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Russia rights council condemns Khodorkovsky conviction

The Russia Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights under President Dmitry Medvedev [official profile; JURIST news archive] called for the prosecutor general to petition to annul the conviction of ex-oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive] in a report released Wednesday. The council found fundamental violations in the investigation [RIA Novosti report] leading to Khodorkovsky's second trial on embezzlement charges. In addition, the council indicated the second conviction was for the same crime [Bloomberg report] of which he was found guilty of in 2005. Describing the verdict as fictitious, council member and former Constitutional Court judge, Tamara Morshchakova, noted the council found neither evidence nor substance to the charges [AP report] brought against Khodorkovsky in the second trial. The council's decisions are non-binding [BBC report] and have seldom elicited action from Russian authorities.

The council has spoken out about Khodorkovsky before. In July the council urged amnesty for economic crimes [JURIST report] in a meeting with Medvedev that would include amnesty for the crimes of Khodorkovsky. Khodorkovsky and his former business partner Platon Lebedev were convicted in December 2010 and sentenced [JURIST reports] on charges connected with embezzling more than $27 billion from Yukos oil. International human rights organizations and numerous governments criticized Russia's justice system [JURIST report] following the guilty verdict. Last year former Russian prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov [BBC profile] testified [JURIST report] that former president and current prime minister Vladimir Putin [official website; JURIST news archive] ordered Khodorkovsky's arrest for political reasons, indicating that Khodorkovsky had funded the Communist Party [party website, in Russian] without first getting approval to do so from the president. Some critics of the Russian government have argued that the charges against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are politically motivated [JURIST op-ed] due to Khodorkovsky's opposition to Putin. In March 2010 Khodorkovsky criticized Russia's justice system [JURIST report] as an "assembly line" that inevitably finds the government's political enemies to be guilty. The statement echoed concerns Khodorkovsky had previously expressed about the fairness of Russian trials and the need for widespread reform of the Russian court system [JURIST reports].

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