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Russia Faces Fresh Int'l Criticism After Khodorkovsky Sentencing

Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev (center, left and right) look on from the dock of a Moscow courtroom on December 30.
Russia is facing a fresh round of international criticism following the sentencing of Kremlin critic and former Yukos oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and a former business partner to six additional years in prison.

The U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch is the latest to weigh in, saying the sentence is a "blow to the rule of law in Russia."

The U.S. and European governments have also condemned the sentence, saying they are worried it could be motivated by Khodorkovsky's political opposition to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his allies.

The U.S. State Department said it was concerned by what it called "allegations of serious due process violations, and what appears to be an abusive use of the legal system for improper ends."

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, one's of Russia's biggest trading partners, said she was disappointed in the trial, adding that she had the impression that "political motives" may have played a role in the verdict.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the EU "expects Russia to respect its international commitments" in human rights and the rule of law, and said EU officials would raise the case with Russian officials.

Britain and France have also expressed concern.

Khodorkovsky, who was once Russia's wealthiest man, was sentenced to 14 years in prison on December 30 together with his business partner, Platon Lebedev, after both men were convicted of theft and money laundering. It was the second conviction of the pair.

The new sentence was back-dated to 2003, when Khodorkovsky was initially arrested -- meaning that he and Lebedev will stay in jail until 2017.

Defense lawyers have said they plan to appeal.

Russian opposition leaders have roundly condemned the sentence. The head of Russia's liberal Yabloko Party, Sergei Mitrokhin, called it "illegal" and "absolutely not based on the law," the result of "a political order." Another prominent opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, called the sentence a "disgrace."

Khodorkovsky Sentenced To 6 More Years (Engl)
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compiled from agency and RFE/RL reports