by Katrina Lantos Swett
Today, as expected, the judge in Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s second show trial returned a “guilty” verdict. This result was pre-determined long ago by forces at the very heart of power in Russia. These forces have been in the driver’s seat of this judicial persecution since the very beginning.
Although the verdict was a foregone conclusion, it has been remarkable to watch the growing embarrassment and discomfort of both the judge and the prosecution as this trial descended into a true theatre of the absurd. The charges are ridiculous, the evidence laughable, and the only one convicted by this “guilty” verdict is Russian justice. Indeed the unprecedented decision of the judge to expel the press from the courtroom during the reading of the verdict is tantamount to an admission of his own sense of guilt and shame at presiding over this kangaroo court.
The rap sheet against Russian rule of law is already long and shameful. It includes a business community that has been blackmailed and intimidated, 150 slain journalists, human rights activists who are routinely harassed and threatened, young men brutalized in the armed forces, and many others.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky loves his country and believed in its future which is why he wanted to use his power and influence to work for a Russia that was fully democratic and modern. A Russia with bona fide political opposition, a truly free press, and a business community that was transparent and socially responsible. He has paid a heavy price for pursuing these goals and he now sits in prison as Russia’s most prominent and outspoken political prisoner.
During my recent visit to Moscow, I met with numerous human rights leaders who spoke of the growing dread and intimidation in their country. They emphasized the importance of governments and groups in the West continuing to shine a bright spotlight on the increasing
authoritarianism and corruption in that country. Pushing a “reset” button on US/Russian relations cannot be an excuse for turning a blind eye to outrages such as the persecution and wrongful conviction of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and many others. If Russia is to be a country that we can trust to abide by its treaty obligations, if it is to be a place where businesses can invest with confidence, if it is to be a country where its young people have hope and optimism for their future, then it must be a country that respects and abides by the rule of law. A good place to begin would be with justice for Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Katrina Lantos Swett is the Founder and President of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice.