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Human Rights Court in Strasbourg rules Russia's Khodorkovsky trial unfair

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled Russia’s trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev unfair. The former directors of the oil giant Yukos had been convicted of tax fraud after the company went bust.

Judges in Strasbourg ruled that the anti-Kremlin tycoon Khodorkovsky and business partner Lebedev had received an unfair trial and a disproportionate punishment and ordered Russia to pay the men 10,000 euros (about $13,000) in damages. In what human rights advocates described as a 2005 show trial stemming mainly from Khodorkovsky's prominence as a dissident, the men had originally been sentenced to 13 years in prison each for tax fraud. The court in Strasbourg found that harsh, though it did not dispute the men's guilt.

"Charges against two Russian business executives had a sound basis, but the hearing of their case was unfair, and their placement in remote penal colonies unjustified," the court ruled.

The decision by the seven-judge panel is not necessarily the final step: Both parties have three months to appeal the decision and request that a full body of 17 justices rule on it. At the end of 2012, Khodorkovsky and Lebedev had their sentences reduced, which would allow for their release in 2014.

Khodorkovsky's lawyers have continually demanded the release of their client. Since 2003, Amnesty International has recognized the two men as political prisoners and called for their release.

mkg/kms (Reuters, AFP)

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