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Monday, January 21, 2008

Annals of Neo-Soviet Barbarism: Only the Weakest Need to Kill to Win

The Moscow Times reports:

A gravely ill former Yukos executive has accused his jailers of trying to blackmail him into testifying against old associates by denying him the medical treatment he needs to stay alive. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg made the highly unusual step of issuing three requests for Vasily Aleksanyan, 36, to be transferred to a specialist hospital, but authorities have not complied. Aleksanyan's case is politically charged because he is a former vice president of the now-defunct Yukos oil firm, whose main shareholder, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, is serving an eight-year sentence in a Siberian prison after falling foul of the Kremlin. Investigators deny any unlawful treatment of Aleksanyan, who is awaiting trial on charges of fraud and tax evasion. They say he has made his own health worse by rejecting the treatment offered in the prison sanatorium.

At a Supreme Court hearing on Wednesday where his lawyers challenged his detention, prosecutor Vladimir Khomutovsky said Aleksanyan had HIV/AIDS. His lawyers said they did not have their client's consent to disclose his illness. In an open letter he passed out of the Matrosskaya Tishina prison in Moscow, Aleksanyan said he was now nearly blind, had a constant fever and was in urgent need of a course of drug treatment that was only available outside prison. "The prognosis is death," said his lawyer, Yelena Lvova, when asked what would happen if Aleksanyan, in detention since April 2006, was not transferred to a civilian hospital soon.

Kremlin critics say Yukos and its executives became the targets of an official vendetta because they challenged President Vladimir Putin's power. Khodorkovsky is expected to stand trial soon on a set of new charges. The investigators handling Aleksanyan's case said in a written statement that "in accordance with current legislation, the defendant has been offered comprehensive medical treatment, which he has declined."

"The investigation of this criminal case is being conducted in exact accordance with the demands of criminal procedural law," the Investigative Committee, a semi-autonomous agency under the auspices of the Prosecutor General's Office, said in the statement. Aleksanyan took part in Wednesday's hearing by video link from his prison, where he could be seen in a small metal cage. He appeared thin and tired, and sat hunched over. He struggled to get to his feet to address the court. When the judge adjourned the hearing until Jan. 22, Aleksanyan said, "I hope I will survive for another week."

In the open letter, Aleksanyan accused the authorities of deliberately driving him to a condition where he was "close to death" by denying him treatment. "Attempts have not ceased to make me give false evidence and provide testimony incriminating other Yukos bosses, in exchange for giving me bail on health grounds, that is, in effect, in exchange for life." The Federal Prison Service did not respond to a request for comment.

Aleksanyan has a brother who works as a translator in the Reuters Moscow office.

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