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Russia rejects labeling of Khodorkovsky as 'prisoner of conscience'

RIA Novosti

13:46 25/05/2011 MOSCOW, May 25 (RIA Novosti) - The Russian Foreign Ministry criticized on Wednesday Amnesty International's labeling of jailed Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky as a "prisoner of conscience," but said it will continue to cooperate with the human rights watchdog.

Amnesty International denounced on Tuesday a decision by a Moscow appeals court to uphold a second prison sentence against Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev, former executives of the Yukos oil company.

"Unfortunately Amntesty International is unable to fully shake off specific one-sided and politicized assessments in its activities," Konstantin Dolgov, the Foreign Ministry's human rights envoy, said in an interview with RIA Novosti.

"The evaluation that Amnesty International gave this issue will remain on the organization's conscience," he said. "Our position on such evaluations is well-known. It is not positive. We cannot agree with such an evaluation."

Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were originally convicted of fraud and tax evasion in a separate trial in 2005 after spending two years in pre-trial detention. Tuesday's court ruling reduced their 14-year prison term by one year, which means the two men will be released no earlier than in 2016.

Analysts said Tuesday's verdict was an attempt by the Russian leadership to give the impression that it was softening the controversial sentence. The case is widely viewed as a political vendetta by Russia's powerful Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, whom Khodorkovsky challenged by funding liberal opposition parties in the early 2000s.

"For several years now these two men have been trapped in a judicial vortex that answers to political not legal considerations," Amnesty Europe and Central Asia director Nicola Duckworth said on Tuesday. "Today's verdict makes it clear that Russia's lower courts are unable, or unwilling, to deliver justice in their cases."

"Prisoner of conscience," a term introduced by Amnesty in the early 1960s, is generally used to describe those persecuted for the non-violent expression of ideas, including political prisoners.

Several Russian public figures sent a letter to Amnesty in March, asking the organization to declare the jailed businessmen "prisoners of conscience," but their request was not immediately satisfied.

Sergei Nikitin, the head of Amnesty's Russian branch, said on Wednesday that the organization changed its mind after the Moscow City Court ignored mass "violations" in the second case against the jailed businessmen and refused to cancel their sentence.

The Foreign Ministry has criticized a recent Amnesty report that details continuing human rights violations and "widespread corruption" in Russia's justice system.

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