Nevzlin: Yukos prisoners are hostages of Putin

In letter to Ban Ki-moon, fugitive Russian senator calls attention to "Kremlin's KGB clique."

leonid nevzlin 224 (photo credit: [file])
leonid nevzlin 224
(photo credit: [file])
Leonid Nevzlin, the 49-year-old former Yukos oil company executive and Russian senator, has stepped up his campaign to help free former Yukos colleagues in Russian prisons after their conviction on various financial crimes. In a letter addressed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon dated February 7, Nevzlin did not mince words, referring to the leaders of Russia as "the Kremlin's KGB clique" and calling for "the international community's attention." Since the arrest of Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovsky in 2003, Nevzlin wrote, "More than 40 people were either arrested on fabricated charges or forced to leave the country and are under constant threat of physical elimination. People from Yukos have become political hostages without rights, overtly discriminated against by the Russian government." The letter came after Khodorkovsky declared a hunger strike in prison over the continued incarceration of former Yukos vice president Vasily Alexanyan, who is reportedly dying of cancer in a Russian prison. According to sources close to Nevzlin, Alexanyan may have only months to live. "Over a year ago, a medical panel established that Alexanyan, who is fatally ill, needs urgent care," wrote Nevzlin. "The European Court of Human Rights issued three instructions to the Russian Federation to immediately transfer Vasily Alexanyan to a specialized clinic. Amnesty International and PACE leadership made the same request to the Russian government. The Kremlin ignored these requests because [Alexanyan] refused to falsely accuse his Yukos colleagues in exchange for his life. Only now, with scathing criticism from the West, the court announced that Alexanyan will be given some medical care." Nevzlin added that in keeping Alexanyan from receiving proper medical care, Russian authorities have "now advanced to the next stage [from] hostage-taking: killing hostages." In the letter - which will also be sent to the US Congress, the UN high commissioner for human rights, and the Council of Europe and OSCE parliamentary assemblies - Nevzlin alleged that Alexei Pichugin, another convicted Yukos official, "was subjected to torture; narcotic and psychotropic substances were administered to him. Pichugin was convicted on blatantly fabricated charges and sentenced to life in prison - simply for his refusal to admit his guilt and testify against Yukos leadership." Nevzlin himself evaded arrest in 2003 by making aliya to Israel. The Russian authorities have twice requested his extradition and have twice been denied by Israel's State Attorney's Office, which cited insufficient evidence. The extradition requests reached the High Court of Justice in 2006, which concurred with the State Attorney's Office. The High Court is set to deliberate once more in March over a Russian request to have Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit consider rescinding Nevzlin's Israeli citizenship. According to sources close to Nevzlin, the letter to Ban amounts to an escalation in his efforts "to raise awareness, to put this issue into the minds of decision-makers and to find international legal means of influencing Russian authorities to improve the conditions of these people." Nevzlin connects the fate of the Yukos officials to what many in the West have seen as a growing authoritarianism in Russian politics. "Persecution of people from Yukos and other enemies of the regime is just part of the Kremlin's consistent actions aimed at destroying democracy in Russia," he wrote to Ban. The relevant Russian authorities could not be reached for comment by press time.