Jailed Russian oligarch goes on 'indefinite' hunger strike

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The Independent Online

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed former oligarch, announced yesterday that he was going on hunger strike in protest at a court decision to continue his detention as his second trial continues.

The one-time head of Yukos, formerly Russia's largest oil company, was sentenced to nine years in 2005.

Last year, hearings began in a second court case, which could see him convicted for another 22 years.

Mr Khodorkovsky, in a letter to Russia's Supreme Court, said that the decision to keep him locked up violated a decree by the Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, stating that people accused of economic crimes should not be held in pre-trial detention facilities.

The former Yukos boss said that his hunger strike would be "indefinite" until he received confirmation that Mr Medvedev had received "comprehensive information" about the way the law was being violated. Mr Medvedev, a lawyer by training, has frequently spoken of the need to end "legal nihilism" and build a transparent and independent courts system. However, critics say that the president's often impressive rhetoric is rarely backed up with action.

The law preventing those accused of economic crimes from being locked up before their trials was passed after a high-profile scandal last year when Sergei Magnitsky, a 37-year-old lawyer, died in prison. He was a tax lawyer who had worked for Hermitage Capital, once Russia's largest equity fund, and his relatives say he was denied medical treatment.

His death caused an outcry and Mr Medvedev quickly dismissed several prison officials and passed the new law.

Mr Khodorkovsky's legal team called for the judge presiding over his new trial, Viktor Danilkin, to stand down from the case after ruling that Mr Khodorkovsky's detention should be continued.

Given that Mr Khodorkovsky is still serving his first prison term, he would still have remained behind bars even if the judge had ruled in his favour. But the oligarch said that he wanted to draw attention to the flaws in the system as a whole. This is the third time he has announced a hunger strike.