On Symbolism

The Supreme Court of Russia has ruled that the decision to keep Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev in a detention centre from 17 May to 17 August 2010 was illegal. The court has also issued the special statement, a kind of official reprimand, to Moscow City Court Chairwoman Olga Yegorova pointing out ‘gross violations’ of law by Moscow courts when they handled the case.

Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were ‘arrested’ during their second trial when they were accused of stealing Yukos’s oil and money laundering. Last year, President Medvedev’s amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure prohibiting the arrest of suspects in economic crimes came into effect. Moscow courts, however, refused to apply them to ex-leaders of Yukos.

Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were in prison at the time of their trial and, of course, there was no question of release. What they asked for, simply, was to leave them where they were, in prison, as conditions for convicted criminals are much better than for those who are in detention centres awaiting trial (and, strictly speaking, are not criminals).

The Supreme Court’s decision has a symbolic meaning. It will not directly affect Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, who are serving their 13 year sentences. However, the Supreme Court will shortly hear their appeals and yesterday’s decision may well be a useful piece of evidence of miscarriage of justice.