September 2013

Telephone Justice: Khodorkovsky, Magnitsky and Navalny

Brown Political Review

Recent attempts by the Kremlin to smear its political antagonists and critics mark a return to a pre-perestroika use of the judicial system. The Khodorkovsky, Magnitsky and Navalny court case decisions resemble the telefonnoye pravo or ‘telephone justice’ of the Soviet Union, an expression that references the custom of political leaders calling judges in order to instruct them on what rulings pleased them.

Though western critics tend to focus on the problems related to freedom of the press in Russia, the implications of rotten courts can be much more deep-rooted and harmful to Russian society as a whole. The legal system’s systemic disregard for the constitution in its entirety is an overreaching issue that deserves more attention.

Sadly, this alarming trend is not a recent development. In 2005 and 2010, Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev were found guilty of fraud, money laundering and embezzlement. Before his trial, in 2004, Khodorkovsky was the wealthiest man in Russia and Lebedev was his close associate. A strong advocate for more democracy and freedom of the press, Khodorkovsky could have been a potential political alternative to Putin had he chosen to run for the Russian presidency. After the trial, US State Department commented on the case, saying it “raised a number of concerns over the arbitrary use of the judicial system.” After the 2010 trial, in which Lebedev was convicted and Khodorkovsky’s prison sentence was extended, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commented that the case was symptomatic of the “rule of law being overshadowed by political considerations.”

Another Russian court case displaying a flagrant lack of reason or justice is the posthumous conviction of Sergei Magnitsky. Magnitsky was a Russian lawyer hired by the British and US-owned Hermitage capital group to research corruption in the Russian state and local government. He was accused of tax evasion in 2008, after his discovery of a $230 million tax scam implicating Russian police and government officials. Following his arrest and subsequent suspicious death in prison in 2009, the US Senate passed a bill named the Magnitsky Act. The act blocks the Russian officials deemed responsible for his death, though the officials were not convicted in Russia, from entering the US or using the US banking system. The Magnitsky Act is thought to be the reason for the Kremlin’s arbitrary decision to ban Americans from adopting in Russia earlier this summer.

Read More →

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Buzz
  • LinkedIn
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Tumblr
  • StumbleUpon
  • FriendFeed
  • NewsVine
  • Digg