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Russia hails European ruling that politics didn't drive Khodorkovsky jailing

Imprisoned Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky was dealt a blow this week when the European Court of Human Rights declined to rule that his prosecution for fraud was Kremlin-manipulated.

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Following his lost appeal last week, international human rights watchdog Amnesty International finally declared Khodorkovsky and his co-defendant Platon Lebedev to be "prisoners of conscience," and State Department spokesman Mark Toner told journalists that "the denial of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev's appeals, upholding long prison terms, affirms our concerns about serious due process violations and the use of the legal system for improper ends."

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Khodorkovsky's lawyer, Yuri Shmidt, says that three further cases pending before the European Human Rights Court will be able to present more evidence of official meddling in the case, including the testimony of a senior court worker who alleged that the tycoon's second trial was orchestrated "from above."

Mr. Shmidt says that under Russian law his client has fulfilled all the requirements for being granted parole, including serving more than half his sentence with no bad behavior on his record. A previous motion for parole in 2008 was denied by a judge who cited the defendant's refusal to sign up for prison sewing classes, and other alleged misbehavior, including failure to keep his hands behind his back during a prison walk.

"All conditions [for parole] have been fulfilled, and we hope that there will be no formal pretexts for refusal, as there were before. Whether or not he will be released depends on one person, and you know his name," Shmidt says, referring to the powerful prime minister, Mr. Putin.

"In fact, his would be a good opportunity for the authorities to show they do not intervene in legal processes," by allowing Khodorkovsky to be granted parole, he adds.

Masha Lipman, editor of the Moscow Carnegie Center's Pro et Contra journal, says there have been a number of mixed signals from Russia's political summit about Khodorkovsky in recent weeks, which may stem from the uncertainty over who will be Russia's next president, Putin or the more liberal incumbent, Dmitry Medvedev.

The unusual signs, which have raised hopes among Khodorkovsky supporters, include a comment by Mr. Medvedev, who said during a lengthy press conference last month that releasing Khodorkovsky would present "no threat" to Russian society. Last week, a state-run TV network, NTV, ran an unusually detailed and balanced report about Khodorkovsky's motion for parole, including arguments supporting his case.

"This is a confusing and uncertain time in Russia," says Ms. Lipman. "Until Putin says he's coming back, there seems to be a chance that he won't. That gives rise to hope that maybe we'll have a different future, a more liberal Russia. You see the effects of this uncertainty everywhere, in all sorts of tensions, frictions, leakages and these mixed signals about what might happen to Khodorkovsky are part of that."

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