Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Wall Street Journal: Russia’s Longest-Serving Political Prisoner
Alexei Pichugin deserves Amnesty International’s help.
Dec. 20 marks the fourth anniversary of what will, in my life, always be a day of rebirth: my release from a Russian prison, where I had been jailed for 10 years by Vladimir Putin for crimes I did not commit. I remember my police escort, as he walked down the boarding ramp of the plane that was to take me to Berlin, telling someone on his walkie-talkie that I was on board. I remember the door closing.
Later I learned how many governments and people had applied pressure for my release. Among them was Amnesty International, which added me to its “prisoners of conscience” list in 2011. On this, the anniversary of my freedom, I again thank AI—and I am urging it to put its weight behind Russia’s longest-serving political prisoner, Alexei Pichugin, who is stuck in the same vortex that entrapped me.
Mr. Pichugin, a former midlevel supervisor in the security office of Yukos Oil, was arrested in 2003 and has been convicted of multiple murders based on “evidence” fabricated by the Kremlin’s minions. Western democracies and even Interpol have decreed his case to be political and devoid of real evidence. In short, Russia holds Mr. Pichugin hostage, in hope that he will buy his freedom by giving false testimony against me.
There are protocols, I know, for determining who is a prisoner of conscience, as well as academic debate on the precise meaning of the term. I can tell you the simple test I apply. For 14 years and counting—more than 5,000 days—Mr. Pichugin has held in his hands the key to his freedom: All he needs to do is bear false witness against me and other Yukos executives. Lie, and walk free.
Every day, he wakes to that invitation. Every day, he refuses. There is only one way to describe his condition: Mr. Pichugin is a prisoner of conscience.
How did Amnesty International play a role in securing my freedom? Its support changed the perception of my case in the eyes of governments around the world. It affected ordinary people, whose letters of support sometimes reached me in my cell at Penal Colony 7. As the years went by, I would hear about solidarity events organized by AI, conferences held by Memorial Germany, Reporters Without Borders, the International Federation of Human Rights and many others.
In the winter of 2013, when word reached me that the 10th anniversary of my arrest had been marked by an Amnesty International conference, I took heart that I was remembered beyond the wall that Mr. Putin’s jailers had attempted to erect between me and the outside world. Only the unjustly imprisoned know the strength that can be drawn from such acts of solidarity. Amnesty International should put its influence behind a man whose conscience and moral compass compel him to stay true to the truth—of his innocence and the innocence of others—under unrelenting pressure to feed the falsehoods of Mr. Putin’s agenda.
On this day of my rebirth, I urge Amnesty International to add a new name to its list: Alexei Pichugin, prisoner of conscience.
Mr. Khodorkovsky is the founder of the Open Russia movement and a former CEO of Yukos Oil.