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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Khodorkovsky Trial, a Courageous Woman, and the Smoking Gun

Every now and then, acts of courage by ordinary citizens have big consequences. I still recall vividly (after twenty five years), the courageous women who demonstratively refused to count ballots stuffed for Fernando Marcos. The Marcos regime fell shortly thereafter.

A similar act of courage by Natalya Vasilyeva, the assistant to the presiding judge in the Khodorkovsky case, confirms that the verdict was dictated by higher ups in the Kremlin. Outside observers understood that the trumped up charges against Khodorkovsky were part and parcel of Putin’s vendetta against a potential political rival. We also knew this was a case of “telephone justice” where the presiding judge was given his verdict by superiors. But rarely do we have confirmation of such goings on from actual participants. To reveal such things is dangerous to say the least.

According to Vasilyeva’s understated statement to the online newspaper Gazaeta.ru, the judge “had to communicate with the Moscow City Court on all sorts of controversial issues that came up during the trial…. He had to provide information to the Moscow City Court and…. received from there instructions about how to behave.” Further, she stated that the judge “began to write the sentence…. I suspect that the higher authorities did not like something in it. And in connection with this, he received a new sentence, which he had to hand down.”

The judge denied Vasilyeva’s comments and threatened her with a lawsuit. The same day, a court spokesperson reported that the Ms. Vasilyeva had resigned.

I doubt that Ms. Vasilyeva’s courageous act will have the same consequences as the Philippine ballot counters, but we should give her the attention, coverage, and respect that she is due.

The New York Times is to be commended for its excellent coverage.

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