MOSCOW -- Amnesty International has ruled not to recognize former Russian oil-tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his associate Platon Lebedev as prisoners of conscience, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.
In March, 45 prominent Russian writers, actors, and journalists sent an open letter to Amnesty International asking it to consider Khodorkovsky and Lebedev prisoners of conscience.
Khodorkovsky, the former Yukos oil giant chief, and Lebedev, were detained in 2003 and found guilty of tax evasion two years later, receiving eight-year sentences.
In December 2010, Khodorkovsky and Lebedev faced additional fraud charges and their prison terms were extended through 2017.
Opposition and human rights activists in Russia consider the case against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev to be politically motivated.
An author of the letter to Amnesty International, St. Petersburg writer Nina Katerli, harshly criticized the decision made by the human rights watchdog, calling it "a betrayal of not only Khodorkovsky but all political prisoners in Russia."
Katerli told RFE/RL on May 19 that Amnesty's decision is politically motivated as the "Western countries do not want to have problems with Russian authorities, with a Russia that has oil and gas."
Meanwhile, Tatyana Lokshina, a Moscow representative of the international rights group Human Rights Watch, told RFE/RL that Amnesty International considers all of those in jail who were imprisoned for defending their viewpoints by peaceful means to be prisoners of conscience.
Lokshina added that the case of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev might be politically motivated but it does not mean that the former oil tycoons are prisoners of conscience.
Denis Krivoshein, of Amnesty International's Moscow office, told RFE/RL that a prisoner of conscience is a person who was sentenced for his or her views or beliefs.
He said Amnesty International sometimes used the term "political prisoner" but it is not a status.
Krivoshein said anyone who might be involved in wrongdoing or even crimes, but whose case was launched only for political reasons, can be called a political prisoner but not a prisoner of conscience.
Read more in Russian here