To those defending Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Platon Lebedev and other political prisoners


Dear Friends,

We are writing to express our support for you. At the present time it is who are at the forefront in defending the law, honour and Russia’s good name.

When arbitrary rule reigns in the country, when a managed “justice system” is used as a baton for reprisals, and when the law becomes mere decoration, each courtroom where a political trial is underway turns into a fight for truth and justice. Often this battle is unequal, but this is all the more reason to express our solidarity with those who defend victims of political persecution.

The new charges in the case against the YUKOS company are an ostentatious challenge to society, a sign that the last limits, the last remnants of decency have been discarded. Pressure on the lawyers defending Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, their overt harassment give clear signals that the State will be throwing all its authority onto this prosecution.

One doesn’t need to be an expert in procedural legislation to understand the legal absurdity of what is happening. After a year-long investigation and another year’s trial, prisoners already convicted and sentenced to many years imprisonment are facing new, considerably more serious charges, and this for the same financial –economic activities on the grounds of which sentences have already been passed. The new investigation is being run by the same people who four years ago “didn’t notice” what they are now charging them with.

The significance of such farcical repeat trials remains imbedded n the historical memory of the Russian people.  The signal for the Great Terror, the symbol of which is1937 – the terrible anniversary of which we mark in this year  - was provided by the show trials of those who had already been sentenced to labour camp or exile for opposition activities. Here one must mention the so-called First Moscow Trial which took place in August 1936 over the case of the “United Centre”. Those who faced trial were Zinoviev and Kamenev who had already been sentenced at the beginning of 1935 (over the case of the “Moscow Centre”), as well as other old Bolsheviks.  By that time there was no organized opposition to Stalin’s rule – not Trotskyite, nor from a “Zinoviev faction” or “Bukharin faction”. And instead of labour camp sentences there were ruthless executions. The terrible trials of 1936-1938 began – with the most incredible charges, drumming up propagandist hysteria and immediate executions of the accused. This was the beginning of the Mass Terror which crippled society, plunging the country into decades of all-encompassing fear.  It was from that paralyzing fear that one of the most vicious forms of despotism of the twentieth century emerged.

Unfortunately there are very serious grounds for believing that the new charges laid against Platon Lebedev and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the new trial of Alexei Pichugin are not simply acts of harassment against unbroken prisoners, but an important turning point for the inner life of our country, a prologue to political repression, the true aim of which is to finally establish a repressive regime and to bring Russian society to its knees.

It is of particular significance that the new trial has been timed to coincide with the elections for the State Duma and for the Presidency.

Defence of the law is the principle which enables us to rise above ideological, social, religious and inter-ethnic disputes. We therefore call on citizens of Russia, civic and political organizations to unite in order to put an end to the farce going by the name of the “new YUKOS” case and to stop political repression.


We call on all to support defenders of political prisoners.


Yelena Bonner, human rights defender

Ludmila Alexeeva, Chair of the Board of the Foundation “In defence of the rights of prisoners”, Head of the Moscow Helsinki Group

Yury Samodurov, Director of the Andrei Sakharov Museum and Civic Centre “Peace, Progress and Human Rights”

Boris Strugatsky, writer

Lev Ponomaryov, Executive Director of the nationwide movement “For Human Rights”

Father Gleb Yakunin, Committee for Freedom of Conscience

Lyubov Bashinova, journalist

Viktor Shenderovych, writer

Svetlana Gannushkina, Civic Assistance Committee

These are just some of the people who have signed the letter.  It is open for signatures at:

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