Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former Russian oil tycoon, was recently pardoned by President Vladimir Putin after serving ten years in prison. In an interview with CNN he states that he believes his arrest was politically motivated, and that he intends to spend his time doing all he can for other political prisoners.
Khodorkovsky backed the opposition party against Putin, and was arrested for tax evasion and fraud in 2003. Convicted in 2005 he has been in prison ever since.
He has maintained his innocence since the beginning and says that is the reason he served so many years without release.
“Mr. Putin, on a number of times, publicly said that he was ready to consider the question of my pardoning — but I had to say I was guilty for that,” said Khodorkovsky said during CNN’s Berlin interview. “That was an unacceptable condition for me.”
Russia’s incarceration of Mikhail Khodorkovsky drew international criticism. Once the wealthiest man in Russia, his prosecution was considered selective and abusive.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the oil executive made his millions by way of the Yukos oil company. Using his money to support the Russian Opposition Party, he says he drew the attention of the Kremlin which mounted a campaign to ruin him and take control of his assets.
At the press conference that took place at the Berlin Wall Museum Khodorkovsky said that he has no intention of getting involved in political activity again, but he would do everything he could for other political prisoners.
“I intend to be involved in social activities.”
He also stated that he would not attempt to go back into business, adding that he was not interested in fighting for power. Mr. Khodorkovsky said that there were still many political prisoners in Russia and he wants Westerner political powers to remember that when they met with Vladimir Putin.
“You should not see me as a symbol that there are no political prisoners left in Russia.”
He wants pressure placed on Putin and on the Russian government but he is not suggesting a boycott of the Winter Olympics next year. He does caution, however, against making the event a great party for the Russian President.
Regarding his sudden release he said he was roused before sunrise. The camp commandant personally told him that his pardon had been approved. “He told me I was going home.”
It was after the surprise wake-up call that he learned that his trip to freedom would end in Berlin, and that he owed his freedom, in part at least, to Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor. He also clarified that he would not be returning to his home in Russia until he was absolutely sure that he would be able to leave again and that old charges would not be taken up against him again.
In an official statement last week the Russian government stated that Mikhail Khodorkovsky was released was after the president approved his the prisoner’s request for pardon. He had written the plea because his mother had been diagnosed with cancer and was suffering but had no expectation of his wish being granted.
When asked if he was able to forgive Putin for his arrest and incarceration he said, “I would put it differently, perhaps.” He did say, however, that because his family had not suffered while he was imprisoned he was able to keep from becoming “over emotional.”
Khodorkovsky is now a free man residing in Germany, and he has just started thinking about his future. With no interest in re-starting his political activism or to regaining his confiscated business and wealth, he is still going to fight. His pursuit of freedom for the political prisoner in Russia will be as a symbol for those suffering unjustly because of personal ideology.
“I am a symbol that the efforts of civil society may lead to the release of people whose release was not expected by anyone,” said Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and he doesn’t mind if his former political opponent knows that he will do all that he can for others with a story like his.
By Matt Darjany