The Lantos Foundation has launched is a new, exciting annual event – the Lantos Rule of Law Lecture. Our inaugural address was delivered by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a prominent businessman who became Russia’s most notable prisoner of conscience from 2003-2013. The first annual Lantos Rule of Law Lecture took place at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington DC on October 10th.
Congressman Lantos had an enormous amount of respect and admiration for Johns Hopkins SAIS as one of the great centers of scholarship and debate about international affairs. It is a source of great pride for the Lantos Foundation to have the inaugural Lantos Lecture at this distinguished institution and we feel it truly brings us full circle. Tom had a personal relationship with Mikhail and deeply respected his determination to confront the corruption and political intimidation in Russia despite the evident risks such a principled course of conduct posed. He flew to Moscow at the time of Mr. Khodorkovsky’s first trial to protest the pre-determined verdict of “guilty” from a corrupt legal system that unjustly imprisoned Mikhail for nearly a decade. The combination of Mikhail’s powerful story, his continued efforts to improve the conditions of millions of Russians under Putin’s abusive and undemocratic rule, and Washington’s investigation of Russia’s illegal efforts at interfering in the recent Presidential election, will undoubtedly make this a unique and fascinating event.
Once head of Russian oil giant YUKOS, Khodorkovsky was arrested on false charges of tax evasion and fraud in 2003, after publically criticizing the endemic corruption in Russian President Vladmir Putin’s government. After a farcical trial, he was sentenced to fourteen years in prison. Khodorkovsky was declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, and finally released in December 2013. In 2014, the Hague Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that the Russian Government had violated international law by taking YUKOS from its shareholders, for political purposes, described as a “full assault on Yukos and its beneficial owners in order to bankrupt Yukos and appropriate its assets while, at the same time, removing Mr. Khodorkovsky from the political arena.” Mikhail Khodorkovsky is the founder of the Open Russia movement. Today, he advocates an alternative vision for his country: a strong and just state, committed to observing human rights, free and fair elections, and the rule of law.