Show trials past and present


On this day, 5 March 1953, the news was released that Joseph Stalin was dead. People rejoiced of course, but they also remembered their relatives and all the millions whose lives were destroyed by the bloody dictator and the regime which had enabled him to gain such control

Stalin’s death meant that the latest show trial – over the “case of the doctors”, and the potentially large-scale anti-Semitic campaign being planned were curtailed.

After the XX Congress there seemed some cause for hope. In 1991 also.

In 2009 there is seldom even mention of those presently serving sentences on absurd charges: Igor Sutyagin, Valentin Danilov, Igor Reshetin and others. The new political prisoners the world prefers to ignore.

Another show trial has begun in Moscow of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev. In an article entitled “Khodorkovsky-show”, Zoya Svetova writes:

If in the first case, it was purely theoretically conceivable that Khodorkovsky could have in some way broken the law, this time any unbiased person will find it much harder to believe the deranged charges that, for example all the profits from the sale of oil went not to YUKOS but directly into Khodorkovsky and Lebedev’s pockets.”

On 4 March it also became know that the application for early conditional release of Svetlana Bakhmina has been passed to Moscow. Svetlana Bakhmina, a former YUKOS lawyer, was sentenced to 6 and a half years imprisonment on the usual charges used against YUKOS employees – tax evasion and embezzlement. Whether or not there are any grounds for the conviction, Ms Bakhmina has been eligible for early release since 7 March 2008.  She also gave birth to a daughter, her third child, in late November last year.  The daughter is spending her first months in prison. 

This is while Yury Budanov, who probably raped and certainly murdered, a young Chechen woman – Elsa Kungaeva, was given early release in January this year despite the appeal brought on behalf of the victim’s family by Stanislav Markelov.  Markelov was gunned down, together with journalist Anastasia Barburova on 19 January just after a press conference in which the lawyer and human rights defender declared his intention to pursue this travesty of justice further.

Svetlana Bakhmina remains imprisoned. The Russian newspaper “Vedomosti” reported on Thursday that an official from the President’s Administration, on condition that his name was not revealed, had told them that pressure is being brought to bear on Bakhmina to force her to give testimony in the new show trial against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev.

It should be mentioned that another YUKOS victim, Vasily Aleksanian, who was being held in a remand centre despite being gravely ill with two potentially fatal diseases, has accused the authorities of linking his release with agreement to testimony against Khodorkovsky. Vasily Aleksanian refused.

The charges in this latest show trial are also absurd. The fact that they are being laid nonetheless may reflect a cynical view that the world will again do nothing.  It is vital that those who believe this are proven wrong.  

Halya Coynash

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