News / Europe

Jailed Russian Oil Tycoon on Hunger Strike in Legal Protest

Imprisoned Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky has declared a hunger strike to protest what he says are violations of recent judicial reforms regarding pre-trial detention and sentences for economic crimes.

Imprisoned Mikhail Khodorkovsky, formerly Russia's wealthiest man, declared his hunger strike in a letter to Russian Supreme Court Chairman, Vyacheslav Lebedev. The businessman's legal team posted the letter on his website.

A law signed last month by President Dmitri Medvedev prohibits pre-trial detention of individuals charged with economic crimes. Khodorkovsky is serving an eight-year sentence on charges of fraud and tax evasion. A judge extended Khodorkovsky's term to account for pre-trial detention in a second trial in which he is accused of stealing oil and money laundering.

A guilty verdict could add another 22 years to his sentence. He denies all charges and human-rights activists say he was framed for opposing Kremlin policies.

Khodorkovsky notes he will remain imprisoned regardless of any court decisions. But he adds that if his rights regarding pre-trial detention are not honored, it will create a precedent that corrupt bureaucrats will use in hundreds of what he calls "lower-profile" cases. Suspects in Russia can spend up to three years in detention awaiting trial.

The businessman's attorney, Vadim Klyuvgant, told VOA the court completely ignored Mr. Medvedev's reforms.

Klyuvgant says the hunger strike is an extreme form of calling attention and also protesting an egregious violation of a law signed by the president to protect entrepreneurs against large-scale repression against them in recent years.

Mr. Medvedev signed the reforms following the death last November of Sergei Magnitsky, a 37-year-old attorney who represented the London-based Hermitage Capital Management, formerly the largest foreign investor in Russia. Magnitsky was accused of tax evasion and died of toxic shock and heart failure linked to pancreatitis.

Human-rights activists say it is common practice in Russia to deny medical attention to people in custody as a way to force them to cooperate with prosecutors or corrupt officials.

Khodorkovsky headed the now defunct Yukos Oil Company. Its senior officials were jailed on what observers say were false charges used as a pretext to steal the company.

Russian human-rights activist Lev Ponomarev estimates more than half of those accused of economic crimes in Russia are framed by corrupt officials bent on seizing their assets.

Ponomarev says Khodorkovsky's hunger strike represents a challenge to President Medvedev and asks whether the Russian leader will in any way react or make clear his demand that the law be executed.

Khodorkovsky says he will remain on a hunger strike until he receives confirmation Mr. Medvedev has been informed about non-application of the law.

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