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Independent Experts Begin Review of Yukos Case

Source: hro.org (info), 07/04/11

· Yukos Case

At the invitation of the Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights, independent experts have begun a review of the second Yukos trial. Mikhail Fedotov, head of the Council, has spoken to ITAR-TASS of this latest development.

“The experts have begun work,” Fedotov said, emphasizing that the results of this independent investigation will be made public immediately after the sentence has gone into effect. Fedotov reports that included among the experts are foreign lawyers. “Their task is to analyze the court’s verdict, which has already been published,” Fedotov said. He added that “each of the experts is working independently.”

On 1 February President Dmitry Medvedev, at a meeting of the Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights, ordered an independent legal review of several high-profile cases, including the Yukos case. On 5 February the head of the Presidential Council, Mikhail Fedotov, announced that foreign specialists would be allowed to participate in the review. A Working Group on judicial reform, set up within the Council, has already begun to prepare a review of high-profile cases.

On 10 February the Presidium of the Council of Judges claimed that an independent and public review of this kind would be unconstitutional. The official website of the Council of Judges states that the idea violates Article 19 of the Constitution that guarantees the equality of all citizens before the law and in court.

On 15 February Valery Zorkin, chair of the Constitutional Court, supported the idea of an independent review by experts. Zorkin denied that public reviews of high profile cases would amount to ‘exerting pressure on the courts.’ He said: ‘The independence of judges, a fundamental value of any democratic government, does not imply that judges should function in total secrecy.’ Instead, he said, ‘the judges’ authority is directly linked with their responsibility, which entails first and foremost their accountability before society.’

‘It is wrong to limit public attempts to analyze and evaluate court rulings in specific cases, or reactions to general categories of cases, including those stated publicly,’ Zorkin said. In Zorkin's view, ‘public scrutiny is particularly important when it comes to high profile cases that touch upon the most essential and most vulnerable of human rights: the right to life, the right to liberty and the right to security of person.’

On 30 December 2010 Moscow’s Khamovnichesky Court sentenced Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev to 14 years in a general-regime penal colony. According to Khodorkovsky's press-centre, the two men, sentenced now for a second time, could be released in 2017, since their sentence includes several years spent in pre-trial detention.

As Grani.ru points out, Mikhail Khodorkovsky himself has said that his second trial was politically motivated and corrupt. He affirms that the trial was initiated by people who do not want to see him at liberty. The former head of the giant oil company says that it was his support for independent political opposition in Russia that explains his criminal prosecution.