[JURIST] Former Russian oil executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive] on Wednesday criticized [text, in Russian] Russia's justice system as an "assembly line" that inevitably finds the government's political enemies to be guilty. In an article published in the newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta [media website, in Russian], Khodorkovsky warned that the current system must be reformed before change occurs "in Russia's traditional way," with violence. The former chief executive of the Yukos [JURIST news archive] oil company described [text, PDF; in English] the Russian justice system with an industrial metaphor:
The System – the conveyor belt of a gigantic plant, which lives inside a logic of its own that does not submit, in general, to any kind of regulation from the outside. If you have become the feedstock raw material for this conveyor belt, then at the end of it there is always a Kalashnikov machine-gun, i.e. a guilty verdict. Any other outcome to the processing of the feedstock by the System is regarded as a defective product. Therefore – again, in general – you should abandon the very thought that somebody someplace is actually going to be try to figure something out and get to the bottom of things in your case.
The statement echoes concerns Khodorkovsky has previously expressed about the fairness of Russian trials and the need for widespread reform of the Russian court system [JURIST reports].
Khodorkovsky and his former business partner Platon Lebedev [defense website] are currently serving eight-year prison sentences after being convicted [JURIST report] in 2005 on fraud and tax evasion charges stemming from an attempt to embezzle and strip Yukos of valuable assets. In December, the Russian Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] that the 2003 arrest of Platon Lebedev was illegal. The two are currently on trial on additional related charges of money laundering and embezzlement, to which they have pleaded not guilty [JURIST reports]. They could face up to 20 additional years in prison if convicted. Critics have claimed that the charges against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are politically motivated due to Khodorkovsky's opposition against former Russian president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin [official website, in Russian; JURIST news archive].