Rights Watch, gave a cautious welcome to news of the transfer. “I really do not think that the Russian authorities believe that it was in their best interests to see Vasily Aleksanian die in prison, because that would have reflected on Russia’s image very negatively," she said. "Due to Russia’s concern about its own image, and especially in the run-up to presidential elections, the relevant decision was finally made.”
The hunger strike is beginning to take its toll on Khodorkovsky. A reporter for Britain's "Financial Times" newspaper, who held a rare face-to-face interview with Khodorkovsky, described the former Yukos chief as "gaunt and drawn." His condition, however, did not prevent him from delivering a critical assessment of the country's political situation, saying he thought it would be "difficult" for Dmitry Medvedev, whom Russian President Vladimir Putin has chosen as his preferred successor in the March 2 election, to bring the rule of law to Russia.
“Tradition, and the state of people’s minds, and the lack of forces able to [support] any movement toward rule of law -- everything is against him,” Khodorkovsky told the newspaper. “Laws can be better and they can be worse. But people must abide by laws, and not use them for their own ends.”
Khodorkovsky’s widely publicized hunger strike in support of Aleksanian may have helped secure his transfer to a civilian hospital, human rights activists say.