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Wiesel 'Pleads' With Russian Government For Khodorkovsky's Freedom

Nobel Peace laureate Elie Wiesel
Nobel Peace laureate Elie Wiesel has launched a global campaign to free imprisoned Russian oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whom he calls a "political prisoner." RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Elena Vlasenko spoke to Wiesel about the case and the state of human rights in Russia.

RFE/RL: How long have you been following the news about the case of Mikhail Khordokovsky and Platon Lebedev?

Elie Wiesel: Two or three years. And then his mother came to see me, and his son. Both my wife and I were very moved by that visit. How can one not be moved by a mother and a son who plead for some justice in their own land? And that's how we became involved. The luncheon that we had of course was mainly to sensitize other people as well, and I think we did.

I believe it's absolutely essential today for anyone who deals with human rights not to ignore or abandon people who are still in jail. And this man has been in jail for so long, and so I plead with the Russian government to free him. It's enough.

RFE/RL: And when did you consider Khordokovsky to be a political prisoner? What led you to this conclusion?

Wiesel: I read the documents, of course, around it -- there's a huge documentation about it. And the facts are clear. It's clear to anyone, really, who knows the situation in Russia that the reason for his arrest and condemnation has nothing to do with the law. It has to do with politics.

The fact is that he is probably the only Russian oligarch who dares to oppose Putin. That's all. And that is what is so troubling. I want to believe that Russia has changed.

RFE/RL: Professor Wiesel, if you were in Moscow, would you go to the court?

Wiesel: Oh, absolutely. If I were in Moscow today, the first thing I would do I would [be] go to the court. Absolutely.

RFE/RL: Analysts have paid a lot of attention to the fact that U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev didn't talk about human rights when Medvedev visited the United States. What do you think of such approach in terms of the reload in the relationship between the two countries?

Wiesel: I'm sure it will happen again. In the past they have spoken. Whenever the president [Obama] spoke, he spoke about human rights. And I'm convinced it will happen again.

RFE/RL: Khordokovsky and Lebedev are imprisoned. Sergei Magnitsky died in custody. Every day we hear about violations of human rights in North Caucasus. But unfortunately it doesn't seem to be a signal for American and European investors, businessmen, politicians to sound the alarm. Why do you think there is not more concern after such violations and what do you think can be done?

We had in New York -- I think a week, or two weeks ago -- a very important meeting, the New York forum. It consists of mainly businessmen. I appealed to that community precisely, [saying] that they should use their influence with their counterparts in order to think about the release of Khodorkovsky and of course to help all those who are victims of the violation of human rights in Russia.