It has been 5 years since the arrest of Russian oil executive Mikhail Khodorkovskiy. His case and those of his former associates continue to raise serious questions about the application of the rule of law and the legal system in Russia. Mr. Khodorkovskiy requested parole in July, but his request was denied on October 20th after prosecutors argued he failed to "actively" show remorse.
Mr. Khodorkovskiy was once Russia's richest man and the founder of the Yukos oil empire. Once one of Russia's largest oil companies, Yukos has since been dismantled and its assets acquired by Rosneft, a state-run company. Mr. Khodorkovskiy's prosecution is widely regarded as an attempt by Russian authorities to silence an opponent and consolidate control over Russia's strategic energy sector.
Mr. Khodorkovskiy's former lawyer Svetlana Bakhmina also appealed for clemency and early release from prison on October 20th on the grounds that she is eight months pregnant. Despite widespread support for her release, her appeal was denied because she has "not shown improvements in her behavior."
Even more troubling, on October 21st, a Russian court extended until January 2009 the term of detention of Vasiliy Aleksanyan, former Vice President of the Yukos oil company. Mr. Aleksanyan, whose detention was set to expire on October 22nd, is terminally ill with HIV and cancer.
Human rights lawyer Karina Moskalenko is active in Mr. Khodorkovskiy's case, as well as cases involving human rights abuses in Chechnya and the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Ms. Moskalenko has faced intimidation and harassment for her efforts. French police are investigating reports of mercury found in her car.
"The conduct of the cases against Khodorkovskiy and his associates," said U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood, "has eroded Russia's reputation and public confidence in Russian legal and judicial institutions." The United States, said Mr. Wood, urges "Russia to grant all involved fair and just hearings, based on due process and proper application of rule of law, critical to the economic growth and reputation of a strong nation."