Khodorkovsky vows to fight for political prisoners

MISSION::Working to free those unfairly incarcerated is the ‘duty of every citizen,’ the former oil tycoon said, denying that his new cause was to do with politics

AFP, GENEVA, switzerland

Tue, Jan 07, 2014 - Page 7

Former Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was freed by Moscow last month after a decade in jail, vowed on Sunday to fight for Russian political prisoners from his new base in Switzerland.

“You can’t live with peace of mind when you know there are political detainees rotting in prison,” Khodorkovsky told Swiss public television SRF on the train that took him from Berlin to Basel.

A spokeswoman for the man who was Russia’s most famous prisoner until his release on Dec. 20 said he had traveled to Switzerland with his wife to take their sons back to school.

SRF reported that the Kremlin critic arrived at the train station in Basel at 6:54pm accompanied by his wife, Inna, his daughter, Nastia, and twin sons, Gleb and Ilja.

Bern said on Monday last week it had granted a three-month visa to the Kremlin critic, who was jailed for 10 years for financial crimes, but last month pardoned by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The 50-year-old had stayed in Germany since his release.

It remains unclear where exactly in Switzerland Khodorkovsky’s wife and twin sons live, but the latest report in Swiss outlets suggested the family was based in Chernex, in the municipality of Montreux, overlooking Lake Geneva.

In a statement on Sunday, Khodorkovsky’s spokespeople said he was “delighted that Switzerland is the second country in which he can breathe the air of freedom.”

“Mr. Khodorkovsky and his family are thankful to Switzerland for providing this opportunity, and will appreciate the time and space to cherish this special time together,” the statement added.

It stressed though that the former oil tycoon “has not yet made any plans about permanent residency in Switzerland or anywhere else.”

Khodorkovsky’s supporters say his decade-long imprisonment was Putin’s revenge against him for financing the political opposition and openly criticizing the Russian leader.

Russia’s one-time richest man, who has said he would stay away from his home country where he still has a court order to pay US$550 million in damages hanging over him, has pledged not to seek revenge against Putin.

However, he argued that the struggle for the rights of political prisoners was not a political one.

“I think that working to free people unjustly imprisoned is the duty of every citizen. This has nothing to do with politics,” he told SRF.

In Sunday’s statement, he hailed Switzerland for its “principled positions taken ... over the many years of his unjust imprisonment.”

“The Swiss judicial authorities were quick to recognize the politicized nature of Mr Khodorkovsky’s prosecution,” the statement added.