June 3rd, 2011

What ECHR’s Khodorkovsky Ruling Really Means

European Court of Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights delivered its ruling on Khodorkovsky vs. Russia and ruled in Khodorkovsky’s favor in 8 out of 15 claims. The press likes a neat analysis, but the rulings caused divergent headlines to appear. The rulings by the ECHR doesn’t mean that Putin is innocent or that Khodorkovsky is guilty as the Court’s findings were narrowly focused on the events in October 2003 during Khodorkovsky’s arrest at gunpoint through his first trial in 2005.

In fact, the ruling announced this week pertains to a 2004 claim and does not address the underlying merits of the wider case against Khodorkovsky or the orchestrated verdicts in his first and second trials. Many reporters have seized on the claim regarding Article 18 relating to whether Khodorkovsky’s arrest was politically motivated. On this point the Court said they need further documentation to meet the high standard required to show political motivation. If anything, the Court’s standard of “incontrovertible and direct proof” of political motivation is impossible to meet.

Lawyers familiar with the case have said there have only been two positive findings of so-called Article 18 violation since the court was established since 1959. One of them was in 2004 when the court determined that the Russian government’s attack against Vladimir A. Gusinsky, head of independent NTV network in Russia, was politically motivated after reviewing evidence including an actual written memo stating that he was jailed in order to make him sell his media company to the State.

Since then, the Kremlin has learned and no longer documents such incriminating evidence. However, Khodorkovsky’s lawyer Yuri Schmidt believes that three further cases pending before the Court relating to Khodorkovsky’s second trial will be able to present more evidence of official meddling in the case, including the testimony of a senior court worker who alleged that the second trial was orchestrated “from above.”

In its ruling the ECHR acknowledged that there is some evidence to support argument for political motive. The court wrote that MBK “had political ambitions which admittedly went counter to the mainstream line of the administration, that the applicant, as a rich and influential man, could become a serious political player and was already supporting opposition parties, and that it was a State-owned company which benefited most from the dismantlement of the applicant’s industrial empire” and that “the Court admits that the applicant’s case may raise a certain suspicion as to the real intent of the authorities”.

The ECHR ruled that Khodorkovsky was kept in a “inhumane and degrading manner” as well as other procedural infractions and ordered the Russian government to pay Khodorkovsky $35,000.

ECHR Press Release: Khodorkovsky v. Russia

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