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Russia: Khodorkovsky Sentencing Illuminates Erosion of Rule of Law
Khodorkovsky, the former head of the Yukos oil company, was charged with fraud, tax evasion and embezzlement and sentenced to nine years in prison. Charges were brought against him, however, after he had become an active supporter of reformist political parties opposed to the government under Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"What is obvious is that Mr. Khodorkovsky and his close associates were singled out by the Russian authorities as soon as they expressed concern with an increasingly authoritarian government," said Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor. "The crimes of which Khodorkovsky is accused could also be leveled against many other prominent Russian business leaders, who operated in a loosely-regulated legal environment in the early years of Russia's transition from communism to a market economy," she said. "It is telling that those who dare to challenge Russia's increasingly anti-democratic authorities are the ones targeted for prosecution."
The lack of judicial independence poses a distinct threat not only to the Russia's business community, but to the country's overall political and social development, Freedom House said.
Freedom House downgraded Russia to "Not Free" in its latest global survey of political rights and civil liberties, "Freedom in the World." The shift was due primarily to increased politicization of the judiciary, the establishment of state control over most mass media, and the increasing centralization of political power by the Kremlin.
"This verdict only reconfirms that there is worrying drift toward authoritarianism underway in Russia today," said Ms. Windsor. "Mr. Putin, for all his recent declarations about sympathy for democracy, seems wedded to the idea that people can be controlled by the state rather than be given a chance to make their own political or economic choices."
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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.