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Mikhail Khodorkovsky
Dozens of prominent writers, actors, artists, and human rights activists in St. Petersburg sent an open letter to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev today urging him to protect former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

Khodorkovsky, the former head of the Yukos oil giant, and his former associate, Platon Lebedev, went on trial on March 3, 2009, on charges of embezzling millions of tons of oil and money laundering.

The verdict was expected this week but was postponed at the last moment until December 27.

Both men have pleaded not guilty to embezzlement. They are currently in jail on fraud and tax-evasion charges that critics say were fabricated to punish Khodorkovsky for financing opposition parties.

The authors of the letter say the decision to postpone the reading of the verdict "proves that the verdict was not decided in the courtroom."

Prominent St. Petersburg human rights defenders Nina Katerli, Yevgeny Ikhlov, and Boris Vishnevsky are among the signatories.

Prominent writer Boris Strugatsky, who also signed the letter, told RFE/RL the decision to start reading the verdict on December 27 is an attempt by the authorities to deflect international interest in the case.

Strugatsky said all international journalists covering the trial will most likely go home to celebrate the holidays, and that that is exactly what the authorities want.

He added that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's public statement on December 16 constituted "unacceptable pressure upon the court."

During a live TV question-and-answer session with the public, Putin called Khodorkovsky a thief and said that like any thief, Khodorkovsky should be in jail.

Read in Russian here
Nasrin Sotoudeh has been held in Evin prison since early September.
Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi has issued a fresh appeal for Tehran to release jailed human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh.

Ebadi's call came in a joint appeal titled "A Race Against Death For Nasrin Sotoudeh" issued along with Jean-Francois Juilliard, the head of the media freedom group Reporters Without Borders, and Francois Cantier, head of the Lawyers Without Borders group.

Sotoudeh has been held at Tehran's Evin prison since early September on charges including "acting against national security" and cooperation with Ebadi's Defenders for Human Rights Center.

"Her struggle is our struggle," the appeal says. "The Iranian regime is trying to crush a voice that it fears. Its attempt to reduce Nasrin Sotoudeh to silence obliges us to take up the challenge of a race against death."

Today's appeal came amid reports that Sotoudeh has been transferred to the prison hospital due to her physical condition, which has been weakened by a third hunger strike.

Sotoudeh's husband, Reza Khandan, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda today he has not received any formal notification of her condition.

Khandan said that during his most recent telephone conversation with his wife, he could tell that she was extremely unwell.

"Her body could simply not have taken it after nine days of a dry hunger strike," he said.

Khandan says that he has not seen his wife since the last court session on November 28.

"We were able to have a cabin meeting [talking through a screen] with her before that on alternate Thursdays, but due to the religious holidays, we haven't been able to meet with her," he said.

Khandan says their two children -- Nima, a boy of 3, and Mehrave, a 12-year-old girl -- are not permitted a cabin meeting with their mother because of the possible psychological trauma.

Sotoudeh is to appear in court on December 27 on a new charge of violating Islamic standards of conduct by not wearing the hijab.

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"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.

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