Vasily Aleksanyan dies aged 39
Vasily Aleksanyan, born in Moscow on December 15, 1971, died on October 2, 2011 at the age of 39. The Harvard-educated Aleksanyan was a former Yukos lawyer and former Yukos Executive Vice President.
Aleksanyan was arrested in April 2006 and held in pre-trial detention until January 2009. He was pressured to provide false testimony in the second criminal case against Mikhail Khodorkovsky, but refused. He was therefore kept in squalid and inhumane detention conditions and denied appropriate medical treatment despite being diagnosed with HIV-infection. In these conditions Aleksanyan developed tuberculosis and AIDS-related cancer.
Following international and domestic pressure at the highest levels of Russia’s political leadership, including private appeals from prominent personalities and public appeals from Amnesty International and the European Court of Human Rights, as well as a 14-day hunger strike by Khodorkovsky, Aleksanyan was finally transferred to a medical facility in February 2008, nearly two years after his arrest. He was released on bail in January 2009, a few months shy of the third anniversary of his arrest. However Aleksanyan had effectively been sentenced to death, certain to die as a result of his principled stand which led the Russian authorities to allow his medical condition to deteriorate to a terminal state.
At the Russian Supreme Court on January 22, 2008, Aleksanyan testified that when he was being denied medical treatment in detention, Salavat Karimov, former chief investigator in the Khodorkovsky-Lebedev cases, told him: "[t]he leadership of the Prosecutor General’s Office understands that you must have medical treatment, maybe even not in Russia, you have a grave situation...We must have your testimony, because we can’t support those charges that we’re making against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev. If you give evidence that suits the investigation, then we’ll release you." Aleksanyan further testified: "But I can’t perjure myself, I can not frame innocent people, I refused to do this. And I think that no matter how horrible my condition may be right now, the Lord will protect me, that is why I did not do this, I can not buy my life like that..."
Amnesty International’s May 2008 Human Rights Memorandum (document) called upon Russia to "[p]rovide all necessary medical treatment to Vasily Aleksanyan, and investigate the failure of the authorities to provide him with prompt and appropriate medical attention." The memorandum further stated that "Amnesty International believes that the denial of medical treatment to Vasily Aleksanyan constituted cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment."
Aleksanyan’s story illustrates the extent to which Russian authorities may act with impunity, brutally abusing the powers of criminal prosecution in politically-motivated proceedings.
Aleksanyan "lived like on a volcano" during his final years, said Yury Shmidt, a lawyer for former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky:
"I was talking with a friend of Aleksanyan’s three days ago. He told me that Vasily feels absolutely fine - he can eat, he can drink. But he lived all the time in such a state that if the slightest infection occurs, he could die in a second."
Veteran human rights advocate Lev Ponomarev said Aleksanyan would have lived longer if the authorities had not kept him in prison for nearly three years on charges of embezzlement and tax evasion.
"Aleksanyan’s death, no doubt, was hastened by the fact that he was kept in prison for a long time while he was seriously sick. He went blind in prison. We have cruel system. And people are cruel, not only the system."
The Khodorkovsky and Lebedev Communications Center sends our deepest condolences to Vasily Aleksanyan’s family and friends.