Newly released Russian dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky, has been telling the world’s media that many political prisoners still remain jailed in Russia. Khodorkovsky himself was held prisoner for 10 years, after criticizing the Kremlin. Once an oil magnate and the richest man in Russia, Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003 but not convicted until 2005. The Kremlin charged him with tax evasion and fraud, while many theorized he was actually arrested for financially supporting an opposition party.
Both the nation of Russia, and Putin personally, have taken criticism from the international community for the way Khodorkovsky has been treated. Russia stands accused of practicing “selective prosecution” as a means to deal with its political dissidents. After the old Soviet Union collapsed, Khodorkovsky made a fortune as a Yukos oil tycoon, then used his wealth to enter Russian politics. His money and opposition to Putin put a target on Putin’s back almost immediately.
According to Khodorkovsky, who lived for a decade in a prison camp, many jailed political prisoners remain forgotten in Russia. He has urged Western nations to remember that fact when they have dealings with the Russian President. Khodorkovsky does not want people to see his release as an indication that there aren’t any political prisoners left still in jail where he was kept.
Officially, Mikhail Khodorkovsky was not due to be released until August of 2014. However, President Putin allowed him to be set free for the humanitarian reason of his mother’s failing health, and signed an amnesty writ on Friday.
Political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin has said he believes Putin’s motives in releasing Khodorkovsky are less than honorable. Oreshkin theorizes that Putin sees that there is a genuine problem with how the West views Russia, and that can hurt attendance for the upcoming Olympics. So, by setting Khodorkovsky free in a magnanimous humanitarian gesture just before Christmas, everyone will say how great it was, then completely forget why he was jailed in the first place.
Khodorkovsky’s own comments seem to corroborate that view. He has steadily maintained that his arrest was part of a Kremlin campaign to shut him up and take control of the fortune he amassed in the Oil business. Putin has publicly announced on any number of occasions that he would be willing to pardon Khodorkovsky, if he would only admit to his guilt. Admitting guilt as a means to gain his freedom is a condition which Khodorkovsky said he has always found unacceptable.
Conditions in Russian prisons seem to be as bad as Hollywood would lead the world to believe; while a prisoner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky barely managed to avoid being stabbed in the eye. He says it was just luck that he was only stabbed in the nose. Fortunately, the prison dentist was also a plastic surgeon, and the doctor skillfully repaired the damage well enough that the wounds are hardly noticeable.
During his press conference in Germany, Khodorkovsky insisted he has no desire to get back into politics or business. He will concentrate on “social activities,” he said, adding that he is “not interested in a fight for power.” That having been said, Mikhail Khodorkovsky reminds the world that many political prisoners remain locked away in Russian jails.
By Ben Gaul